Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • A Church in Search of Itself
  • Written by Robert Blair Kaiser
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780307278142
  • Our Price: $13.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - A Church in Search of Itself

Buy now from Random House

  • A Church in Search of Itself
  • Written by Robert Blair Kaiser
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307424280
  • Our Price: $11.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - A Church in Search of Itself

A Church in Search of Itself

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook

Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future

Written by Robert Blair KaiserAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Robert Blair Kaiser


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 304 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42428-0
Published by : Vintage Knopf
A Church in Search of Itself Cover

Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - A Church in Search of Itself
  • Email this page - A Church in Search of Itself
  • Print this page - A Church in Search of Itself
This book has no tags.
You can add some at Library Thing.


A deeply informed look at the intensifying struggle over the future of the Catholic Church.

Robert Blair Kaiser examines the most important and divisive issues confronting the Church: the sex abuse scandal, a shortage of priests due to the insistence upon celibacy, the ban on contraception, the roles of women in the Church, the increased participation of laypeople in Church affairs. He gives us an in-depth and behind-the-scenes view of six of the cardinals who gathered in Rome in April 2005 to choose a new pope and through them makes clear why Catholics worldwide are increasingly leaving the Church or defying Church doctrine. With passion and heartfelt concern, Robert Blair Kaiser brilliantly illuminates the issues and the combatants in the battle for the soul of the Catholic world.


Chapter One


Toward a People's Church

For more than six hundred years, it has been the same scenario. A pope dies. The cardinals assemble. After a good many prayers calling on the Holy Spirit, they lock themselves in the Sistine Chapel, surrounded by some of the most stunning art in the history of humankind, to vote, twice each morning and twice each afternoon, in a series of solemn, silent, and secret paper ballots, until a two-thirds majority agrees on the successor. When he responds, he does so with the same single Latin word used by so many of his predecessors—Accipiam—"I will accept." He proceeds to announce his new name, while over in a corner of the chapel the papal chamberlain burns the ballots with some dry straw in a centuries-old stove, sending three white puffs of smoke above the Roman rooftops to tell a waiting world, We have a pope!

The same prayers, the same ballots, the same three puffs of smoke—always the scrupulous insistence on sameness by a group of men as committed to their history as any community on the face of the earth, to emphasize the fact that they didn't invent all of these formalities yesterday, that they are only following ancient traditions, and passing them on to the next generation.

But in the spring of 2005, the cardinals coming to Rome to elect Pope John Paul II's successor were being challenged to play new kinds of roles in a different kind of story. It was different because, although every element in their protocol mirrored the conclaves of 1378, 1566, 1846, and 1978, one important dynamic fact had changed: the waiting world had changed, changed more in the past quarter century than it had changed in all of human history. The old waiting world was a passive world—except in Rome, where its people, at least for the first thousand years of the Church's history, were asked to ratify, viva voce, the man chosen to follow in the steps of Peter. But for almost a thousand years since then, the cardinals who gathered and voted were verbs, and every other Catholic in the world a passive recipient of the action of the verbs. We have given you a pope, the cardinals said in effect. Rejoice and be glad—in our choice.

In 2005, however, in a world that had suddenly shrunk to the size of a village, new mass-mediated channels of communication among the people of the world marked a shift in the grammar of the Roman Catholic Church, one that scholars predicted would have a profound, positive effect on the Church's existence for the rest of the twenty-first century. Through these channels, Catholics were finding the kind of active voice not exercised in the Church since the first few centuries of its existence in Rome.

Electronic miracles have compressed time and space, so that now we live and work in new kinds of microcosms and macrocosms that alter our perceptions of everything, accelerate the pace of change, and create the need not only for a new grammar, but for a new geometry of power, moving from the pyramidal to the circular. The shift was largely driven by new information technologies that made it possible, for example, for a cameraman working for RAI, the Italian state-owned television giant, to stand on a Vatican City rooftop, focus his Sony Betacam SX television camera with the fourteen-inch X2 Yashinon telephoto lens on the golden pectoral cross of a cardinal crossing Saint Peter's Square, and flash that image out to every television on earth—and to many cell phones—instantaneously and in color.

