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Showing 1-10 of 1,818 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 2,281 reviews
on August 21, 2013
I had heard of Bonhoeffer prior to reading this book, and I had some basic knowledge of his theological beliefs and of the fact that he had participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. I thought that was probably all I needed to know about the man, so I was hesitant when a former college professor (an old friend of many years) recommended this biography as a must-read. I probably would not have read it but for that recommendation, but I'm definitely glad I did: There is much more to Bonhoeffer than I had previously suspected, and the details of his life and theology are well worth exploring.

Metaxas does an excellent job detailing the Bonhoeffer family history (and the family's legacy). The explanation of Bonhoeffer's theology and its evolution over the course of Bonhoeffer's life is thorough and substantive, but not so complex that one needs a philosophy/theology/seminary degree to comprehend it. Metaxas frequently offers insightful analysis regarding how Bonhoeffer's theology affected Bonhoeffer's life and the choices Bonhoeffer made. Over all, the biography is very well written and thorough.

Fair warning to less-academically-inclined readers: The book is 622 pages because of the depth and detail with which Metaxas biographizes Bonhoeffer's life. The book drags on in some chapters to the point of putting one to sleep. If you are not interested in this depth of detail, consider reading Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness (also by Eric Metaxas), which explores the most important aspects of Bonhoeffer's life and theology (as well as the lives and philosophies/theologies of 6 other great historical icons); if you want to know more about Bonhoeffer after reading that book (and you very well may), you can always come back to this biography.

Update: As of 8/24/13, the Kindle version of this book is on sale for $1.99. At that price, everyone should buy it! Particularly if you spend a long time in transit, try the Whispersync for Voice with the Audible version of this book. Also, the ability to Whispersync to the same page you're reading to have a difficult-to-pronounce name or German-language passage narrated is pretty cool.
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on July 10, 2016
It is attributed to Edmund Burke, in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Bonhoeffer was a man who could not let evil triumph. He was a pastor and disciple of Jesus, who said to the crowd and his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mk 8:34). The subject of this book was the author of The Cost of Discipleship in which he expresses this well. To open it and read the Forward is enough to scare anyone. It begins, "'WHEN CHRIST calls a man, he bids him come and die.' There are different kinds of dying, it is true; but the essence of discipleship is contained in those words. "Yet, he lived this. These words come from the mouth and pen of a man who, defiant of the Gestapo, the Secret State Police, eventually suffered martyrdom in Nazi Germany. Having had the opportunity to escape the consequences of Nazism, especially for clergy, he took refuge in Harlem, NY where his faith was soon to become on fire! Following Christ brought the Gospel to life for him. Following Christ would again soon bring him life, this time it was to come through death. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and became one of the first to speak out against Hitler and to help to plot the Fuhrer's assassination. This is the story of this man of incredible moral courage told by Metaxas in a way that does not disappoint. Personally, I find the timing of this review so significant since it is two days after the recognition of Josef Mayr-Nusser, an Italian layman, by Pope Francis as a martyr on July 8. He too paid the Cost of Discipleship, killed for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler during the Second World War.
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on April 18, 2013
Eric Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer attempts three objectives; to explain the life of Bonhoeffer and position him as an inspiring, brilliant and heroic theologian opposing the National Socialists and Hitler, to explain the originality of Bonhoeffer's theological views and chart their evolution and to recount the events surrounding the main efforts to overthrow or assassinate Hitler of which Bonhoeffer participated.

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.
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on April 4, 2016
This is a very enlightening historic story. So many people think Hitler popped up like a mushroom, fully formed and a murderous psychopath and wonder how the Germans could have given him power. The truth, seen through the eyes of this good and noble man, is far more subtle. The Germans were mad as hell and Hitler fed into that anger and convinced the Germans that their enemies would pay for all their troubles. Certainly sounds like America in this ridiculous election season. Only the Godly and pure of spirit like Bonhoeffer, actually saw what was happening because he was firmly rooted in his family and his God. I only pray that the United States has its own Bonhoeffer, that will stand up, when noone else will. Every human needs to read this book.
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.
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on March 24, 2016
A mixed bag and a mixed review
No question that Bonhoeffer is an intriguing man and worthy of knowing about. But this telling of him is really hard to summarize or from which to draw conclusions.
With high interest I plunged in and after the first third was really getting tired of the endless meandering—the review at about 2 stars. But on I went and by midpoint the stars had dropped to one. I’m not a quitter and darn it I paid good money so went on to finish and the last third saved it up to a three star
The history and description of the times in Nazi Germany were gripping. Although I guess others challenge accuracy in the detail- still gave a pretty vivid view of the horrors that went on there that I’ve not seen before.
But on and on the author goes drowning the reader in scripture and verse and details of sermons and endless flowery letters; ] that came across to this reader as an attempt to convert the non- Christian into the fold – blatant religiosity to the point of turn-off. If Id wanted some of that I’d have read about it in books of greater authenticity than this one. And I found the author boringly dry inspite of the bad attempts at lightness noted by other reviewers.
Poor Dietrich, as remarkable and noble a person as he seemed to be, just seemed so imprisoned by his faith and the correctness of his beliefs that I ended up feeling sorry for him in his delusions. Would seem to me that wouldn’t he have been a better servant to mankind by staying in the US or UK striving to get these peoples aroused to do something about it. Or if he had to return to Germany not join in the endless discussions of what to do about Hitler but pushing harder in the getting to the doing?
I finished yes with mixed feelings about Dietrich, but rather disliking the author and his religious philosophizing.
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on May 23, 2017
This is a wonderfully rich biography of such a significant historical figure. Metaxas' historical research is first-rate, as he quotes primary sources at great length throughout the book: papers, letters, journals, etc. One really feels that history has been brought to life in this excellent book.

