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Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  653 ratings  ·  120 reviews
This definitive biography reveals the complicated inner life of the founding father of the Protestant Reformation, whose intellectual assault on Catholicism ushered in a century of upheaval that transformed Christianity and changed the course of world history.

On October 31, 1517, so the story goes, a shy monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the door of the C
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Random House (first published June 16th 2016)
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Always Pouting
Feb 16, 2018 rated it liked it
A nonfiction book that covers the life of Martin Luther and the actually nuance behind the reformation as well as the splintering of the movement with time that lead to the many sects of Christianity we see today. The book also shows that many of the things we see in the evangelic movement today has actually been around since Luther's time, specifically the doomsday rhetoric in particular.

This one took a look time to read because I read it on my commute and whenever I had a time, and the thing
I don't know. In the beginning was the word. And for the first 100 pages or so I thought the words fantastic, after that it went down hill. Is it the word or is it me? Does the book drown under the scope of the subject or does my thinking drown out the book? Is that my weariness rather than an objective criticism. I think on the whole this is a very ok biography of Martin Luther, with some good points but not enough of them to make a very good biography overall rather like a pain au chocolate th ...more
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Revolutions need hard men, leaders who are are focused, uncompromising, and messianic. They do not have to be right in their pronouncements, just forceful enough to pull their followers along and keep them in line. They must be ruthless with dissenters and permit no questioning of their authority. If you are going to create a new world you need to stand the old one on its head.

Luther was such a man. The audacity of his rebellion was more than foolhardy, it was suicidal, and he fully expected to
Matthew Manchester
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Such a great biography (and IMO, the best cover for a book on Luther). This biography differed by really trying to focus on Luther's internal life, his emotions, and his thinking. While the book got weighed down here and there, I learned A LOT and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Due to this being Reformation 500, I recommend everyone read a book on Luther (among other reformers). I recommend this one. It's not the gold-standard. But it does have an audiobook version to it. 😀

I also chose this one for two
This biography was very interesting and remarkably detailed. Although it was somewhat long, it kept me turning pages until the very end. This book was more than a decade in the making, and that shows in the care taken with the in-depth exploration of Luther's life. This well-illustrated biography delves into Luther's childhood, his formative years, and different stages of his life's work. It focuses on Luther himself, a complex individual, and analyzes him in the context of 16th-century Germany, ...more
May 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-biography
Anniversaries attract histories and biographies like, uh, cold pizzas attract cockroaches, hm, note to self, practice generating more appealing similes.

Anyway, Luther might have glued (or nailed, which seems more dramatic somehow) his Theses to the church door in October 1517, so I guess we can anticipate self-styled opinion makers speculating in a few short months on what it all means, even if they (the opinion makers) haven't attended a house of worship in earnest since before they got their s
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's a complete coincidence that I finished this on Reformation Day, as I'm neither Lutheran nor a huge Luther fan girl (and rather less a fan after reading this), but there it is. Luther was an authoritarian and a bully, and he could be a spiteful, crude, vicious hypocrite, spewing hate at Catholics, Jews, and fellow Evangelicals who failed to accept his doctrines as “gospel,” but there's no denying the lasting significance of the religious reform movement that he so powerfully and effectively ...more
Wilhelm Weber
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lutheran-history
This is not my regular "Luther-Diet". It was exotic reading and not only because of Lyndal Roper's Australian roots in Melbourne or references to Oberman and Küng in Tübingen or finally her current position in Oxford. She did not try to summarize Luther's theology or even attempt at writing it's evolution and development over some 5 decades or so. Neither did she concentrate in the normal way on the "cities of the south" for her biography, but took into account the very crucial surroundings of L ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In terms of Reformation books to come out this year, I have been very much looking forward to this one. While early reviews had highlighted it to be extremely learned and critical, I wasn't expecting to find so much sympathy and care for the subject. Roper, who worked on this book for over a decade, has written one of the most fascinating accounts of Luther's life to date. She tells familiar stories but highlights often overlooked aspects, especially dealing with the relational context of many d ...more
Caidyn (he/him/his)
This review and others can be found on BW Book Reviews.

