They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims

MilbrandtThey Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims by Jay Milbrandt
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

One of the enduring founding myths of the United States is the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, and like all myths it was based on true events that were warped as time passed. They Came for Freedom by Jay Milbrandt explores how and why the Pilgrims came to the shores of Cape Cod as well on how they survived when other settlements failed.

The arrest and trial of one Henry Barrow, who defied the Anglican Church’s version of Christianity and maybe the authority of Queen Elizabeth by his dissent, the story of the Separatists who would eventually become the Pilgrims begins. Milbrandt followed the Pilgrims narrative through London, a small village in Nottinghamshire, to the Netherlands, and then across the Atlantic to Cape Cod. But alternating with that of the Pilgrims was the biography of Squanto, whose own life and adventures before the landing of the Mayflower led to him being a pivotal individual for the success of New Plymouth. Once the Pilgrims had landed, Milbrandt merged the two narratives together in a very readable detailed history that went up until the fall of 1623. Although Milbrandt continued his history until 1646, the last 20 years was just a glimpse of tidbits of historical importance.

At around 225 pages of text, Milbrandt’s efforts are particularly good considering that his primary sources were few and even those were slanted to give the colony of Plymouth a good impression. Although several historical inaccuracies did appear, they were mostly naming conventions and not detrimental to the overall book.

While short, They Came for Freedom is a good general history that gives the reader a sense of the real events that later became mythologized in American culture and folklore. Overall it’s a nice, readable book about a topic most American know little able.

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Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650

ReformationsReformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter? In his book Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation. An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.

Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences. This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time. The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses. “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result. “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s. “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.

Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history. The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers. This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe. Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does. So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

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The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century

HillerbrandThe Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century by Hans J. Hillerbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christendom, the social-political-religious definition of Europe for nearly millennium was shaken at the right moment and the right place to rend it asunder for all time. In Hans J. Hillerbrand’s revision of his own work, The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation started by Martin Luther in Germany is seen first and foremost as a religious dispute that was not inevitable but due to political and societal factors as able to evolve until it became irreversible.

Hillerbrand began by setting the stage upon which Luther would burst onto the scene focusing not only on the condition of the Church, but also the political situation in Germany. Then Hillerbrand goes into what he calls “the first phase” of the Reformation in which Luther was the primary focus from 1517 to 1521, then after Luther’s stand at Worms the focus of the Reformation changes from a primarily religious controversy into one that politics begins to dominate in Germany. Yet, Hillerbrand doesn’t stop with Luther and Germany, as he begins describing the reactions to the German events in other territories before they lead to their own Reformation events. The Catholic Church’s response to the spread of Protestantism across Europe, the different forms of Protestantism besides Lutheranism, and the theological debates between all of them were all covered. And at the end of the book Hillerbrand compared the beginning of the 16th-century to the end and how each was different and the same after over 80 years of debate.

While Hillerbrand’s survey of the Reformation is intended for both general audiences and scholars, which he successes in doing, the epilogue of the book is what I believe is the best part of the text. Entitled “Historiography”, Hillerbrand discusses the various ways the Reformation has been covered by historians over the past 500 years and the trends in history as well. But in reviewing his own text, Hillerbrand emphasized the religious aspect that sparked as well as influenced the Reformation and the importance of the events in Germany which determined not only Luther’s but the Reformation’s fate in Europe. By ending the book on this note, Hillerbrand gives his readers much to think about on either to agree or disagree with his conclusion which is one of the many reasons to study history.

The Division of Christendom is a relatively, for 500 pages, compact survey of 16th-century Europe in which things both changed dramatically and yet stayed the same during a transformative time in Western history. As one of the foremost historians of the Reformation, Hans J. Hillerbrand knows this period of history as no one else and just adds to my recommendation to read this book for those interested in the Reformation.

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Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography

RenegadeRenegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography by Andrea Grosso Ciponte
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The life of Martin Luther, the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation, has been written about for centuries yet now it can not only be written about but visualized as well. Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography by Andrea Grosso Ciponte and Dacia Palmerino is exactly what its title says about the man who sparked a change in history.

Depicting the life of Luther from his childhood to his death, the biography focuses on his time as a monk led up to and through his break with Rome. At 153 pages there is only so much that can be covered and only so much context as well through sometimes the visual aspect of the graphic novel does come in handy. While the short length of the book obviously foreshadowed only the barest minimum that could be covered on his life, yet the graphic novel aspect seemed to offer a way to enhance the chronicling of Luther’s life. Unfortunately the artwork looks like screen caps of a video game with so-so graphics with only a few great pages of art, usually at the beginning of each chapter.

The overall quality of the biographical and artwork content of Renegade is a mixed bag of a passable chronicle on Luther’s life and so-so artwork. While some younger readers than myself might find it a very good read and hopefully make them want to know more about Martin Luther and the Reformation, I found it a tad underwhelming.

I received this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.

