Setting the World on Fire: The Brief, Astonishing Life of St. Catherine of Siena
This is a slender, straightforward recounting of the life of Catherine Benincasa, born in 1347, the 24th of 25 children of a Sienese wool dyer. Certain at a young age of her calling by Christ, Catherine became a venerated mystic, a prolific writer, and a counselor to popes. She was instrumental in bringing the papacy back to Rome from Avignon, and worked to heal the schism when two popes were installed in competing seats. Catherine had a huge following in her short life and wielded an astonishing amount of power and influence in a time when women had neither.
It’s simply unclear what gap this “first modern, secular biography of Italy’s answer to Joan of Arc” is seeking to fill, or who its audience is meant to be. Though thoroughly researched, this is not a scholarly work, and Catherine’s life is already exceptionally well-documented. It’s also hard to imagine what a secular audience will make of some of the more extreme examples of Catherine’s self-denial and mysticism. Perhaps the popularity of Pope Francis in secular society, with his message of simplicity and service to others, made the time ripe for a reminder of Catherine’s story.