I know that I should be drinking a nice glass of lukewarm beer while I write this but, sorry, I'm not.

My first real brush with Luther's theology was this past semester when I took a course at my college called Christianity II: Development. It covered Christianity from after 500AD to modern times. So, that included Luther and the Protestant revolution. I like to think that I won my professor over by my reactions in class to Luther's writings.
Paul Ataua
Dec 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
A detailed and sometimes critical biography of Martin Luther that gave a fairly clear picture of the man and the period. It dealt well with the opposing poles of the reformer and the historical conditions that begged reform, and although I would have liked a little more of his theology, there was enough within to whet my appetite for further study.
Michael DeBusk
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
When Lyndal Roper noted in the introduction that that her biography would seek to understand Luther as an individual, referencing Erik Erikson’s psychoanalytic biography Young Man Luther as an example, I was admittedly less than excited about what lay in store. I was pleasantly surprised. Roper’s biography is thoroughly researched—the product of more than a decade—offering insights about Luther I’ve not encountered elsewhere. Her Luther is complex and dynamic as Roper is particularly careful to ...more
Chris Wray
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really liked, but didn't quite love, this biography of the great Reformer. When Martin Luther nailed (or possibly glued) his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, he was challenging both the whole system of the medieval church and the authority of the papacy. It was a pivotal moment in the history of the church, and of Western civilisation. Luther is a hugely significant individual, as he achieved a decisive split with the Roman Catholic church, his theology has remained central to Prote ...more
Jill Meyer
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the posting - in whatever manner - by Augustinian monk Martin Luther, of his "Ninety-five Theses" on the All Souls Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Historians aren't too sure how these Theses was actually mounted on the door, a fact explored in Lyndal Roper's new bio of Luther, "Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet". Luther's grievances were mainly about the selling of indulgences by agents of the Roman Catholic Church. The purchase of these indulgences ...more
Marcel Pool
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent biography of reformer Martin Luther, which does not only paint a good picture of who Luther was, with his strengths and weaknesses, but also it gives a good image of the reformation in general. For me it explains a lot about what was happening in the 16th century. You also get an idea about some of Luthers contemporaries, like Melanchton, Zwingli and Karlstadt.
This was a very dry read, even for someone who is interested in the topic. There are a lot of names, dates, facts, and jargon.

It certainly does not paint Luther in the most flattering light. How truthful it is to his character is hard to say, although it does appear to be highly researched and it feels very honest. All too often, Luther is practically held to the level of sainthood (ironically enough) by Protestants, but his temperament and manner of dealing with others, let alone his apparent m
Garth Mailman
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
First surprise is the fact that Lyndal Roper is a woman. Her psycho-hystorical biography is based on documents including Luther’s letters inaccessible until recently behind the Iron Curtain. The bibliography shows why research began in 2006 and publication in January, 2016. The book is footnoted like a scholarly doctoral dissertation.

Second revelation for me is the humbling realization as to how little I actually know about the founder of my denomination. If knowing how little one knows be the
Sep 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is the third Luther biography I've read and I think will be the last for a time anyway. Yes it's good, and probably justifiably won all the awards that it did. It is, thankfully, very readable which is not always the case with biographies of sixteenth century notables.

Martin Luther is an enigmatic character. We pull him into our own age as though he were the first modern man, the herald of individualism, the triumph of the will and freedom of choice. And yet, as Roper makes clear, he is non
Hank Pharis
May 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Having listened to this (see review below) I decided to read it. It is in many ways very good. You do learn things here about Luther that I have not seen elsewhere. But this could also be entitled "The Dark Side of Luther." Roper paints a somewhat dark picture. However she does marshall evidence for her portrait. Our greatest strengths can become weakenesses and this was Luther's case. His stubborness enabled him to stand up to Rome and not back down. But his stubborness also caused him to almos ...more
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There are so many bios of the Reformer that one must ask, "why another?" But this new bio is worth it. Roper, the Regius Chair of Theology at Oxford, gives an insightful, well researched, and balanced telling of Martin Luther's life, trials, theology, and significance. It is well worth it, one of the better Luther bios written. Not fawning, not looking askance, this is a good, historically accurate portrayal. ...more
Jun 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography
This was my one 'Luther's 500th' indulgence, a new big book on Luther. But like so many over-hyped and anticipated events, it failed to meet expectations or even keep my interest. So many problems with Roper's work, which reads like an over-wrought WIKI article made up exclusively by snippets from Luther's writing, with the occasional description of a woodcut thrown in for good measure. Not a good biography, and not, as the author claims, a good social history. So disappointing. ...more
Ryan Griffith
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent treatment of Luther’s life. While Roper doesn’t address Luther’s theology as much as I had hoped, her analysis of his cultural context is brilliant, informative, and riveting. This is one of my favorite books of 2017.
Beth Lynas
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 07, 2017 rated it liked it
A serviceable, though at some moments fairly dense, biography. My interest in Martin Luther was primarily spurred by recently learning that he, Henry VIII and Michelangelo were all alive at the same time. I had no idea all of these important people and their associated revolutions were happening simultaneously and I wanted to learn more about how the conditions that enabled Michelangelo's extravagant art were related to the conditions that spurred Martin Luther's Reformation. This book, however, ...more
Nov 29, 2019 rated it liked it
I started this book not knowing much about the Reformation, other than the fact that Luther started the Reformation by nailing 95 theses to the church door on October 31, 1517. I had hoped that this book would talk a lot about the theses and the Reformation; it mentioned these but also seemed to assume readers would have prior knowledge of various sects and religious leaders and German history. I really needed some table to keep track of every person in this book, and there were some chapters in ...more
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very well written and researched biography on Martin Luther. However, at times I found it rather depressing. His political theory of two realms, one of God and the other of the world, seems to have successfully carried over to our present time.

According to Luther, Christians must not resist secular authority even if that authority is unjust and hurts people. In the realm of God, good works don't really get you anywhere because you are sinful and by doing good works, you are only tryin
Andy Dollahite
Feb 28, 2021 rated it liked it
Luther is a complicated man. He is both theological genius and intemperate iconoclast. For all of his genuine reforms worthy of gratitude, his life also includes episodes of vulgarity and a disturbing collection of gross sins of the tongue/pen (there’s no way to justify or excuse many of the things he wrote about the Jews). Of particular interest to me here was the unpacking of his theology of the body. We need more of this today. I thought this biography was adept at portraying many of the cont ...more
Jane Stewart
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
A tough read for the first half - very theological and political - but freed up as it went along. The fact that I have been schooled in Luther and lutheranism helped me a lot with this book and I suggest that you dial up a Wiki page before you read it if you have little knowledge in the area ("by grace through faith alone" and presence in the sacrament, in particular). Luther wasn't the nicest bloke but was incredibly intelligent and politically astute and this comes across strongly. Worth a rea ...more
Jun 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, library-book
An interesting biography that explores not only Luther's impact on the Reformation but also examines the positive and negative attributes of Luther as a human being-fully a man of the middle ages with all the biases, sins, and uncertainties those traits entail. ...more
Prima Seadiva
Audiobook. Reader was okay.
I didn't know much about Martin Luther other than being an initiator of the Reformation. This book certainly shows both his positive and negative traits and the enormous influence for good and bad through his work on western culture. Some of the descriptions of events, feuds, agreements and disagreements were way too detailed for my level of interest but maybe just right for others.

Five hundred years later were the changes he helped begin ultimately a good direction? I
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Lyndal Roper, FRHistS, FBA, is an Australian historian and academic. She was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford in 2011. She is a fellow of Oriel College, an honorary fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and the author of a variety of groundbreaking works on witchcraft.

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According to some historians, the month of April is actually named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, by way of the Romans....
43 likes · 26 comments
“Unlike other reformers, Luther rarely claimed divine inspiration for his ideas. It is interesting too that he uses the word Kunst—art—for it suggests that the insight, like the skill of a craftsman or artist, opened up a whole new ability to accomplish things in a different way.” 1 likes
“Luther describes how backbiters are like hyenas or dogs who dig up stinking human corpses, pullulating with decay and full of worms, and bite into them—“Ugh, what a dreadful monster the backbiter is!” 1 likes
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