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God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,526 ratings  ·  292 reviews

A network of complex currents flowed across Jacobean England. This was the England of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Bacon; the era of the Gunpowder Plot and the worst outbreak of the plague. Jacobean England was both more godly and less godly than it had ever been, and the entire culture was drawn taut between these polarities. This was the world that created the King James

Paperback, 299 pages
Published February 29th 2004 by Harper Perennial (first published May 1st 2003)
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Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Adam Nicolson is better known for Sea Room and nature writing but what a marvellous historian he is! His enthusiasm for his subject leaps off the page and is utterly absorbing.

The King James Bible is probably still the most widely known translation, its archaic language lending an authority and romance to the words. I was surprised to learn that the language was archaic even when it was written. King James I & VI, a formidable intellectual, had the task of uniting Scotland, England, Wales,
William Blair
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another case of a book where what I learned was not what the book was about. Oh, I learned about the translation of the King James Bible, but this book is about much more. The previous translations. The history of England in the late, late 1500's to 1611. The death of Elizabeth. The ascension of King James. The Jacobeans. Queen Mary. Shakespeare. Robert Cecil. The Pilgrims. The Puritans. The Gunpowder Plot. The English of the KJB was not the English spoken by the English at the time. Even then, ...more
Jane Louis-Wood
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a surprisingly exhilarating read and one that has changed significantly my perceptions of the period (and hence how I'll teach it in future). The original title was Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, but it was souped up for this edition to accompany the TV programme of the same name.

It's a very fine history of the making of what is arguably the most significant book in English; how it was collated and adapted from at least three previous versions
Alisa Hardman
Aug 07, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book fascinating. I have always loved the Bible and have read it since I was young. I also love language and often feel disappointed when I read newer translations that render the Bible into modern speech. So, the KJV is important to me and I liked learning about the men who helped create it. I think they relied on poor translations but used beautiful language. I was surprised to find how political the process of chooseing that language was. Politics rather than truth was the ...more
Literary Chic
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: at-home
While not an overly fascinating book, I found the content to be enlightening. I grew up in a KJV only religion that defined the KJV as the only inspired word of God. It was also seen as the final word in all matters of faith and practice. I found "God's Secretaries" educational and a less indoctrinated view of the KJV bible's history.
Katherine L
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book took me a while to get into. It probably took me a month, on and off, to read through it the first time. And then I sat down and read it again--and now find myself going back to read parts over and over.

The book weaves together a history of the Jacobean era, with all of its political and religious turmoil, with biographies of many of the major players involved in the translation of the King James Bible. In this section, the author explains the political and religious problems that the
Erik Graff
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: religion
We weren't allowed to use the KJV of the bible as a primary resource in college as well as in seminary. Too many words had changed, or even reversed, meanings since its publication in the 17th century. Koine Greek, the primary language of its 'new' testament, was not well understood by its teams of translators. Better, older versions of the texts, unavailable or unknown then, have been uncovered in the centuries since their work was concluded. The King James, while important in literary and ...more
Howard Cincotta
Take a society riven by social and political conflict, where religious toleration is an alien concept. Then suggest that a committee drawn from that society – not an individual – produce one of the greatest and most enduring documents in the English language. This, of course, is the unlikely tale of the King James Bible, as related in this compelling and well-researched book by Adam Nicolson.

Committees can’t perform such literary feats – except when they do, and the King James Bible is perhaps
Apr 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-history
Back then, even a committee could write as beautifully as anything in English excepting perhaps only Shakespeare. This book has the terms of reference of the committee that wrote the King James Bible, and speculates on how it must have happened.

Not from the book, but can't resist adding Eliot's comment on first reading the Revised Standard Version: "It's the work of men who did not realize they were atheists."
Deane Barker
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What's interesting about this book is that there's just very little information about the actual process of creating the King James Bible. Not much of the historical record of the actual translation process remains.

So, what the book does is concentrate on the societal, political, and religious environment of the times, which is pretty interesting. Some random trivia:

- The idea for the translation came out of the Hampton Court Council, which happened right as or after The Plague was ravaging
Chuck Shorter
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not a theological work on inspiration, preservation or dynamic equivalence. The bulk of this material deals with politics & personalities. The author paints the vivid landscape on which the KJV was constructed. I learned a great deal about the struggles between the Church of England, the multifaceted Puritans, the persecuted Separatists & the despised papists. Fascinating character sketches are presented about many of the more prominent Translators which surprised me when their ...more
Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)
eh, 2 and a 1/2...interesting, but he goes on and on in places
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Adam Nicolson has pieced together a story from the fragmentary vestiges of records that have come down to us about the translators of this magnificent text. He describes a golden age of majesty that is long gone, which is why modern translations never can achieve what this group accomplished. Our language is poorer-who could argue this fact? We are drowning in books but impoverished of mind. The values of King James day such as hierarchy, order, and rationality, are largely gone.
This book brings
Gumble's Yard
Jan 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Interesting tale of the making of the bible - very reasonable in length although overtly detailed in some cases in describing some of the translators and their back story: actual historical evidence of the actual translation process and many of the committee of translators employed are lacking and so when it exists the author over exposes it.

