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Calvin Hardcover – July 10, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


“A magnificent biography . . . [Bruce Gordon] liberates Calvin from the many stereotypes to which he has too long been captive and turns him into a flesh-and-blood human being.”--George Stroup, Christian Century
(George Stroup Christian Century)

 “It is here at last . . . a great biography of Calvin ... the best biography of John Calvin to date.” —


"Professor Gordon has surpassed our highest expectations. Gordon's Calvin will rightly become the standard biography. . . . This work deserves the widest possible audience . . . beautifully written . . . reliable and enjoyable."--David A. Booth, Ordained Servant
(David A. Booth Ordained Servant)

"Among recently published biographies of John Calvin, Bruce Gordon's Calvin is undoubtedly the most comprehensive and detailed in its telling of the story of Calvin's life as a sixteenth-century reformer and churchman...No English biography of Calvin does more than Gordon's with Calvin's times and context."--Cornelis P. Venema, Mid-America Journal of Theology
(Cornelis P. Venema Mid-America Journal of Theology)

"Gordon's book is now the 'must have' source for a fair and accurate account of Calvin as a human being."—Donald K. McKim, Interpretation
(Donald K. McKim Interpretation)

“Exceptional. . . lucid. . . masterful.”—Matthew J. Pereira, Religious Studies Review
(Matthew J. Pereira Religious Studies Review)

About the Author

Bruce Gordon is professor of Reformation history, Yale Divinity School. He is author and editor of a number of books, including The Swiss Reformation.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (July 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300120761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300120769
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,219,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Tim Challies TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 3, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is here at last. For years now I have been waiting for a great biography of Calvin--the kind of biography which I would recommend without hesitation for those who would want to learn about the life of the great Reformer. In a year that has seen the arrival of at least half a dozen biographies of Calvin, this one, I believe, stands as the best. Written by Bruce Gordon, professor of Reformation History at Yale University, it is titled simply and properly, Calvin.

Biographies of figures as controversial as John Calvin tend to be written by unabashed fans or ardent enemies. There is a lot of biography that reads like hagiography and a lot that reads like pure slander. This was the case with Calvin himself and his earliest biographers--either they were his closest confidants, singing his highest praises or they were men who feared and despised him, fabricating outrageous charges against him (such as Jerome Bolsec who, ten years after Calvin's death, wrote an account of the Reformer's life in which he accused him of sodomy and suggested that he had died from crab lice). Even today, many of the biographies seem to focus undue attention on Calvin's great accomplishments without wrestling with his notable faults and foibles. This new biography is an exception as Gordon writes from a position of notable objectivity. He seems a little bit detached from his subject, almost as if he has had to become a somewhat-grudging admirer of Calvin through immersing himself in the man's life. Throughout the book he is willing to credit Calvin for what he did so well but he is also willing to call a spade a spade, whether that means pointing out pride or temper or youthful arrogance.

The greatest strength of Calvin may be the author's deep knowledge of the time in which his subject lived.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ben W on September 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is not an easy read. However, in the end, it is a rewarding read. This book is hard to start out, as there is little recorded about Calvin's early life, and the author is interested in really setting the stage in which Calvin grows up. A confusingly large number of names becomes easier to manage as you progress through the book and see certain people come to the front of Calvin's life and the time period. The book is not entirely in an entirely chronological format; instead, in a generally chronologically manner, with a good bit of overlap, the author tackles major events in Calvin's life, many of which took place over many years. This is a great book for learning about both Calvin, and about the Reformation during his lifetime. One of the more interesting things that really came through a lot was the struggle & cooperation between church & state at a time when the two governments were largely held to be in many ways one. It provided some food for thought: considering what the good points of a system like that are, and what are the bad points. In the end, it does seem that the bad out-weighs the good, as even I, as a Reformed (Calvinist) Baptist, would be considered a heretic by Calvin because I'm not a pado-baptist.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Burns VINE VOICE on January 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A biography of John Calvin is of necessity a history of his time. The religious landscape of Europe during Calvin's lifetime [1509-1564] was most complex in terms of grassroots pastoral piety, theological exploration, and international relations. And then there is Calvin: his own religious journey, from French Catholic reformer to Protestant patriarch. There is the corpus of Calvin's theological thought and writing, enduring and controversial to this day. And finally, there is the matter of Calvin's ecclesiology: what structural and communal body of belief and practice did he leave his followers. Bruce Gordon has produced an eminently readable and highly manageable general study of these questions in producing a remarkable introduction to John Calvin for the informed reader with at least a basic grasp of Reformation dynamics.

As Robert Bireley has narrated in his fine work, "The Refashioning of Catholicism 1450-1700," [1999] the spirit of church reform was not the exclusive provenance of Luther. Grassroots outcroppings of lay spirituality emerged side-by-side with wholesale reform of many existing Catholic religious orders to improve the tenor of church life by 1500. It is not surprising, then, that the young Catholic Calvin would by his early adulthood identify himself as an apostle of reform. but as Gordon observes, reformist Catholics in France had nowhere to lay their heads in the face the crown's opposition to Luther and seminal Protestant uprisings of independence on the continent.

Calvin began his studies in theology but turned instead to law. A true humanist of the time, he immersed himself in the Roman philosopher Seneca.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By K. H. Acton on October 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great sympathetic, yet critical, tour through the life of one of the great Christian theologians. Gordon successfully sets Calvin in his humanistic setting, pointing out how much of Calvin's work was part and parcel of renaissance reform movements. While today the name of Calvin dominates the field of 2nd generation Reformers, in his own day he was one among many, Gordon faithfully portrays this fact. Great book, well written.
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