I first heard about Pope Joan a couple weeks ago from some show that I was watching on Netflix. The story, and the mystery intrigued me, so the next day I checked this book out from the library.
Peter Stanford doesn't really succeed in making a case for the historical reality of Pope Joan, nor does he succeed in making the case that she was a fictional invention of people seeking to discredit the Catholic Church, or of Catholics seeking to provide a morality tale to women seeking leadership roles in the Church. Instead, Stanford successfully makes the case that Pope Joan was possible. Possible, though, is still quite a distance from fact, and I just don't think the mystery of Pope Joan was solved in this book.
I enjoyed reading about Stanford's quest for the truth. He clearly did some very broad and deep research, and he told the story of his quest well, and with some flashes of humor. I enjoyed Stanford's research into how the story of Pope Joan resonates even today, and in what ways people have attempted to suss out and come to terms with whether or not this woman really existed.
I don't know whether or not I think she existed. All I can say is, it's possible. But then, I believe in Sasquatch, too.