And so, when the cardinals gathered in the spring of 2005 to prepare for the Church's change of command, the whole world was present in Rome, courtesy of the mass media. Interviews and commentary about the event started beaming out from Rome to every corner of the planet. CNN had a rooftop aerie high above Saint Peter's Square, with glib reporters who had done their legwork and solemn analysts who had done their homework. CBS, with more than a hundred on its papal news team, had another view of Saint Peter's from the rooftop of the Atlante Star Hotel. Other networks had huge crews: NBC, ABC, Fox, and the BBC; Sky News in Asia; and Televisa, the network that covers all of Latin America, home to almost half the world's Catholics. Intelligence about the papal election, which had once been the private concern of no more than a few thousand Church insiders, had suddenly become common to all the world, so that Rome itself could be present to a nun in Tokyo and a lawyer in Riobamba and a mayor in San Francisco, giving them reason to care about the implications of this papal election in a way their parents and grandparents were never informed enough to care about as they did.

More important (and this is what made 2005 so completely different), Catholics everywhere—and not only Catholics, but every man and woman on earth with a spark of religion in them and a feel for history—could also have a real presence in Rome because they could now express themselves about the kind of pope they wanted with an unprecedented ease and an incalculable power. They did it on the Internet, that miraculous child of the geosynchronous satellite and the personal computer that has so revolutionized the planet's communications. Suddenly, the Internet allowed people to make their opinions known in a realm where many of the cardinals also dwelled—in cyberspace. Insofar as the cardinals surfed the Internet (and many of them did, almost obsessively), one wondered whether they could fail to pay attention to the hopes and prayers of the people who were cheering for them to make the right choice.

Many cardinals told me they were paying attention. They told me they felt blessed—as no other cardinal-electors had ever been blessed before—because they had new ways of understanding what their people wanted of them. The College of Cardinals had no formal machinery for promoting their own understanding. They wouldn't be taking any public opinion polls, for example, before this conclave. So some of them relied on their local press to reflect public opinion. And thanks to the Internet, they had new windows on the rest of the world. They could read every major publication in the world as easily as they could read their local daily newspaper. The Internet had another treasure for them: a myriad of Web sites where they could listen in on people of every class, free from censors or gatekeepers, saying what they wanted to see in a new pope—and saying it there on a daily basis.

These people with an Internet voice hoped many of the cardinals were listening, but they knew, of course, that the cardinal-electors were members of the pope's senate, not the people's senate. They had won their positions by appointment, not by a popular vote, and they didn't come to the conclave like delegates to a political convention, committed to a particular man. Still, after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council of the early 1960s redefined the Church as all the people of God, many ordinary folks expected the cardinals to take the lead in building a new kind of Church, a Church that listened—even, some hoped, a people's Church. In effect, and in a new way, the people of God thought they had some kind of consultative role in this election, and they voiced their opinions in cyberspace.

Christine Roussel, a legal researcher in New York City, put a prayer on the Internet, asking God "to part the Red Sea of fear, power, and bureaucracy and give us the pope we need!" Andrew Greeley, an American priest-sociologist, published an online survey that had asked 4,278 Catholics in five countries if they wanted a new pope who would give more autonomy to the local bishops, show more concern about the life of ordinary laypeople, permit more change in the Church, appoint lay advisers, return to the practice of local election of bishops, ordain women, and allow priests to marry. He found surprising support, as high as 78 percent in Germany and as low as 55 percent in Poland, for all of these mostly democratic reforms. And We Are Church, an umbrella for 140 reform organizations, issued a three-page statement on the Internet calling for a bishop of Rome who would share leadership with other bishops and the whole people of God. Its statement focused on qualities of leadership, not on specific candidates for pope.