Metaxas presents Bonhoeffer's life story in a highly chronological way, beginning with his childhood and family life, then on through his travels abroad, and culminating with the pivotal final years in Germany. Yet despite the book's nearly 550-page length, I did not at all feel as though the book was too long or too detailed. Metaxas writes in such an engaging style that I did not want to stop reading. If I could have, I might have read the book through in one sitting, because it really was that interesting. I highly recommend this book.
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on September 2, 2015
A must read for all Christians of any denomination. A must read for those of the Jewish faith. Finally, a must read for all seekers of truth. Metaxas takes a complex subject juxtaposed against complex times and weaves together a compelling story of a true saint to tried to stop evil. You will experience elation and grief as you read this seminal work. Be prepared to get inside Bonhoeffer's mind as the author prepares you to see the true Germany of the 1930s and 40s. You will learn the largely untold story of the thousands of Germans who sought to overthrow Hitler and the complicity of some Allied leaders who failed to help their cause. Mextaxas dispels the simplistic spoon-fed view that it was all Hitler and shows the many hands who helped bring about the greatest conflagration in human history. If you read carefully and apply what you learn to today, you can see how it could happen again.
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on September 21, 2016
I read BONHOEFFER soon after it was released. All of my life I have been interested in what is at the heart of men and women who live fully what they believe. Bonhoeffer was one of those men. Although his father was not a Christian believer, the family structure of loving parents and siblings permitted each child to develop in his or her uniquely blossoming way.

Although his father was the foremost psychiatrist in Germany, and one would expect young Dietrich to follow in those footsteps, he chose to study theology instead. Those studies, and the realities of a Christ-led life, eventually led him to lead an anti-Hitler separatist Lutheran church which he called the Confessing Church. When he learned of the truth of the extermination of Jews by Hitler, he joined an underground group to assassinate Hitler.

That attempt failed, and when Hitler learned of his participation, he was jailed. Even in prison, Dietrich continued to preach and write about the living church and its responsibilities. He continued to develop theological works, which were smuggled out of prison. He was hung, naked, at one of Hitler's prisons only weeks before the end of the war. His guard was awed buy his peace and confidence as moved toward his noose.

Eric Metaxas covered this life powerfully, developing the spiritual depth of a man who lived his life by principles which flow from the life, teachings, example and presence of Jesus, Himself. It wasn't an easy book to read. It took me a year to read, think, read on, and think some more. How worth the time it was.
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on April 4, 2015
I loved this book for many reasons. First, I've always enjoyed theology, and since Bonhoeffer was a theologian, the book is laden with Bonhoeffer's personal theology, and more importantly, they are associated with the historical events and personal details that led him to his conclusions. One of the key points of his theology that was interesting to me was his view that Christians spend too much time trying to avoid sin, and because of that do not take decisive and immediate action when it is required. In his opinion, the German church was in a position to stop Hitler very early, but they were scared into inaction over theological questions about what it means to support your country and its leaders. Bonhoeffer believed that it is far better to address injustice with immediate action that may result in some residual sin rather than take no action that will eventually allow a greater evil, or even simply allow injustice to continue.

The historical aspect of how Hitler came to power through the rubble and bitterness from WWI was fascinating to me. I haven't ever spent much time studying Hitler's rise to power, and it was very interesting. That rise to power, twisting and preying on the nationalism of the German people, was played out with the German church as well. The church in Germany had become very German, rather than focusing on the fact that God was the God of all people, not only the Germans. Although an underground church developed during Hitler's time, the "official" German church supported him, because they believed it was their patriotic duty. Bonhoeffer was at the forefront of the fight against this thinking, proclaiming that the responsibility of every Christian was to live in daily obedience to God, not to any political leader.

Another point of Bonhoeffer's theology that I found interesting was his disappointment with focus of Christians in general on the afterlife. He believed that God calls Christians to live in the joy and sorrow of this world, as Jesus demonstrated in coming to live in this world as well. He believed that the theological focus of focusing on the eternal life in heaven distracted from the Christian's responsibility in the reality of the world today. He believed that God intended THIS world for the joy of the Christian as much as the next.

The title of this book is brilliant, because it covers the main themes of the book. Bonhoeffer was a pastor to many throughout his life, including the underground church in Germany; he was in fact a martyr because he was executed for his participation in the resistance against Hitler, including helping to plan assassination attempts; he was a prophet in that he predicted the demise of Germany and the results of failing to oppose Hitler; and he was a spy for the resistance movement.

If you are interested in how theology plays out at critical times in history, you'll enjoy this book. I didn't know much about Bonhoeffer before I read this book, but after reading it, I consider him one of the greatest heroes of the Christian faith.
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on June 7, 2017
The life of Dietrich Bonhoefer was an example of a Christ centered one. Bonhoefer combined a solid theology educaton with a humble christian life. This book presents the main facts of his life, with close attention to the evolution of his thought and the struggles he endured in Nazi Germany. Eric Metaxas portrait of Dietrich Bonhoefer allows the reader to know the difficulties and satisfactions of a meaningful life.
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