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500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights

500 Years500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas Patrick Miller
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The upcoming 500th celebration of the Protestant Reformation has spawned numerous books focusing on the impact of the movement on particular facet of history. 500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas P. Miller is one of these books in which the author’s articles for Liberty are reproduced in an anthology to chronicle a link between Luther to MLK Jr.

The book is divided into four sections surrounding a central theme each reproduced article in that particular section can be related to. The section introductions and the articles are all well written and fascinating reads especially for those interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues. However in relation to the subtitle of the book, I found the overall flow of the book did not link Luther to MLK Jr. The first and fourth sections definitely link Luther and to the present-day, but the third seemed to be just its own thing though very informative while the second is somewhere in-between.

So while the focus of showing a progression from Luther to MLK Jr., it thought it faltered enough to impact my overall rating, I still recommend this book to anyone interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues.

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Heretics and Heroes (Hinges of History #6)

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our WorldHeretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the most pivotal periods of Western civilization occurred during the Renaissance and the Reformation, to culturally impactful events that overlapped one another across Europe. Heretics and Heroes is the sixth book in Thomas Cahill’s series “The Hinges of History” highlighting the artists and the priests that changed how Europe viewed creativity and worshipped God.

Cahill begins this volume talking about philosophical struggle over the ages between Plato and Aristotle, through it is the fourth time he has discussed this millennia-long debate during the series it allows Cahill to refer back to it in the text and gives the reader a basis to understand its importance during this era. Cahill continued setting up both the Renaissance and Reformation by highlighting moments during the Late Middle Ages, especially the effects of the Black Death, leading up to and allowed for these two important moments in Western history to occur. The ‘discovery’ of the New World by Columbus and rise of the humanists begin the look at the titular heretics and heroes that will dominate the book, using both events Cahill shows the changing trends in Europe just before both the Renaissance and Reformation completely change it. The Renaissance and it’s complete change of artistic creativity of the previous millennium is taken up first through the lives of Donatello, Leonardo, and Botticelli before focusing on its height and sudden stop as a result of the Counter-Reformation in the life of Michelangelo. Then, save for a brief look at the art of Northern Europe, Cahill turns to the Reformation of Luther and the Catholic Counter-Reformation with brief looks at the Reformed movements and the development of Anglicanism.

The entire book is packed with information in a very conversational style of writing which has always been one of the strengths of Cahill’s writing. As always with a popular history book, Cahill had to pick and choose what to focus the reader’s attention on while covering as much as possible about the subject he’s decided to write about. While Cahill is pretty successful at hitting the high points and pointing readers looking for information to the appropriate place to look, his personal opinions at times overwhelm the history and themes he’s trying to bring to fore. All history authors have their personal opinions influence their work; however Cahill’s armchair psychiatry and personal theological arguments that actually have nothing to do with the debate he’s writing about at that moment in the text. While Cahill’s personal opinions have been in all of the previous books of the series, this volume it seems to not be subtle but almost blatant.

Overall Heretics and Heroes is a fine addition to the “Hinges of History” series written in a very readable style by Cahill. However, unlike the previous books in which the reader was left with wanting more, the reader will be wishing less of Cahill’s opinion and more of actual facts. Yet even with this drawback and forewarning a reader will find this book very informative.

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Home to Our Valleys!

Home to Our Valleys! (A Destiny Book, #161)Home to Our Valleys! by Walter Utt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Vaudois were a little Christian group that throughout the Middle Ages were not considered “orthodox” by The Church resulting in persecution and attempts to wipe them out, however after the Protestant Reformation they were considered important to many prominent Protestant leaders throughout Europe especially after Louis XIV influenced the Duke of Savoy to attack them. Home to Our Valleys! is the retelling of the Vaudois’ return from exile during the onset of the War of the Grand Alliance by author Walter Utt using the official account of Vaudois leader Henri Arnaud as well as numerous primary sources from around Europe.

The Vaudois home valleys were in the Piedmont region of Italy, then known as the Duchy of Savoy, right next to the border with Louis XIV’s France. Their exile as the result of French influence on the Duke of Savoy just after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, made them refugees in Switzerland and German lands alongside the Huguenots. It was these combined refuges that came together in a 1000 man strong force that left Swiss territory into Savoy marching for home, a journey that included a sliver of France jutting into Savoy territory. Although this force avoided major battles, it continued to win minor skirmishes before reaching their home at which point their campaign turned into a guerrilla action against French forces operating in Savoy territory.

The overall subject of the book was very interesting, but was undermined by Utt’s decision of how to tell this story. At times the book read like nonfiction then as historical fiction, going back and forth throughout. This inconsistency is what really drove my rating of this book so low because while after thinking long and hard that for the most part this was a nonfictional account of the Vaudois with apparently reconstructed conversations between individuals as best guessed by Utt.

The fact that I had to debate what type of book this was while reading it and a while afterwards, took considerable attention away from content Utt was writing about. The subject matter in Home to Our Valleys! is very interesting, but was lost in the style of writing that Utt chose to write in making the overall book underwhelming.

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