These people could speak boldly because they were now so much more well informed. On the eve of the conclave, anyone with a computer could make the acquaintance of the Nigerian cardinal Francis Arinze, now featured on more than two thousand Web sites. Internet surfers could visit no less than 250 sites to learn about the background of Brazilian cardinal Cláudio Hummes, his record as archbishop of São Paolo, and what he had said about the family, eternal life, and Pope John Paul II's teachings on social justice. Anyone who knew how to use Google could find more than a hundred thousand entries on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, John Paul II's doctrinal chief; many of these sites gave the full text of one or another of Ratzinger's important speeches over the past decade. And millions of people on thousands of electronic bulletin boards could share their feelings with like-minded spirits about what they were reading. John Wauck, a priest and professor of communications at Rome's Santa Croce University, said, "I run into housewives who are telling me about Cardinal So-and-so, and I'm wondering, where do you get that information? I can't help but think the Internet is feeding that."

Some asked, rightly enough, how many of the cardinal-electors would pay attention to these newly vocal Christians. In a 1996 directive on papal elections, John Paul II decreed that cardinals could not speak with the outside world during the conclave, or be spoken to by anyone but another cardinal. No telephones. No radios. No television. No e-mail. Electors should be attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, no other.

As far as we know, that rule was observed during the conclave of 2005, but only during the days when the cardinals were actually casting their ballots. Before then, in fact for several years before Pope John Paul II passed to his reward, many of the cardinal-electors haunted the Internet. Only one of many, Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Jakarta (sometimes with the help of his aides) had been reading the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Times of London on the Internet. He could type in "next pope" on a half-dozen search engines and be ushered into hundreds of Web sites that gave him a sense of what people were thinking and feeling all over the world. He could (and did) correspond by e-mail with a number of his favorite theologians, and with friends from his own polyglot community in Jakarta who were not too shy to tell him what kind of pope they wanted. He could (and did) lurk on the fringes of any number of electronic bulletin boards and Listservs, allowing himself to ponder a mighty range of Catholic opinion (and even Muslim opinion, too, for Darmaatmadja lives in a predominantly Muslim country) that could not fail to tell him what kind of pope people wanted to see in John Paul's successor. If the Holy Spirit was speaking to Cardinal Darmaatmadja, this is how She was doing it, through the voices of other men and women or, as Pope John XXIII would have said, through history—that is, through events themselves.

Furthermore, when Cardinal Darmaatmadja and the other cardinal-electors arrived in Rome for a last good-bye to the deceased, long-reigning pope, they came determined to make maximum use of their weeks of freedom to compare notes with their fellow cardinals, during a period called the "preconclave," before they were finally rendered incommunicado inside the Sistine Chapel to cast their first ballots.

Cardinals are political animals. They couldn't have achieved their eminence otherwise. Whether these cardinals had started their careers as diocesan clergy or as members of a religious order, they, like the executives in any corporation, had networked their way to the top. They learned the art of politics, closely allied to the arts of conversation and of compromise, trading information for power. Now, at this conclave, information was power—power, at least, to make the most intelligent possible choice for the 264th successor of Peter, and thus shape the future of the Church.

Yes, they were cardinals, appointed by the pope to do two things: advise the pope (but only when asked to do so) and elect a new pope when he passed on. But no one could expect them to make their choice in an information vacuum. They were also bishops, with a mandate to serve their people. In biblical terms, they were shepherds, called upon to feed their sheep. In 2005, that call had become far more complicated than ever before. For one thing, the sheep-shepherd metaphor did not much work for city dwellers, many of whom will never see a living shepherd or a live sheep. For another, their people did not much like to think of themselves as sheep. They had adult ideas, and more and more, they were demanding that those ideas be heard.

But this is what made the cardinals' task more complicated: their people did not speak with one voice, but two.

Ever since the French Revolution, two factions in the Church had been battling, not so much over the meaning of their faith but over ways to advance and give an account of that faith. One side said the Church was outside history. It was a perfect society, with no need of help from anyone but God; it didn't have to worry about giving an account of itself to anyone else. The other side said that because Jesus had been part of history, the Church was also part of history—which meant that it had to grow up as the world was growing up. And growth means change. "In a higher world it is otherwise," said the famed English cardinal John Henry Newman, "but here below, to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."

One side bought into the zeitgeist—the spirit of the age that hailed progress, pluralism, freedom, and democracy. The other side looked upon the very notion of progress as a sacred cow.

The two sides fought at Vatican II in the early 1960s, and they were about to fight again in this conclave, a little more than forty years later—two parties, the party of change versus the party of no change. The change party wanted to update the Church. The no-change party despised the word "updated" and its sister word "reform," a word they had looked on with some suspicion ever since Martin Luther nailed his theses to a church door in sixteenth-century Germany. "Reform" sounded like "Protestant."

From the Hardcover edition.
Robert Blair Kaiser|Author Q&A

About Robert Blair Kaiser

Robert Blair Kaiser - A Church in Search of Itself

Photo © Julian Wasser

Robert Blair Kaiser spent ten years in the Jesuits before he left to pursue a career in journalism. He was a religion reporter for The New York Times, Time, and CBS, and is now a contributing editor in Rome for Newsweek. He is the editor of JustGoodCompany.com, a journal of religion and culture. His books include Clerical Error; The Politics of Sex and Religion; and Pope, Council, and World. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and in Rome.

Author Q&A

Q) How long have you been writing about the Catholic Church?

A) Since 1962, when Time magazine sent me to Rome to cover the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. That gave me a front row seat on one of the most significant events in the history of religion. I watched as the delegates at Vatican II tried to bring the Church “up to date” —to rethink many of the things that 20th century Catholics had always taken for granted, and then work out a new charter for what I call a “people’s Church.” For four years, the Church had a high, world-wide credibility as the Fathers of the Council tried to make the Church less Roman and more catholic, less a Church of laws and more a Church of love.

Q) How did the idea for A Church in Search of Itself come about?

A) In the fall of 1999, when it looked like the pope’s health was failing, I got a Rome assignment from Newsweek along with a book contract from Knopf to cover the drama of John Paul II’s demise and the election of his successor. I soon found out that Church politics was trashing Vatican II’s vision of a people’s Church. I started looking for cardinals coming to the next conclave willing to revise the revisionists.

Q) Your work looks more like a book on politics than a book about religion.

A) Yes, it analyzes the politics of power that’s a fact of life in every organization, even in the Church. It’s also a book about the condition of the Church that John Paul II left behind. And, on a third level, it’s a blueprint for some radical changes the Church at large is already making.

Q) What kind of Church did John Paul II leave behind?

A) If you take a global view, you’d have to say this thousand-year-old system is crumbling.

Q) A thousand-year-old system? Wasn’t the Church founded two thousand years ago?

A) I am not talking about faith in Jesus, something apparently as strong as ever, and growing in the least likely places. I am talking about the papal absolutism that was set up in the eleventh century. In 1086, claiming “divine authority,” Pope Gregory VII set up a rigid system, one that may even be more rigid today. For centuries, after the so-called Gregorian Reform, Catholics selected their own bishops in one way or another, sometimes by nomination of the prince or the king, sometimes by a vote of the people, or the priests. John Carroll, the first American bishop, was elected in 1789 by the new nation’s priests. It wasn’t until 1829 that Pope Pius VIII began to centralize everything in Rome. He started appointing all the bishops, making all the laws, interpreting all the laws, enforcing all the laws, and handling all the appeals. Now, popes don’t seem to understand the word “accountability,” and they give a bad example for the world’s bishops, and many priests, too. Many of them feel they are unaccountable.

People don’t like this. Many American churches are half-empty. Few young people attend church, and even fewer young women. They don’t trust their bishops, who rule from the top down in a bottom-up kind of world, most of the time badly, and in secret. Catholics are falling away from the faith of their fathers, not because they disagree with the Church’s faith-doctrines, but because the Church’s politics don’t make much sense. When the Vatican sneers at phrases like “democracy in the Church” and “women’s rights,” it loses its most well-educated members.

Q)In 1999, you went back to Rome on assignment from Newsweek magazine. What did you find there?

