A substantial book about a remarkable life that ended tragically just days before the Nazi prison camp was liberated by the Allies. The chilling evil of Hitler and his cronies is well portrayed, and it is fascinating to see how the Nazi regime gradually tightened its grip on Germany and, in particular, on the Bible-believing church within Germany. Bonhoeffer was brought up in a highly-educated family and was himself an intelligent and principled man; against the family tradition, he entered the Christian ministry and became a distinguished teacher in Germany, England and America.
The book is an easy read, not least because the chapters are divided into digestible sections, but the writing is spoiled throughout by the writer’s penchant for informal expressions – some of which, such as the reference to Luther as “an equal opportunity insulter, the Don Rickles of Wittenberg” (93) – are unintelligible to a well-read Briton. The informality is compounded by frequent adjectival interpolations and heavy-handed metaphors and similes. To give examples from a single page (230): Hitler “sniffed the political winds with typically canine sensitivity” and acted “with typical lupine ruthlessness”; when an old colleague threatened his future, “that was another bag of peanuts”, for Hitler “had not built the Third Reich only to have that bull-necked pervert Röhm spoil everything!” Years earlier, we read, the Nazis had become the second largest political party in the land “in a single bounding alley-oop” (100). In relation to Bonhoeffer, one of his sermons “seemed like a nasty sucker punch followed by a wheeling roundhouse kick to the chops” (122), his confirmation class comprised “a veritable gang of sawed-off hoodlums” (131), when abroad he followed the “hemorrhoidal isometrics” of Hitler’s details with the church in Gemany (208), and, in one sermon, “delivered an unrelenting homiletic bummer” (209). We read of “the lanky goofball Hanfstaengl” (146), of “that waxworks annoyance Hindenburg” (231) and how Hitler “lickety-split” announced his successor (232), of “the waxy lamprey Reinhard Heydrich” (370) who was a “piscine ghoul” (382). The list could go on and on. A good editor should have baulked at the many contractions and infelicities, and at some basic factual errors: it cannot be true, for instance, that Germany’s “fastest and largest” ship displaced only thirty-three tons (96)! It is also a weakness that, at least in the paperback edition, there is no added graphical material: no facsimile documents, no maps, no photographs. A fascinating life of a fascinating man but an account let down by some poor writing and poor editing.
I have recently finished reading 'Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy' by Eric Metaxas ( Thomas Nelson ). This is a long ( over 500 pages ) biography which contains a full survey of Bonhoeffer's life, theology, and resistance to Nazis - this cost him his life at the age of only 39. Bonhoeffer was the first Lutheran pastor to forcefully condemn discrimination against the Jewish people, years before the Shoah. He also rejected replacement theology, teaching on the true relationship between Christians and Jews as set out in the Bible. This was unpalatable to the Nazi regime and the main denominations. The book is full of challenging material and covers universal issues that apply not just to the 1930s and 1940s but to our generation too. It is also readable and took me only a few sessions to progress through it.
Bonhoeffer was a rare person - he combined spirituality with a brilliant mind but above all, he had the courage to obey God. Highly recommended.
I have been inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer's example since I first heard about this remarkable German pastor who consistently opposed the Third Reich and I have read other shorter biographies. So I was very pleased to get this book for Christmas, if a little daunted by its size - its nearly 600 pages, from cover to cover. But any misgivings I may have had about the size of the book were quickly swept away, as this is an engrossing account that really held my attention from start to finish. It's a very thorough account of Bonhoeffer, his times and his country: you get an insight into his thinking and his struggles and the very real difficulties faced by Christians who were patriotic Germans who felt the injustices of the settlement imposed on Germany after the First World War. But it was Bonhoeffer more than anyone who saw clearly what was at stake and so courageously stood up for what was right. As he put it in a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr in July 1939:
"Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make that choice in security."
After reading the book, I also feel I understand the horrors of the Nazi regime as experienced by Germans themselves better than I did before - the book manages to be more than a simple biography, almost a commentary on the times. Its also a fascinating account of Bonhoeffer's own spiritual development and faith.
All in all, this is such a good read and such an important book. I cannot recommend it too highly.
Bonhoeffer - pastor, theologian, martyr - if I were to describe this book in two words it would be `mammoth' and `captivating'.
The book itself is one of the best researched books on Bonhoeffer I have ever come across. It includes numerous quote sections from his letters, books, sermons and personal testimonies. It includes writings from other parties, who wrote about Bonhoeffer and a story narrative that never fails to draw the reader on. Despite the size of the book I cannot recall ever feeling like my interest began to wane whilst reading it.
Bonhoeffer came from an aristocratic and noticeably scientific German family. At a young age he decided to defy tradition and become a theologian. His most noticeable writings are: Life Together, Cost of Discipleship and Ethics (all of which of fantastic). Together these books are his opus maximus (great life's work). Every theologian has heard of Bonhoeffer and studied his writings at some point or another. The depth of his writings are awe inspiring and thoroughly thought provoking.
What is probably less known about Bonhoeffer is his role in Nazi Germany, or the fact that because of this there is today a statue of him on the side of Westminster Abbey. At an early point in the history of Nazi Germany Bonhoeffer decided that the regime was evil. Originally he preached against it, but after Hitler experienced numerous military successes, he resigned himself to bringing down the beast from within. To this end he joined the Abwehr and began smuggling Jews out of Germany. Because of the interplay between the Gestapo and the Abwehr Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested and detained for 18 months at Tegal Prison.
After the failed Valkyrie attempt, of which Bonhoeffer was later linked to, he was detained by the Gestapo for 4 months of torture and integration. He was eventually transferred to 3 different concentration camps and hung 3 weeks before Hitler took his own life in 1945. Throughout all of his he never failed to act out in accordance with his faith, and whilst in a difficult predicament, continued to effect and influence the lives of those he touched right up until the end of his life. The saddest part of his story is that it was not even the Germans who notified his family of his demise but rather the BBC radio some months after the end of the war.
The usual memos of my reviews are long and fully explanatory:- but in this instance what is there for me to say? The book was excellently written! The subject written about thoroughly affected me! Bonhoeffer's experiences played on my thoughts and despite the mammoth size of the book I kept reading this book until the early hours of numerous mornings. I have also come to the conclusion that I could not have done what Bonhoeffer did and for this reason he deserves Saint status. In total I cannot recommend this book enough!
I read numerous books written by Bonhoeffer whilst I studied my Masters in Theology - however, I'd like to personally thank Eric Metaxas for writing such a well written and thoroughly researched book about this individual. I fell like in a way you have allowed me to meet the individual on a personal level rather than on a purely theological level. Also, modern authors are frequently inclined to down play Bonhoeffer's religious side and talk about his faith as if it were an oddity to be shy of. Your book highlights how seriously Bonhoeffer took his faith and how everything he did was because of it. For this I would sincerely like to thank you.
In the end your book as become the best Biography I have ever read! Thank you for writing it.
Opened my eyes to a period in history I have always seen from the British perspective. A really good story as well as being a description of how be a Christian in an ungodly world. Had a very profound effect on my thinking and made me think about the meaning of life.