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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy Paperback – Unabridged, August 29, 2011
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About the Author
Eric Metaxas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Amazing Grace, and Miracles. His books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages. His writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, and Metaxas has appeared as a cultural commentator on CNN, the Fox News Channel, and MSNBC. He is the host of The Eric Metaxas Show, a nationally syndicated daily radio show. Metaxas is also the founder and host of Socrates in the City, the acclaimed series of conversations on “life, God, and other small topics,” featuring Malcolm Gladwell, Dick Cavett, and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, among many others. He is a senior fellow and lecturer at large at the King’s College in New York City, where he lives with his wife and daughter.
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Of course Bonhoeffer is a sad story though inspiring because he died for his beliefs. But the book provides a great and very readable account of his life and story. Yes, Bonhoeffer is a religious story and a religious man that offered witness to the terrible regime that enveloped Germany from 1933 - 1945 (I dare not mention it because the reviews gets flagged) and he ultimately died because of his principled opposition.
But this is such a well-written and worthwhile book anyone should and can read this and unless that have no soul, they can't help but be interested and inspired. Wow. Terrific. Highly recommended.
Generally the book succeeds in its three goals. There is plenty of evidence provided on Bonhoeffer's good works and nature; on his religious beliefs as guiding lights to live by and its contretemps of the times and the drama of coup attempts provide a needed narrative that keeps the book moving.
The books is very informative. The early parts outline Bonhoeffer's two initial conflicts first between science and religion as his family was well established in both fields and then within religion whether to be swayed or persuaded by the liberal views of Adolf von Harnack or the more conservative but newer views of Karl Barth. This was a rewarding introduction to leading theologists of the time.
Unfortunately the book then moved into a much drier less interesting phase where Bonheoffer's life is recounted. Metaxas relies heavily on quoting long passages from Bonhoeffer's letters, sermons along with letters from his family and friends to describe Bonhoeffer or recount specific situations. The problem with this is the change from Metaxas's dramatic modern writing style to the more dated passages is jarring. Towards the end he tests a reader's patience when he quotes the entire Sermon on the Mount and the entire eulogy at Bonhoeffer's memorial mass.
A large body of the book is dedicated to the mid 1930's where Bonhoeffer is working to create a new church, the Confessing Church. This was quite informative and again interesting to understand how the German Lutheran Church is much more aligned with the State than anything we have in the US. As such the efforts by Hitler to corral and manipulate the church and how this lead to increasing his following are important to understanding how he enjoyed such broad support for so long. Equally illuminating are the religious backgrounds on Goring, Hitler, Borman and others that were not only anti Christian but appeared to find value in pagan ceremonies; far from what I had come to understand.
But this section runs longer than I would have liked and ultimately the story focuses on the 1944 attempt on Hitler. While Bonhoeffer is connected to the conspiracy his role is quite tangential. The efforts taken on by the conspirators is gripping but one is left a bit empty by not only their failure but the baffling inability to act sooner despite their clear anger and distaste with the Nazi regime. Metaxas is somewhat easy on them explaining the need to both eliminate Hitler and to organize a force to fully assume power at the same time. But given how much these men knew (including Bonhoeffer) about the concentration camps and atrocities in Poland is does seem odd that they would not have tried more desperately and sooner.
In the end my interest was drifting towards other members of the resistance who appeared to make more effort, take more risk and suffer greatly for it such as Martin Niemöller or Hans von Dohnányi.
For a Germany after the war Bonhoeffer must have represented a very important figure of goodness, enlightenment and deeper spirituality at a time of overpowering need. His writings, actions and grace were enormous contributions that inspire and justify recognition to the current day and this biography brings all of that to light.
About the writing: It is NOT a dry history book, it is a fascinating story that truly allows you to understand this man. I find it difficult to put down.