A)I met a number of cardinals–the men who would vote for a new pope to succeed John Paul II–and found a few inside headquarters who had some vision of a Vatican II-style, accountable Church. Then I traveled to other parts of the world, and found prelates open to change who would more likely favor a papal candidate who might make the Church more of a servant Church to its people, and to the world at large. More importantly, I found a good many other Catholics who were creating a more vital Church on their own, without waiting for Rome, the pope, or their bishop to tell them what to do. I used them to set up a great drama in my book about the changing of the guard in the Church, with the people on one side representing a party of change, and the clerics on the other side who had a personal stake in the status quo.

Q) In the book, you profile six cardinals on the way to the conclave to vote for a new pope. What was the reason for including them, and what do you say about them?

A) I wanted to show that the Church is so different in its various enculturations in different parts of the world, yet consistent with its message of Jesus Christ. In each chapter, I introduce a variety of people whose actions suggest different ways of “being Church”–North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Asian Catholics, I found, are much more open to those of other religions. They’ve learned to live with, and learn from, their Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim neighbors, without thinking they need to fear them, or convert them.

Q) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, is one of those six cardinals. Did you see him as a probable successor to John Paul II?

A) As the Vatican’s chief heresy-hunter, Ratzinger was the most prominent and articulate spokesman for the forces of no-change in the Church, perhaps even more conservative than Pope Paul II. I never thought the conclave would choose him. I imagined the conclave would do battle over a host of divisive issues that had been put on hold during the very conservative reign of John Paul II. As it turned out, there was no battle. 89 of the 115 cardinal-electors (all but two of them appointed by John Paul II) would go along with the candidacy of Joseph Ratzinger, who promised them the same kind of Church favored by John Paul.

Q) What can you tell us about the priest-sex-scandal in the United States?

A) Under John Paul II, the men in the Vatican tried to deny it. First they said it was just a story concocted by the secular press. When they couldn’t deny it any longer, they said it was an American problem, and ordered an investigation of the American seminaries, with a particular focus on candidates for the priesthood who were gay. In the process, they scapegoated a great many priests who were gay, but faithful and chaste.

Q) How do American Catholics get an accountable Church?

A) They shouldn’t leave it. We all need to bring updated answers to the basic question that faces every family (and every organization): “Who’s in charge, and how will they exercise their authority?” American Catholics need to make a move toward an autochthonous Church.

Q) What is an authochthonous church?

A) Autochthony, pronounced “aw-TOCK-thu-knee,” is an ancient model of Church governance. It describes churches loyal to the pope that glory in their own governance, their own married clergy, and their own liturgies. The pope has the power to approve such churches. Autochthony doesn’t mean autonomy. It means local control. It’s a way for American Catholics to take back their church.

Q) How can autochthony work in America?

A) Some American Catholics are pushing now for a national synod (or convention) in order to write a charter for a democratic Church. The delegates could follow a U.S. constitutional model–a three-part government: an executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judicial branch. They could call for the popular election of two parliamentary bodies–a Senate of Bishops and a House of Commons. They could call for an elected president (or executive board), and a judiciary appointed with the advice and consent of both houses.

Q) What will this accomplish?

A) It will give the people a sense of ownership, as well as a sense of citizenship. Once Americans have the right to vote in the Church, they will feel like first-class citizens with a voice they can exercise, not on questions of doctrine, but on questions of discipline. Once they have this power, the churches will fill up again.

Q) Is this likely to happen?

A) Never underestimate the power of public opinion. The people’s Church is on the march. I know some American bishops willing to see how they can create the kind of Church their people demand. They hope Rome will listen and grant that permission. If Rome doesn’t, there could be a battle, part of a drama that will unfold as American Catholics try to grow up American.

Q) What is your next book about?

A) I’m writing a novel that shows an American cardinal-archbishop leading the American Church into autochthony at the Fourth Council of Baltimore in 2008. It’s an imaginative foreshadowing of the next step in the natural evolution of our Church. The characters are everyday people, fighting for new possibilities in a people’s Church.

From the Hardcover edition.



“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 cliché 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.”

From the Hardcover edition.

  • A Church in Search of Itself by Robert Blair Kaiser
  • April 10, 2007
  • Religion - Catholicism
  • Vintage
  • $13.95
  • 9780307278142

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: