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A Church in Search of Itself


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About the Author

Robert Blair Kaiser spent ten years in the Society of Jesus (but was not ordained) before turning to journalism. He worked for the Arizona Republic, The New York Times, and CBS (for whom he covered Vatican II), and is the author of ten books including Clerical Error, The Politics of Sex and Religion, and Pope, Council, and World. He is the co-author of Jubilee 2000, a prize-winning musical comedy celebrating 2,000 years of Christianity, and the editor of an online journal of religion and culture, JustGoodCompany.com. He covered the recent papal conclave for Newsweek, Newsday, and CBS.


News journalist and columnist Kaiser covered Vatican Council II in the Sixties and has authored or coauthored ten books on contemporary issues. Here he focuses on six cardinals as representative icons of the Catholic church today: Roger Mahoney (United States), Cormac Murphy-O'Connor (United Kingdom), Oscar Rodr!guez Maradiaga (Honduras), Francis Arinze (Nigeria), Julius Darmaatmadja (Indonesia), and Joseph Ratzinger (Germany), now the pope. He explores contemporary tensions on controversial matters such as married clergy, abortion, political power, and liberal-conservative positions. References to personal interviews with church insiders abound, but without footnotes or a bibliography. Some negativity and cynicism accompany his views (e.g., he asserts that John Paul II's book The Acting Person sold only 18 copies in English and describes Pope Benedict XVI's eyes as having wolverine rings). Kaiser favors an indigenous church rising from ordinary people and their cultures and is most positive when depicting church representatives as champions of the poor and ecumenism. Recommended with some reservations for public and academic collections.-Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"An exceptionally informative, candid, evenhanded description of the congressional process." -Choice

"Mr Kaiser depicts the gruesome business of legislating in the wickedly honest fashion only a journalistic veteran, liberated from the restraints imposed on daily reporters, could get away with...[he] names names and spares no one."
-The Wall Street Journal

"Like [Robert] Caro, Kaiser has a gift for writing a legislative page-turner...This should be a book on every informed voter's reading list."
-New York Journal of Books

"If you want to know how Washington really works, read this book. It's the ultimate inside story of a major piece of legislation that will affect the way the country does business for decades to come. Robert G. Kaiser, who knows the terrain like few others, was given unique access to the key players as they pasted this complicated package together. Kaiser shows us the personalities, the politics, and the process."
-Cokie Roberts, political commentator, NPR and ABC News

"It's wonderful to read a story about how Congress can actually get something done. This is an exclusive behind-the-scenes tale of how an important bill became law. It's a book we really need now."
-Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs

"Kaiser writes with the clarity of a world-class journalist, the depth of a scholar, and the evocative style of a novelist. His latest book about Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, and financial reform is a master class in understanding the modern Congress."
-David Maraniss, author of Barack Obama: The Story

"Robert Kaiser knows so much about how Congress works, and writes so well about it, it makes me-as a former legislator-both uneasy and grateful. He spots our limitations but leaves every reader with a much better understanding of 'America's least understood important institution.'"
-Lee H. Hamilton, former member of the House of Representatives

"Robert G. Kaiser's Act of Congress is the most detailed, fascinating and sophisticated case study of congressional law making to appear in years. It shows how thoroughly polarized partisanship has reshaped the entire process, but also how exceptionally skillful politicking can nonetheless still occasionally produce landmark legislation. It will be ideal for courses on Congress (I'm adding it to my own syllabus) and the policy making process, but it will also enlighten anyone who wants a better understanding of how present-day national institutions work-or fail to do so. It's a great read."
-Dr. Gary C. Jacobson, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego

"Act of Congress captures the story of the historic assertion of federal power known as Dodd-Frank in all its complexity, with its lasting implications for the balance of power between Washington and Wall Street. Robert Kaiser's triumph is to make this complex subject an intimately human tale. Thanks to reporting and insight, the story of Dodd-Frank is revealed not simply as a collision of public and private interests on Wall Street, but as a kind of case study in the anthropology of modern Washington. A great story by a journalist singularly well-equipped to tell it."
-John Harris, editor in chief of Politico

"We have been waiting for this. Robert G. Kaiser, one of our most skilled and thoughtful journalists, has written the inside story of one of the most important legislative measures of the last decade. Kaiser weaves a compelling story of institutions, parties, personalities, and strategy. This book is essential reading for students of Congress and national policy making, for everyone interested in the policy response to the Great Recession, and for citizens who care about the dysfunction of American national government."
-Steven S. Smith, professor of political science at Washington University

"Act of Congress is easily the best book on Congress I have read in decades. It is a stupendous achievement-richly informative, a pleasure to read, wise in its assessments of why Dodd-Frank was able to succeed and how this case is more exception than rule in these difficult governing times. Congressional scholars have much to learn from the book (I certainly did) and generations of students will find it their favorite and most rewarding assigned reading in classes. A classic."
-Thomas E. Mann, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

"Richly detailed...Remember that old saw about making sausages and making laws-that you don't want to know too much about either one? Kaiser disproves it with this lucid...book."
-Kirkus Reviews

"Bob Kaiser has written a captivating and insightful account of the Dodd-Frank reform of financial services regulation. He convincingly explains both the successes of key actors and why, in the current Congress, such successes are increasingly rare."
-Congressman David E. Price

"Today's Congress is not yesterday's Congress. The rules may seem the same, but new players, bigger campaigns, more partisanship and less civility means more time raising money, fewer hours in session, minimal socialization across the aisle and more delegation to committee staffs. Act of Congress is the first book to describe in detail what it takes to legislate in the 'new' Congress. Robert Kaiser was present at the creation of the Dodd-Frank Act. His reputation as a straight-shooting reporter earned him open access to the staffs of Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd, and extensive interviews with the key players in both parties. The result is an enlightening, sobering, tour de force. Any teacher who hasn't read this book should have his syllabus examined."
-Samuel L. Popkin, author of The Candidate

"Robert Kaiser's Act of Congress is a great read. He makes a complex issue and an arcane process understandable and interesting. Readers get a real sense for the interplay of politics and policy and of personality and structure that goes into passing major legislation. Not just for Congress junkies, Kaiser's book is a fascinating 'How Done It.'"
-Barbara Sinclair, professor emerita of American politics at UCLA

"Intricate [and] incisive...Kaiser...finds the drama in arcane parliamentary procedure and paints extraordinary fly-on-the-wall scenes of legislative sausage making...His absorbing true-life political saga exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly in Congress."
-Publishers Weekly

"Act of Congress is a tour de force, an unparalleled account of the difficulty of legislating in an intensely polarized political era. Robert Kaiser brings decades of experience to the task, deftly showing how lawmakers balanced policy goals and political risk to build bicameral majorities for landmark Wall Street reform. I look forward to assigning this masterful work to my students in the years to come."
-Sarah Binder, professor of political science at George Washington University

"Congress is the most powerful, and least well understood, branch of the American government. Luckily, Robert Kaiser is here to explain it to us. Required reading for anyone who is affected by Washington, which is, as Kaiser demonstrates in this book, all of us."
-Ezra Klein, columnist, The Washington Post

"The great value of Robert G. Kaiser's Act of Congress is its refusal to accept the Washington cliche that the Dodd-Frank legislation represents a moment when Congress worked the way it is supposed to . . . It uses the passage of the most far-reaching piece of financial reform legislation since the New Deal to show not how Congress works, but how it doesn't, even when a result is attained."
-Michael Tomasky, The New York Review of Books

"Riveting . . . Kaiser offers an insightful primer on how laws are made, from conception to passage, as well as the characters and culture of the U.S. Congress, observed from an astonishing perspective most citizens never see."

"Certain to become a classic, this rich and beautifully crafted book tells the story of a rare moment of congressional success. Who would have thought such a thing possible?"
-Lawrence Lessig, professor at Harvard Law School

"One of the best books on the [legislative] process in a long time."

"A crackling page-turner...Kaiser...delivers a clear understanding of the issues as well as the exhausting, exhilarating and often appalling political process. His extensive original reporting and deep research lend both richness and authority to the lively text."
-The Plain Dealer

"Informative, incisive and timely, Act of Congress provides essential lessons in civics about how business is done in Washington, D.C."
-The Boston Globe

"For those interested in the legislative process...[Act of Congress] is essential reading."

"Instructive [and] colorful...a classic study of how Congress works. You don't have to be a wonk to want to read on."
-National Catholic Register

"An exceptionally informative, candid, evenhanded description of the congressional process."

The Second Vatican Council initiated a revolution from which the Catholic Church is still reeling. This is the message that Kaiser, a former Jesuit who covered the most recent papal election for Newsweek, enunciates in this proficient book. Kaiser interviewed an eclectic mix of church hierarchy and Catholic laity working for grassroots change around the world. These profiles, set within the context of the latest papal election, accentuate the discord between those in the church who want change and those who prefer tradition. Kaiser's narrative illustrates that the Catholic Church, once entrenched in an old-world European style, is being flavored with cultural influences from around the globe. He highlights cardinals from Honduras, Nigeria and Indonesia, all of whom approach ecclesiastical authority, and their own exercise of it, very differently. Kaiser is not afraid to argue for change within the structures of the church, astutely noting that "because the Church was human, it was always in need of reform." Kaiser is a master of the Catholic world.. Those interested in the future of the Catholic Church would do well to pay careful attention to Kaiser's work. (Mar. 16) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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