Published by Penguin on October 27, 2015
Genres: Christianity, Europe, History, Religion
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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A revolutionary look at Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the birth of publishing, on the eve of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary When Martin Luther posted his “theses” on the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517, protesting corrupt practices, he was virtually unknown. Within months, his ideas spread across Germany, then all of Europe; within years, their author was not just famous, but infamous, responsible for catalyzing the violent wave of religious reform that would come to be known as the Protestant Reformation and engulfing Europe in decades of bloody war. Luther came of age with the printing press, and the path to glory of neither one was obvious to the casual observer of the time. Printing was, and is, a risky business—the questions were how to know how much to print and how to get there before the competition. Pettegree illustrates Luther's great gifts not simply as a theologian, but as a communicator, indeed, as the world's first mass-media figure, its first brand. He recognized in printing the power of pamphlets, written in the colloquial German of everyday people, to win the battle of ideas. But that wasn't enough—not just words, but the medium itself was the message. Fatefully, Luther had a partner in the form of artist and businessman Lucas Cranach, who together with Wittenberg’s printers created the distinctive look of Luther's pamphlets. Together, Luther and Cranach created a product that spread like wildfire—it was both incredibly successful and widely imitated. Soon Germany was overwhelmed by a blizzard of pamphlets, with Wittenberg at its heart; the Reformation itself would blaze on for more than a hundred years. Publishing in advance of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, Brand Luther fuses the history of religion, of printing, and of capitalism—the literal marketplace of ideas—into one enthralling story, revolutionizing our understanding of one of the pivotal figures and eras in human history.
When I learned that a new book about Martin Luther and the Reformation was being released, I knew I had to read it. I’ve tried to read Bainton’s Here I Stand a number of times—it is the Luther biography, after all—but oh my word, is it ever dry, dry, dry. I never could push through.
But “dry” is not a word you would use to describe Brand Luther, not at any point in the book. Talk about narrative nonfiction! I want to be in one of Pettegree’s history classes, because the way he shares information is so exciting and vivid.
In music history we learned about Reformation’s far-reaching impact, but after reading this book, I couldn’t stop thinking about how endless that impact seems. I’m always learning about more things that go back to Luther’s life in Wittenberg.
Brand Luther offers up a slice of Luther’s story that is sure to woo fellow book lovers: Luther “invented a new way to converse through books.” Wittenberg was kind of a dinky, backwoods town compared to other areas of Germany at the time, but it soon became the center of the publishing industry in Germany. I knew publishing and the Protestant Reformation coincided in a way that benefited both movements, but I had no idea they were so closely intertwined, and in such a powerful way.