Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe-and Started the Protestant Reformation

Penguin Pr. Oct. 2015. 400p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781594204968. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698410176. HIST
Many biographies of Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) deserve attention, with Roland Bainton's Here I Stand authoritatively at the front of the line. What sets this volume from Pettegree (modern history, Univ. of St. Andrews) apart is his narrative frame: he focuses on Luther's uncanny knack for exploiting an emerging technology called the printing press to spread the Protestant gospel in 16th-century Europe. "Catechisms and prayer books, Bibles and hymnals, sermons, church orders, and commentaries"—these represent the new social media that Luther employed to bring the Gospel of Christ out of the rarified air of the clerical ranks and into the hands of everyday people. The author claims, "The Reformation could not have occurred as it did without print." This is not hagiography; Pettegree admirably presents Luther, warts and all. But in the final analysis, he asks whether printing created Luther and the Protestant Reformation or Luther created mass media through his shrewd manipulation and adaptation of the printing industry to his specific needs. This book argues both—it's hard to separate one from the other since the rising success of printing as well as Protestantism seemed to go hand in hand.
VERDICT Well researched and well written, this essential book is for anyone remotely interested in Luther or early modern technology.
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