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The Reformation

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  2,036 Ratings  ·  140 Reviews
The Reformation and Counter-Reformation represented the greatest upheaval in Western society since the collapse of the Roman Empire a millennium before. The consequences of those shattering events are still felt today—from the stark divisions between (and within) Catholic and Protestant countries to the Protestant ideology that governs America, the world’s only remaining s ...more
Hardcover, 792 pages
Published May 3rd 2004 by Viking Adult (first published 2003)
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Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Laura

Description: 500 years after the Reformation, Diarmaid MacCulloch examines how the announcement of a university seminar in Germany led to the division of Europe. He examines the ideas of Martin Luther, where they came from and why they proved so revolutionary, tracing their development and influence, and reflecting on what they mean for us today.
Frank Stein
Jun 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

At times this book seemed like the most magisterial and thoughtful work I'd ever read on religion or early modern Europe. MacCulloch's descriptions of the Catholic Church before Luther, and of the monumental changes in life and society after Luther, are clear and beautiful examples of the history of culture and of thought, simply unparalleled in any work I've read on the subjects. The middle third of the book, however, is an impossibly confusing welter of names and dates.

First, however, the good
Lauren Albert
Magisterial. MacCulloch's scholarship is formidable. It took me a month to read and yet I never felt the urge to put it away. He gives in depth coverage to areas I've read little about despite having read a lot of books about the Reformation. One example I remember is a solid review of the Reformation in the Netherlands. It is not an easy read but it is a worthwhile one.
مروان البلوشي
لماذا مرت أوروبا بـ "الإصلاح الديني" الذي بدأه مارتن لوثر كينغ؟ ما هي نتائج هذا "الإصلاح" على العقل الأوروبي؟ وكيف غيرته للأبد. كيف تغيرت المسيحية مكانتها داخل الدول والمجتمعات الأوروبية من "الإصلاح الديني"؟
كل هذه الأسئلة وغيرها الكثير وإجاباتها في هذا الكتاب العميق.
Henry Sturcke
Jul 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Confronted with the challenge of writing about an era too well-known, Lytton Strachey advised how the explorer of the past would proceed: “He will row out over the great ocean of material, and lower down into it, here and there, a little bucket, which will bring up to the light of day some characteristic specimen, from the far depths, to be examined with a careful curiosity.” This magisterial history of the Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch is a prolonged exercise in doing just that.
This is a s
Adam Snider
Nov 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is simply put the best popular history book I've ever read. The subject is the Reformation, but MacCulloch goes far beyond the traditional "Luther to Westphalia" timeline, using the first few chapters to flesh out the world of Latin Christianity as it existed during the century or so before Luther arrived on the scene. Geographically the book also extends well beyond the borders of what we often view to be the main sphere of the Reformation - Germany, France, and England - to explore how th ...more
Jo Walton
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was excellent -- readable, smooth, as comprehensive and unbiased as one can hope for. I now understand a whole lot of things more clearly, and know about a host of other things of which I was ignorant. I recommend this to anyone with an interest in European intellectual and social history. I especially recommend it to anyone who ever thought the Reformation was boring but that they ought to know more about it.
Nov 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-history
The story of the Reformation is long and complex, and so are many of MacCulloch's sentences, but never mind. This is a rich and full account of the Reformation, in which the motivations of faith and feeling, power and practicality are woven fine, the players in the drama are presented as whole people, and the meaning of this chapter of Western cultural history is modeled "in the round." Rakow and Torda are meaningfully placed in it, as are Calvin's two foils: Michael Servetus and Marguerite de N ...more
Thomas Achord
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Lengthy and somewhat informed. I'm no expert on the Reformation, hence my reading of the book, but I have read around in theology and history.

Social Backdrop:
MacCulloch provides extensive social and civic background to the Reformation that is invaluable. He draws a confluence of courses all converging upon this varied yet singular event. As a social history, it is superb. He also, very wonderfully, shows how, prior to *The* Reformation, there were thousands of tiny little reformations. Monks, p
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Wanda
500 years after the Reformation, Diarmaid MacCulloch examines how the announcement of a university seminar in Germany led to the division of Europe. He examines the ideas of Martin Luther, where they came from and why they proved so revolutionary, tracing their development and influence, and reflecting on what they mean for us today.

Producer: Dixi Stewart.
J. Dunn
I picked this up because I knew almost nothing about the Reformation, and I felt like I should at least have the basic history straight for events which were so vital to the shaping of the modern world.

And, it mostly covered me for that. He did an excellent job of putting you inside the very alien worldviews and socio-cultural arrangements of the time, and illustrating just how revolutionary and sudden a change the Reformation really was. He gave engaging and detailed sketches of most of the mai
David Ozab
Jun 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent overview of the cataclysmic splintering of Western Christianity, The Reformation is long (700 pp) and intricate in detail, but the narrative never drags. Diarmid MacCulloch is thorough and almost always balanced in his view of both the Protestant and Catholic sides of the struggle.

The only time his biases seem to show are when he discusses the English Reformation. He seems to have very little patience for the more conservative and, to be honest, catholic side of the Church of Engla
Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, europe
This is another book that has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for some time. Now, I've finally finished reading it and I am glad that I did. Mr. MacCulloch sweeps through the Reformation with an energy and verve that is not found in many similar, one-volume accounts of history. And he is quite adept at switching between the historical, theological, and social aspects of the period that tore Western Europe apart. For those who have taken a course on modern Western history, the basic outline of ...more
Tsun Lu
"A learned, enlightening and disturbing masterwork."---Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World. Very fun to read, good very political interpretation of the Reformation history, but don't expect to find providence or love for Church there.
CJ Bowen
Aug 31, 2010 rated it liked it
MacCulloch knows the words, but not the tune. Brilliant and sad.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most impressive popular history book I’ve read to date. MacCulloch covers western European religious movements from roughly the Avignon Papacy (1309) through the conclusion of the Thirty Years War (1648), and does so with neither confessional bias nor the typical modern cynicism. Catholics, Protestants and secularists would do well to devour and learn from this work.

