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Calvin Hardcover – July 10, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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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.” —Christianity.com


"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: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #715,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Book Review
Gordon, Bruce. Calvin. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press, 2009.

There is one figure from the reformation that above all intrigues me. His small frame, brilliant intellect, fiery temper, divinely empowered work ethic and zeal for the glory of God in Christ compel me to get to know this man. I was introduced to John Calvin not long after my conversion as my father directed me towards the Heidelberg Catechism and the reformed faith. I found myself agreeing with the doctrines of grace as found in the documents of the Synod of Dordt and ever since have always thought of Calvin as a rich resource. Bruce Gordon’s biography of Calvin came highly recommended by Tim Challies and since its release in 2009 I have vowed to read it. What I found in the book was not so much a window into Calvin’s theology but a door into what shaped the man and the historical context he found himself in. Although it wasn’t what I initially hoped for I think it was exactly what I needed. I have a much more informed understanding of the protestant struggles during the reformation and a different impression of the man Calvin. The biography never tried to make Calvin look better then he truly was. This quote proves that sufficiently: “There’s no doubt he struggled with Anger. However, one of his greatest strengths in his later career was an acute awareness that despite remarkable confidence in his calling and intellect he remained dangerously prone to moments of poor judgment on account of anger.”
There were clear informative gleanings and plenty of inspiration for faithful ministry in these pages.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A superb biography, well written and objective. As a retired lawyer, I realized that among the many fields where I was abysmally ignorant was the history of French literature. So I began with La Vie de Saint Alexis in the 9th century, and am now in the 16th century, which obliged me to become immersed in Calvin's Institution de la religion chrétienne and various books and articles on Calvin. Professor Gordon's approach is to describe controversies but attempt to see them from Calvin's viewpoint. For example, he manages to be very even-handed in his discussion of the killing of the brilliant humanist Michael Servetus, although he does not mention putting Calvin's sister-in-law to torture to get her to confess to adultery (the poor woman never did). With this book, I can leave the violence, cruelty, vindictiveness, and inhumanity of religion and get back to the generous humanity of someone like Rabelais. Dieu merci!!!
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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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