MAY 5 & 9

Between Karol Wojtyla’s birth in 1920 and his ascension as Pope John Paul II in 1978, his native Poland was the ping-pong ball between Germany and the U.S.S.R., dominated by the Nazis for six years and by the Soviets for 40. According to biographer Tad Szulc (above left), this suffering—as well as the preceding 900 years of Poland’s unfortunate history—forged Wojtyla’s fierce opposition to oppression, belief in social justice, and rigorous traditionalism. Szulc’s Pope John Paul II: The Biography is short on gossip about the Holy Father (no bastard children), and long on Polish hagiography, but it explains how a righteous priest managed to become one of the most influential men of the century, helping to topple communism, campaigning against the West’s economic exploitation of the Third World, and both buttressing and undermining the church with his doctrinaire conservatism. Szulc talks about the Pope at 7 p.m. at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 364-1919; at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Olsson’s, 1200 F St. NW. FREE. (202) 347-3686. (David Plotz)

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