Hopefully I’ll get around to a better review, but in any case this will stay on my shelf for a long time as a useful refresher
When deciding on the rating to give to the books I've read, I'm always torn between giving it a score reflecting how I enjoyed the book subjectively and a score reflecting how good I recognised the book to be objectively. Frequently I'll find these two perspectives agree (it's certainly easier to enjoy a book that you recognise to be a literary achievement than to enjoy one you don't), but that really wasn't the case here.

Let the record show that I didn't enjoy this book. It is long, dense and c
Edward C.
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm effectively done at page 515. The text covers culture and morality (marriage, sex, etc.) that I may read later, but a brief skim suggests mainly author's bias from this point forward. And I've read the developmental history that I needed from it.

Overall, I'd say the book is a well-written, although some times dry, history of the Reformation. As a Catholic reading this text, I have to say that the author was generally fair, treating both sides equally for the most part. I think he may have f
Victoria Gaile
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: partially-read
I've only read about a quarter of this (about up to the Council of Trent), but it is a fabulous book that I recommend at every possible opportunity. The author is Anglican, which gives him a reasonable claim to be in the /via media/ between Catholic and Protestant, and what I most appreciated about his perspective is that he gives the benefit of the doubt to all participants. He assumes that both sides were by and large acting in good faith -- an assumption which neither side made about the othe ...more
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Absolutely *brilliant* book. Meticulous research. Captivatingly well-written. And I learned so much. I love historical nonfiction, and tend to be very picky about which people I trust to give me not just a solid sense of time & place, but also a deeper understanding of the facts. This book would be of interest to any reader wanting to delve into historical European theology, politics, culture, etc.
Leandro Guimarães Faria Corcete DUTRA
A quite Anglican — in the sense of Latitudinarism, not of militancy — history of Reformation & Counterreformation. While latitudinarian, it is still quite respectful of the Reformers’ convictions, even if its humanist, skeptical pressupositions are still apparent.
Oct 01, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Found this edition in a 2nd hand store for a few euros, looking forward to reading it.
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A big book covering a huge area of Reformation history. Informative and balanced on the whole, though occasionally MacCulloch bleeds his own modern humanistic scholarship over the page.
May 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Martin by: Ed Beach
Excellent information, and probably as readable as can be expected.
Steve Groves
A mammoth and exhaustive undertaking of what caused the Reformation and how it shaped life and the modern world as a result. I was left with feeling that the result did not echo the intention and much of what took place after Luther's proclamation in particular would have been better to have never occurred.

In reaching the end it seemed that the narrative reflected failure and division but a sentence near the close provided some glimmer of hope...

"Yet so much of the story so far has not been abou
Hank Pharis
This is as exhaustive of a scholarly history of the Reformation as I know of. There are many things to commend here. It is especially helpful regarding the background to the Reformation and the aftermath of the Reformation. However there are also some strong biases that are obvious and disappointing.
Shane Hill
The author is clearly very liberal and anti Christian and that makes this book a boring read...his relativism comes shining through and he cannot even make a decision whether the Reformation was a good thing or bad thing.....he is ignorant of basic Christian doctrine as well......

Some good info though and some interesting anecdotes keep this from being a one star effort.
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, religion
A rigorously fair, well-written account of the Reformation - starting well before Luther and ending well after him. It put me in the minds of the people of the time; taking their ideologies and arguments seriously and avoiding patronizing answers that might overly rely on sociology or psychology.

I'm planning to read his "All Things Made New" next.
Elliott Bignell
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a substantial but very readable tome. MacCulloch has a light touch which renders very manageable the huge amount of space he has taken to cover this critical part of Western history. The events of the Reformation are complex and far-reaching, predicated on theological issues which a layman might reasonably regard as intractably abstract technicalities. They show humanity in some ways at his worst, including a depressing litany of sadistic persecutions and wars such as the Thirty Years' W ...more
Elizabeth Elleyouende
MacCulloch is a wonderful, warm writer, but the first two-thirds of the book try to fit in so much detail that it becomes impossible for someone uninformed to fit them all in one picture in their head. The last third, which is more of a sociological survey of how the Reformation affected the average European, is very strong, though.
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“One should nevertheless not fall into the old stereotype of an organization that kept its place in Spanish society by sheer terror. Certainly the Inquisition used torture and executed some of its victims, but so did nearly all legal systems in Europe at the time, and it is possible to argue that the Spanish Inquisition was less bloodthirsty than most – as we will see, it showed a healthy scepticism about witches and put a stop to witch-persecution where it could” 2 likes
“The end of toleration in 1685 left a legacy of bitterness and instability in France, for it failed to destroy the Huguenots, while encouraging an arrogance and exclusiveness within the established Catholic Church. In the great French. Revolution after 1789 this divide was one of the forces encouraging the extraordinary degree of revulsion against Catholic Church institutions, clergy and religious that produced the atrocities of the 1790s; beyond that it created the anticlericalism which has been so characteristic of the left in the politics of modern southern Europe. In the history of modern France, it is striking how the areas in the south that after 1572 formed the Protestant heartlands continued to form the backbone of anti-clerical, anti-monarchical voters for successive Republics, and even in the late twentieth century they were still delivering a reliable vote for French Socialism.” 1 likes
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