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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 4 April 2017
A fantastic and very long book! It encompasses the reformation across the continents of Europe and the Americas. It concentrates mainly on Europe, however; that is, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden etc. It covers in detail both the reformation and counter-reformation over two or three centuries. It delves deeper into the myriad different, smaller and disunited sub-confessions of Protestantism, mainly, the differences (and antagonisms) between Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism, but also the myriad of other smaller sub-confessions such as the Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians, Puritans, Anabaptists, gnesio-Lutherans, Arminians, Huguenots etc. Also, the roles of various orders such as the Society of Jesus, (Jesuits). It also introduces all the major figures of the reformation and counter-reformation, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, (countless other theologians); the various Popes, the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburgs, the monarchs of Spain, Britain and France etc. A very detailed and comprehensive book!
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I disagree with some of the other reviews here that this is bland or a difficult read - I approached it with some tripidation but found it both reassuringly scholarly and yet immensely readable, probably because the author has a distinctive 'voice' which mediates perfectly through the vast amount of material he covers. MacCulloch knows his material intimately and yet manages to convey the complexities without ever resorting to the fatal dumbing down of many authors. As someone with a vague idea of the history of the period, but little knowledge of religious philosophy, I wasn't sure if this would be too 'technical' but actually I found it fascinating and unputdownable. It dropped a star because at some points I felt MacCulloch was trying to cram in too much e.g. the complexities of religious thought across the whole of Europe, but the third section in particular on the differences the reformation made to actual peoples' lives in terms of the way they thought about sex and the family, for example, more than made up for some of the intricacies. All together a brilliant read.
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on 30 January 2008
Is it an advantage, as MacCulloch says to "not subscribe to any form of religious dogma" in trying to "describe the Reformation to a world which has largely forgotten or half-understood what it was about" (p xxv) ? One wonders whether indeed it is possible not to subscribe to some dogma(ie a belief or system of beliefs held on authority) religious or secular whether consciously held or not, and whether in all cases historians do not have a viewpoint conscious or unconscious lurking in the background to which they "bend the story to fit irrelevant preconceptions". Keynes accused practical men who eschewed theory as being slaves to some long defunct economists, one wonders if historians are any different.

However this is an excellent book, whatever one may make of the distinctive viewpoint which comes out so strongly in the section on Outcomes.

As well as the information concerning the ideas of the Reformers, going well beyond Luther, Zwingli and Calvin to Bucer and Bullinger, not to mention many others, it gives considerable space to the ideas and influence of Erasmus, and Cardinal Pole. As he says "Social and political history cannot do without theology in understanding the 16th century". MacCulloch gives succinct and accurate descriptions of the ideas , not exactly for dummies but with a secular audience in mind.

How many of us knew that there were one million Christian slaves enslaved by Islamic raiders between 1530 and 1640,roughly equivalent to the trade across the Atlantic? (p 57) That lay people with the dissolution of the guilds lost much control of what went on in church at the Reformation? (p 16)that in the 1930's the Popes did not excommunicate Hitler because among other reasons it was remembered that doing so to Elizabeth I had been counter productive? (p 334) That England judicially murdered more Roman Catholics than any other country in Europe (p 392).That as late as 1612 (well after the Council of Trent) the Archbishop of Salzburg lived with his concubine and 15 children?(p 447). As used to be said by a Sunday newspaper "all human life is here".

His history of the Church of England is particularly interesting reflecting as it does all the recent research which has made the old Anglo-Catholic historiography somewhat unconvincing.He makes very short work of any talk of the Elizabethan Settlement being any kind of compromise intended to mollify Catholics (p 289). Nor does he have much time for the "Protestant work ethic" and while admiring Max Weber whom he describes as a genius sees his work as being influential on discussions of history "particularly among those who are not historians". (p 604). In the background of much thought he sees a sense that time is at an end ,and says that without appreciating this the Reformation can often be regarded as "a vandalistic, mean-minded or money-grubbing assault on a settled round of devotion and a world of beauty and celebration".(p 551).

This book should certainly be read as it cannot fail to amuse, to stimulate,and to inform.However it is a pity that the print in the Penguin edition is so small and may prove a problem for elderly scholars.
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on 21 August 2017
A tour-de-force look at the Reformation. MacCulloch's writing is humane, considered, at times humorous and witty. He tells some memorable and true stories too. The book is opening my eyes to the vastness of spiritual, emotional and social change the sixteenth century Reformation brought about. Changes which we still feel.
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on 25 April 2017
An excellent, thought provoking book...
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on 15 March 2017
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on 15 October 2014
Great book. Covers every aspect of the Reformation. Rather heavy going in places, but very well and clearly written and well referenced throughout. Well worth the effort.
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on 29 May 2017
A long book, taking me a while to get through. But helpful nevertheless insofar as we celebrate 500 years from Reformation this year.
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on 2 March 2017
Marvellous. As good as a novel
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on 9 November 2003
This is a weighty but very readable review of a fascinating period of European history. With the exception of one reviewer here, all other reviews have, so far as I have seen, been unanimous in their praise and enthusiasm for the book. The FT and TLS for example, the latter saying: "It is hard not to admire a book that is such a masterpiece of learning, and yet written with a disarming lightness of touch. It is a magnificent achievement". The proof is, of course, in the reading. The great thing about this book is that the reading is as a delightful experience as it is a rewarding and illuminating one.
A very worthy successor to his brilliant Cranmer biography and to his Edward VI ecclesial history.
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