I am just finishing Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The Reformation. It’s great. He completely demolishes Weber’s and Tawney’s theory about Protestantism and the rise of capitalism. Few things are as satisfying as watching a historian demolish a widely accepted theory, even if it is one of your favorites.
MacCulloch is a truly witty historian and provides plenty of comedic relief, which is so important when you are dealing with a subject like the Reformation. His history is comprehensive, as it includes the Reformation in central and eastern Europe. I was previously unfamiliar with the Reformation in Poland and Transylvania, I had just assumed that it never got that far east. This is also the best history of the 30 years war that I have read, althought that might reflect more on my limited reading than anything else.
MacCulloch brings out and explains the back and forth between the various reformers. Previously I had no idea that Strasbourg had played such a crucial role in the Reformation.
MacCulloch also gives us a glimpse of what life during the Reformation must have been like for ordinary people with he detailed looked into ideas about death, magic, and sex.
One thing he explains is why anyone would put up with, never mind be attracted to strict Calvinism. This is something that I have often wondered about, as like MacCulloch, I am descended from Huguenots. People in the 16th Century did not have the same assumptions about personal freedom as those of us who inhabit 21st century America. They did yearn for order in a disorderly world and Calvinsim provided that in spades.
MacCulloch is also the only Reformation historian with which I am familiar who credits music with the spread of the Reformaiton. Previously I had never heard of Clement Marot; now I plan to research his music. I wonder if anyone has recorded it?
UPDATE: Kevin Drum was not impressed. He should have skipped ahead to the section on the United States, which I suspect he would like. The Reformation is a huge subject, is simply must be covered at length at with some detail. Drum might prefer Preserved Smith’s Age of the Reformation, which is organzied by country, and then a series of chapters on the times of the Reformation, arts and literature, science, economics, and so on. I am going to write about Smith’s book later.