A comprehensive biography of the famed reformer.
Biographical works about Martin Luther (1483-1546) abound. Here, former history professor Schilling (Early Modern European Civilization and Its Political and Cultural Dynamism, 2008, etc.) seeks to capture “the uncontaminated Luther.” As he writes, “this book is not about a Luther in whom we can find the spirit of our own time; this book is about…a Luther whose thoughts and actions are out of kilter with the interests of later generations.” The author portrays Luther in the context of his own time, but the long narrative is rather rambling and far better suited to academics than to general readers. Schilling begins with an in-depth exploration of Luther’s family background and youth, utilizing the name Luder, which Luther used up until his activism began in earnest. The author goes beyond the scope of most biographies by detouring into lengthy histories of towns involved in Luther’s story, the political landscape of the era, and profiles of individuals who were important in Luther’s life. Even Luther’s choice of clothing is carefully discussed. The further Schilling moves into the course of Luther’s story, the more intriguing his exploration of the sociopolitical events that framed the birth of the Reformation. The author makes it a point to dispute myths, none greater than Luther’s nailing the famed 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door—he notes that if the list was nailed there at all, it was probably not done by Luther, and it was certainly not a dramatic event. Throughout, Schilling admirably avoids the fraught territory of psychoanalysis. His work will appeal most to readers who have exhausted other biographies of Luther and are looking for further minutia about the subject. For general readers seeking a meaningful but accessible biography, there are better choices, such as Derek Wilson’s Out of the Storm (2008).
An academic achievement with limited appeal for the nonscholarly audience.