Martin Luther : Renegade and Prophet
by Lyndal Roper

Overview - This definitive biography reveals the complicated inner life of the founding father of the Protestant Reformation, whose intellectual assault on Catholicism ushered in a century of upheaval that transformed Christianity and changed the course of world history.  Read more...

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More About Martin Luther by Lyndal Roper
This definitive biography reveals the complicated inner life of the founding father of the Protestant Reformation, whose intellectual assault on Catholicism ushered in a century of upheaval that transformed Christianity and changed the course of world history.

On October 31, 1517, so the story goes, a shy monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the door of the Castle Church in the university town of Wittenberg. The ideas contained in these Ninety-five Theses, which boldly challenged the Catholic Church, spread like wildfire. Within two months, they were known all over Germany. So powerful were Martin Luther's broadsides against papal authority that they polarized a continent and tore apart the very foundation of Western Christendom. Luther's ideas inspired upheavals whose consequences we live with today.

But who was the man behind the Ninety-five Theses? Lyndal Roper's magisterial new biography goes beyond Luther's theology to investigate the inner life of the religious reformer who has been called "the last medieval man and the first modern one." Here is a full-blooded portrait of a revolutionary thinker who was, at his core, deeply flawed and full of contradictions. Luther was a brilliant writer whose biblical translations had a lasting impact on the German language. Yet he was also a strident fundamentalist whose scathing rhetorical attacks threatened to alienate those he might persuade. He had a colorful, even impish personality, and when he left the monastery to get married ("to spite the Devil," he explained), he wooed and wed an ex-nun. But he had an ugly side too. When German peasants rose up against the nobility, Luther urged the aristocracy to slaughter them. He was a ferocious anti-Semite and a virulent misogynist, even as he argued for liberated human sexuality within marriage.

A distinguished historian of early modern Europe, Lyndal Roper looks deep inside the heart of this singularly complex figure. The force of Luther's personality, she argues, had enormous historical effects--both good and ill. By bringing us closer than ever to the man himself, she opens up a new vision of the Reformation and the world it created and draws a fully three-dimensional portrait of its founder.

Praise for Martin Luther

"A smart, accessible, authoritative biography of one of the most dynamic figures in European history . . . Here he stands: never more vocal, more controversial, more compelling."--Hilary Mantel

" Luther] leaps off the page in a vivid array of colours. . . . The work of one of the most imaginative and pioneering historians of our generation."--The Guardian

"It's difficult to see how anyone could improve on this superb life of Luther. Lyndal Roper, Regius professor of history at Oxford University, has an extraordinary talent for making complex theological issues not just clear but entertaining. Luther jumps from these pages with immense vitality, as if his exploits occurred last week. Theological history often seems monochrome. This is Luther in colour."--The Times

"Enlightening . . . a] formidably learned biography . . . Roper's] approach is avowedly new."--The Sunday Times

"Beautifully written . . . It is certainly among the most interesting, provocative, and original biographies of Luther to appear in recent years--one that tackles head on the challenge of entering into and exploring the interior life of its subject. . . . Anyone seriously interested in one of the most influential figures of the last half-millennium will need to make time to read this one."--Literary Review

  • ISBN-13: 9780812996197
  • ISBN-10: 0812996194
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Publish Date: March 2017
  • Page Count: 576
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds

Related Categories

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2017-01-09
  • Reviewer: Staff

Timed to coincide with the anniversary of Martin Luthers posting of the Ninety-Five Theses, Ropers biography is a demonstration of her skill not only as a historian but also as a storyteller. She begins with an overview of Luthers life and work, then explains her own personal involvement with Protestant theology and the study of religious history. It is important to note that her aim is to write a holistic biography, not just to recount the highlights of a combative life or explain why the theses were controversial. The book is arranged chronologically, and Roper starts with Luthers family, using a variety of sources, including portraits, to discuss his background. Roper keeps her story tightly focused, never wandering too far from Luther and his intellectual work over the course of his life. A definite strength of the volume is Ropers ability to explain complex intellectual events clearly; for instance, her discussion of the Diet of Worms and Luthers later anti-Semitic writings are well-organized and impartial. Roper is willing to allow her subject to stand in full complexity without seeking to simplify away difficulties of character and action. This volume will be of great appeal to scholars, but it is also extremely readable and will find a welcome audience among history enthusiasts. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Mar.)

BookPage Reviews

Portrait of a rebel

Martin Luther was an unlikely revolutionary. When he posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517 (as the story goes, although Luther himself never referred to it), he was 33 years old, had been a monk for 12 years and had published very little. Yet within two months, the theses were known all over Germany and read by both clergy and laity. Luther’s propositions challenged the Catholic Church on major theological beliefs and practices and questioned papal power. Whether they were attached to the church door or not, the theses sparked the Protestant Reformation and radically changed Christianity.

As we enter the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, Oxford historian Lyndal Roper explores the life and times of Luther in her absorbing and provocative Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet. An authority on early modern Germany, Roper gives us a compelling and nuanced portrait of a person greatly influenced by his environment. Luther was courageous in stating his deeply held beliefs and well understood he would be labeled a heretic and likely become a martyr. He was a brilliant writer but also a vicious man and often a difficult friend, even to those close to him. Although an intellectual and scholar, he mistrusted “reason, the whore,” as he called it. His anti-Semitism was propagated by many of his supporters but went much further than many were prepared to go. 

Why did Luther prevail when other reform leaders did not? Among the most important reasons was his ability to write well and communicate his thinking to the public. He also understood the critical importance of printing. For example, in 1518, by the time he was ordered to stop publication of his first work in German for a wide public audience, he ensured that it was already on sale. “His use of print was tactically brilliant,” Roper writes. “No one had previously used print to such devastating effect.” Perhaps above all, Luther was a realist. “Time and time again, though he might rail against them and insult them . . . Luther would in the end always align himself with the [civil] authorities.” 

Roper’s great skill in interpreting Luther’s personal and public lives and explaining controversial theological subjects within their historical context makes this biography both enlightening and entertaining.


This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews