David I Kertzer

Photo by Kenneth C Zirkel


Born on February 20th, 1948, David Israel Kertzer is a Pulitzer prize winning historian and biographer, authoring nine books and many articles on politics and cultural history. He specializes in both contemporary and historical European and Italian social and political culture, in addition to anthropological demography and aspects of the Vatican history relating to Jews and the Italian state.

He received a PhD in Anthropology in 1974 and went on to become Professor of Anthropology and History and then Professor of Italian Studies, at Brown University. His critically acclaimed and often contentious writings have earned him many honors and awards spanning the last 50 years.

Of special note is his book The Popes Against the Jews (2002) where he examines the relationship between the Catholic Church and anti-Semitism, contending that the Vatican contributed and actively promoted the ideas behind the Holocaust. His later ground-breaking and intriguing book The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe (2014) speaks to that Pope’s role in supporting the rise of Fascism and Mussolini in Italy. He presents a gripping and well documented account based on seven years of research in Vatican and fascist state archives, shedding new light on the history of these two men and how they together changed the course of history. It went on to win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

Several of Kertzer’s works have been printed in up to 18 languages. His most recent book The Pope Who Would be King (2018) explores the dramatic story of the pope’s exile during the Revolutions of 1848.

In a span of over 40 years he has held many additional professional positions such as visiting scholar, director, and professor at various universities and colleges including sitting on numerous on boards, councils and committees. He has been involved in over 20 major research and training grants.

David Kertzer is active on Twitter, is still interviewed regularly about his research and views, and maintains active blog. He currently lives with his wife Susan in Rhode Island.

Featured Book

The Pope and Mussolini

The Pope and Mussolini

The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe is the compelling story of Pope Pius XI’s secret relations with Benito Mussolini. A ground-breaking work, based on seven years of research in the Vatican and Fascist archives by US National Book Award-finalist David Kertzer, it will forever change our understanding of the Vatican’s role in the rise of Fascism in Europe.

Both Pope Pius XI and Mussolini came to power in Rome in 1922. One was scholarly and devout, the other a violent bully. Yet they also had traits in common. Both had explosive tempers. Both bristled at the charge of being the patsy of the other. Both demanded unquestioned obedience from their subordinates, whose knees literally quaked in fear of provoking their wrath. Both came to be disillusioned by the other, yet dreaded what would happen if their alliance were to end.

The book unravels for the first time the key role played between pope and dictator by the shadowy Jesuit go-between, dubbed Mussolini’s Rasputin. It also reveals the details of the secret agreement worked out by Mussolini with the pope’s personal envoy, offering Vatican support for Italy’s notorious, anti-Semitic ‘racial laws’. And dramatic new light is shed on the controversial figure of Eugenio Pacelli, who (as Pope Pius XII) would later come to be idolized by some and reviled by others for his silence during the Holocaust. In his role as Vatican Secretary of State, Pacelli had to struggle to keep the pope’s explosive temper from leading to a break with both Mussolini and Nazi Germany, as the Italian dictator increasingly embraced the German Fuehrer, whom Pius detested.

With the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy, the full story of the two men’s relationship can now be told for the first time. It is an account that destroys the widely accepted myth of a heroic Church doing battle with the Fascist regime. On the contrary, as David Kertzer shows, Mussolini would not have been able to impose his dictatorship on Italy without the pope’s support. In exchange, the pope expected Mussolini to use his repressive reach to enforce Catholic morality – and return the Church to a position of power in Italy.


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