A new look at one of Christian history’s most pivotal characters.
Because Luther’s life story contains many intriguing elements—political intrigue, accusations of heresy, life and death drama—it’s no surprise that biographer and novelist Wilson (Charlemagne, 2006, etc.) was drawn to a subject that has already been covered many times before. The author begins with a specific purpose: “to provide the non-specialist reader with an account…of Martin Luther, warts and all, and an assessment of his impact on his own time and subsequent ages.” He succeeds in providing a biography accessible to general readers, effectively assessing Luther’s legacy while noting that it is difficult to approach his life without taking sides. Wilson berates “agnostic historians who attempt to hover impartially above the field of conflict,” pointing out that Luther and his contemporaries cannot be understood without an appreciation for the weight of their beliefs upon everyday life. Still, many Catholics will cringe at Wilson’s approach to the Roman Catholic Church, even when there is justification: “[Johann Tetzel’s] sermon was the sales pitch of a disreputable insurance rep peddling heavenly policies.” Wilson acknowledges Luther’s many flaws, but also shows how the Renaissance man helped change perceptions about a diverse variety of subjects, including the biblical interpretation, German nationalism, anti-Semitism and more. Despite his somewhat partisan approach, Wilson offers a solid complement to such resources as Heiko A. Oberman’s Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (1990), and also serves as an excellent introduction to many of the other important figures of the era, from Erasmus to Zwingli.
A readable overview that demonstrates Luther’s wide-ranging impact on the world, then and now.