The Reformation

Title: The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World

Author: Stephen J. Nichols

Page Count: 159

Publisher: Crossway

Readability: Easy

Genre: Church History

Synopsis: Stephen J. Nichols has produced a concise account of the pivotal events that forever changed Europe and impacted the whole world during the 16th century Protestant Reformation.  He has constructed the book upon two foundational beliefs: The Reformation still matters today and history can be fun.  Nichols begins by profiling the biography, character and theology of lawyer turned monk turned reformer Martin Luther.  He sparked the flames of revolution beginning in Wittenberg, Germany with the posting of his famous 95 Theses.  The author then  moves on to discuss other leaders of the Reformation including Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin.  He details how they impacted the Reformation in Switzerland and beyond.   There are a couple of chapters highlighting the repercussions of the Reformation in Britain and the birth of the Anglican church as well as the Puritan movement.   He also includes a chapter on the Anabaptists and their relation to the Reformation.  Nichols also covers how the Reformation impacted women and vice-versa.  A handy appendix contains references to the myriad of documents produced during that tumultuous period including Luther’s 95 Theses, the Westminster Standards, the Book of Common Prayer and Luther’s Large Catechism.  Mind you, these are only discussed in terms of content and their impact on culture; the texts are not supplied.

Kudos: Nichols’ goal of making history fun hit the mark with this reader.  I thoroughly enjoyed every page.  For me in particular it is a refreshing change of pace from the heavy theological books I have been sticking my nose into recently.  I greatly appreciated the reader friendly format: lots of pictures and informative sidebar tidbits keep the reader engaged.  His minimalist approach was a smart decision.  This is a history book for people who hate reading about history.  It neither bores nor confuses.  Nichols doesn’t get bogged down with unnecessary details and stays focused on the central theme: introducing the major players of the Protestant Reformation and how they impacted the world around them.

Knocks: This book’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: Brevity.  In a mere 159 pages the author expertly guides his readers through history’s most pivotal revolution.  I came away quite fulfilled.  I now have a well-rounded, panoramic view of the Reformation and how a handful of blessed men changed the world by God’s grace.   However, the book’s concise format leaves the reader wanting more – much more.  The moment I laid the book down I thought, ‘that was great – while it lasted’.  I believe that is exactly the effect Nichols intended to have on the reader.  He designed the book to simply be an introduction to the vast, rich and rewarding history of the Reformation and its subsequent impact on civilization.  It is a tasty morsel intended to whet the appetite for the main course.  The problem is, where do I go from here?  What book can I read that chronicles the deeper details of the Reformation that will not in some way disappoint me because it is not written as warmly and lively as this volume? It is my hope that Nichols is working on a large scale edition that explores the Reformation even more fully.

Recommendations: If you are planning to read your first book on the history of the Reformation, this compendium is the perfect launching point.  Even if you have read multiple volumes about this topic, The Reformation can still be a valuable cliff notes reference that will help you to keep the big picture fully in view.  This is definitely a great book to pick up and read every now and again.

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