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The Reformation: A History

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  2,578 ratings  ·  194 reviews
At a time when men and women were prepared to kill—and be killed—for their faith, the Protestant Reformation tore the Western world apart. Acclaimed as the definitive account of these epochal events, Diarmaid MacCulloch's award-winning history brilliantly re-creates the religious battles of priests, monarchs, scholars, and politicians—from the zealous Martin Luther and his ...more
Paperback, 864 pages
Published March 25th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published March 25th 2003)
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4.08  · 
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 ·  2,578 ratings  ·  194 reviews

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Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
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

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
Adam Snider
Nov 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Henry Sturcke
Jul 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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.
Oct 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Comprehensive, but dry.
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
Thomas Achord
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it
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
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.
David Ozab
Jun 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Reformation: Europese House Divided (2004), Oxford theologian Diarmaid MacCulloch gives a deep and broad historical sketch of the reformation. The reformation has always intrigued me: how could people rally against each other, and commit the most horrible acts, for ideas. Hence, I was an easy prey for the mainstream scientific hypotheses, which explain the reformation as a (geo)political, social and economical phenomenon.

MacCulloch breaks this delusional spell, and he does this with a magnifi
Tsun Lu
May 28, 2012 rated it liked it
"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
MacCulloch knows the words, but not the tune. Brilliant and sad.
I've owned a copy, maybe since 2013. Haven't read it yet.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Excellent but it's, occasionally, difficult to see the forest for the trees. Too much detail and written too close for comfort. A little on the dry side as well. But if you can persevere then you will learn a very great deal about the Reformation (1490-1700). Doesn't matter whether you are an atheist or one of the faithful baboons this will be a useful contextualizing history. Brilliant. Highly Recommended.
Moses Operandi
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
I should have read this years ago. Full review to come.
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christian, history
A wonderful book: long, but richly rewarding. Diarmaid MacCulloch knows so much it's scary; but he shares his knowledge and understanding in such a gentle, entertaining and amusing way that it warms the heart as well as informing the mind. This book explains the Protestant Reformation and Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation with enormous sympathy and compassion. It spans the whole of Europe from Portugal to Poland-Lithuania and Transylvania, from Sweden to Spain, covering the two hundred years fr ...more
This is a comprehensive history of the Reformation, rich in detail, and even-handed, teasing out the strands of the many varieties of both Catholic and Protestant Christianity that developed in Europe over the 15th to 17th century, and connecting this history meaningfully to our modern religious, national, gender identities. Something very special about MacCulloch's book is that he is able to synthesize many perspectives - theology, politics, social changes - putting it all together in a narrati ...more
Wesley Kavanagh
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent history of the Reformation. Current and accurate, MacCulloch's style is both scholarly and engaging, making him accessible to both academic and layman alike.
Edward C.
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommended to Rindis by: Hattusilis_III
Shelves: kindle, history
MacCulloch’s book on the Protestant Reformation is a huge work on a huge subject. Everything you might expect is in here, and much, much, more.

He starts with a fairly good overview of western Christianity at the end of the Middle Ages, and moves on to the expected history of the reformation. This covers the Reformation in terms of both thought and politics, and I’m not entirely sure that I really understand much more than I did before. Some of it is just me (I find philosophical/theological argu
A wonderful and complete overview of the Reformation and a good section of 14th-17th century church history. It was pretty long as an audiobook (considering that the paper copy is only about 800 pages), but worthwhile listening once I got used to the slower narration style. The book is a useful starting place for understanding the Reformation and inspired me to keep reading church history and medieval-renaissance writings.
Czarny Pies
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: european-history
This is a stunning work of synthesis. Mr. MacCulloch gives a strong analysis of the Reformation not only in France, Germany and England but he also examines the movements in Poland, Italy and Spain where the Reformation often gets less attention.

The best thing about this book is that MacCulloch manages to address the theological debates, the political impact of the Reformation and the popular, social religious trends all at the same time giving all the attention they merit.

Mr. MacCulloch also ar
Victoria Gaile
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
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“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.” 3 likes
“Calvin had a talent for inventing abusive nicknames and he styled this amorphous opposition ‘Libertines’, which had a conveniently scandalous resonance, while also reflecting the undoubted fact that his opponents sought a freedom for which he saw no need.” 2 likes
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