The book is strongest when setting out the context in which the book was written. It presents James as a natural peacemaker who took a deliberate decision
Lee Harmon
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here’s an odd book. It suffers from a little deficiency, through no fault of its own: the story it has to tell (how the King James Bible came into being) is simply not very interesting. Most of the contributors to the King James Bible were obscure, and the historical setting is equally dull. It’s wrought with typical corruption of court, power squabbles, and serious disagreements over doctrine. What else is new throughout the 1500 years since the Bible’s books were written? Even telling the ...more
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
This is the second time I have read God's Secretaries. I first read the book when it was published in 2001. I loved it then!
And I loved it now on this re-reading.
What strikes me is what I recalled from the first reading, and what impressed me on the second reading.
On the first reading, I was taken with the description of actual process. Who were the translators, how were they assembled, how did they go about their work, etc.
The second reading I saw more on the historical context. How the
Noam Sienna
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you liked Simon Winchester's book on the OED, you will love this book on the KJV. In fact, it convinced me to appreciate the KJV for what it is — a great work of 17th-century English literature — rather than dismiss it as an imperfect translation. I found this book to be an illuminating window not only into the KJV but into the atmosphere of Tudor/Stuart England in general.
FABULOUS book! I learned so much! This will always be a great reference book for me-- my copy is completely marked up with my notes and highlights!
This book was very detailed and academic. It gave a lot of information about the time and specifics about the translators. I would have enjoyed more information about the actual process of translating.
Sandra D
I was raised in the KJV-only tradition, and can remember my dad in the late 1960s looking askance at teenagers and young adults in our congregation burying their noses in Good News for Modern Man. I made a number of attempts to read the KJV in my youth, and might have made it all the way through once. As beautiful as the language is, I couldn't really make heads or tails of it.

It was many, many years later that my husband finally lured me into tasting the forbidden fruit of the NIV. And,
Mike Day
I liked this book, but did not love it. Part of the problem of me not loving this book was Adam Nicolson’s style of writing…

I did appreciate the effort that went into the translation process, as well as King James’ efforts to have a Bible that was translated by both parts of Christendom – the Separatists who did not want the trappings of English hierarchical Christianity as well as those that supported the authority of bishops and the King. By the time this text was put together (1611), England
Lissa Notreallywolf
I was lukewarm about this popular history of the King James Bible. It makes clear that the translation effort was definitely the work of a politically charged committee and based on ringing phrases rather than any particular loyalty to the text. Yet the translators were skilled men guided by a series of criteria, including viewing the Jewish Testament as one with the New Testament. On page 82 we learn that there were fierce controversies in the sixteenth century over the fact that when Christ ...more
I chose this book because of the topic. A browse of the first few well written pages pulled me right in. The writing style stayed strong throughout, but the book has a content problem. Nicolson is trying to put too much into too a small book.

The book has 2 titles, and this may be the problem. There should be plenty to fill a 400 page book on God's secretaries alone. The second title, the actual making of the KJV, gets short shrift in favor of a third topic which is England in the early period of
This book explores the contradictions of Jacobean England's culture, where religion and politics were inseparable and scholarship was bought by the Church of England (hardly a monolithic entity, but by necessity for its survival the servant of the monarch). The translators of the "authorized" version of the collection of writings by various men over many centuries, which we know as "The Bible" were a mixed lot, but all vetted by King James, for his own purposes and the shoring up of what must by ...more
When I was in 2nd grade in a public school, our teacher opened class every day with the pledge of allegiance, "America," and a Psalm from the King James Bible. The language and words of these psalms left a strong impression on me, something I have never forgotten.
I loved Nicolson's book. It is not just about religion, or the fine points of theology, or esoteric issues of translation. It is about the historical background which led to the decision by the king, James I, to call for a new
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Memorable for several reasons.

The instructions James I personally wrote to his translation committees reveal both his goals in commissioning the new version -- puritans at the time were reading the "Geneva Bible," whose text and extensive notes were exceptionally critical of "tyrants" and the power of kings generally -- and something of the difficulties facing anyone working on holy texts. For example, how does one handle the Septuagint, in which Greek texts used by Jesus and the disciples do
Nov 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The title of the American edition, "God's Secretaries", is rather misleading. The book isn't so much about the ins and outs and technical details of translation process of the King James Bible, but about the cultural and religious context that surrounded it. Precious little is known of the actual process beyond the initial instructions given by James and the make-up of each of the six companies assigned portions of the Bible. Nicolson covers these details and discusses what little is known, but ...more
Daniel Engesetter
Sep 26, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: interested parties
Anyone who has anything to do at all with the Bible in English should read this book. It is a description of the exhaustive work that went into the making of the King James Version of the Bible, and the political and social factors that influenced the translation. Nicolson painstakingly researched this historical work, accessing papers that were well over 300 years old in order to get clearer picture of what the translation process was like- hundreds of contemporary scholars were involved, many ...more
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not really a book about the translation process or even the making of the KJV. Instead the book deals more with the period and the tensions between the Puritans and the establishment church.

While some comparisons are made between the translations made for the KJV with other translations to demonstrate how much more "rich", poetic and fraught with meaning the KJV translation is, I thought some of the claims exaggerated. In the absence of any evidence that the translators did intend all the
Jun 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I found this interesting, and I did learn a lot about the history of England in the early 1600s. But I didn't find anything here particularly noteworthy about "the making" of the KJB itself. If you're a huge history fan of this era and have a lot of knowledge, you'll probably find nothing new at all here. But maybe I've read so much fiction over the years that when I read a non-fiction book without a strong narrative thread, I feel cheated in a way. Nicolson's writing is strong and obviously ...more
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Adam Nicolson writes a celebrated column for The Sunday Telegraph. His books include Sissinghurst, God’s Secretaries, When God Spoke English, Wetland, Life in the Somerset Levels, Perch Hill, Restoration, and the acclaimed Gentry. He is winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the British Topography Prize and lives on a farm in Sussex.
“A puritan is such a one as loves God with all his soul, but hates his neighbor with all his heart.” 4 likes
“The language of the King James Bible is the language of patriarchy, of an instructed order, of richness as a form of beauty, of authority as a form of good; the New English Bible is motivated by the opposite, an anxiety not to bore or intimidate. It is driven, in other words, by the desire to please and, in that way, is a form of language which has died.” 3 likes
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