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Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 29, 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the Christianity Today Book Award for History/Biography

“[A] masterly and comprehensive new biography . . . The matter of the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is at once straightforward and immensely complicated . . . From such extravagant pluralism, can there be any coherence? Marsh suggests possible answers, but does so in a restrained and non-dogmatic fashion that seems appropriate to the evidence . . . and thus provides ample resources for readers to arrive at conclusions at odds with his own.”
—James Nuechterlein, The New Criterion

“This splendid biography . . . [provides] a rich and detailed account of how Bonhoeffer’s immensely eventful life unfolded – the personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey . . . [and does] much to sustain Bonhoeffer’s stature as theologian, pastor, and martyr . . . The witness that Bonhoeffer bore through his life has lost none of its power to illuminate, instruct, and challenge.”
—Andrew J. Bacevich, Commonweal

“Brilliant . . . [Marsh] uses previously unavailable archives to show us a very different Bonhoeffer . . . [and] strikes several notes . . . which other biographers have not adequately emphasized . . . This Bonhoeffer is profoundly human . . . [A] beautifully written biography.”
—Joel Looper, Los Angeles Review of Books
 
“Elegant, harrowing, awe-inspiring, and sermonic . . . Marsh [demonstrates] how the separate, parallel lines of Bonhoeffer’s role as monastic abbot and advocate of prophetic, progressive political action and his role as friend to Bethge and music-loving bon vivant did eventually merge . . . [A] splendid biography.”
—Wesley Hill, Books & Culture

“[Marsh] renders Bonhoeffer’s life and thought in exquisite detail and with sympathetic understanding . . . [and] guides his narrative with a steady hand . . . here the paradox of a believer in the face of evil fully comes into focus . . . we see Bonhoeffer’s transformation from pampered scion and theological dilettante to energetic churchman and Christian martyr, all against the backdrop of cataclysmic changes in Germany.”
—Randall Balmer, The New York Times Book Review

“Truly beautiful and heartbreaking . . . [Marsh] has a rare talent for novelistic detail – which requires a genuine creative imagination as well as scrupulously documented research . . . (the notes alone are a treasure of information) . . . [and] very properly emphasizes the importance of [Bonhoeffer's] volatile, visionary thoughts . . . It’s inspiring to almost feel Bonhoeffer slipping verses or notes of comfort into the sweaty hands of fellow prisoners either coming or going from torture . . . [An] excellent biography . . . a splendid book . . . [and] one hell of a story.”
—Christian Wiman, The Wall Street Journal

“Paints a painstaking portrait of a faithful disciple . . . will help you grapple with the eccentric Bonhoeffer of history . . . [with an] exquisite eye for detail . . . [Marsh] makes a convincing case that by 1933, Bonhoeffer was the most radical and outspoken opponent of Nazi church policy . . . [a] welcome biography.”
—Timothy Larsen, Christianity Today 

“A definitive study of Bonhoeffer’s life . . . erudite and humanizing. . . Marsh sagely counters all of today’s polemical heat with more historical context . . . It is this Bonhoeffer, and not the culture-war stick-figure . . . who embodies an example of spiritual witness that we desperately need today . . . Thank God for Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory.” 
—Ann Neumann, Bookforum

“Beautiful . . . Marsh displays both how strangely human and how gloriously blessed Bonhoeffer’s life was . . . The theological seeds that gave rise to America’s Civil Rights Movement were scattered in Germany a generation before they began to bear fruit here.”
— Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Patheos

“A biographical triumph . . . A moving, melancholy portrait . . . With both empathy and a critical eye, Marsh traces Bonhoeffer’s mercurial existence . . . [and] depicts a talented and tortured theologian and pastor who might inspire us to look beyond traditional or simplistic answers to those important questions.”
—John G. Turner, The Christian Century

“[A] worthwhile new biography . . . Bonhoeffer was a genuinely beloved pastor . . . [who] practiced what he preached, at great personal cost . . . he was a true Christian.”
—Mark Movsesian, First Things

“Attempts to provide a more closely examined view of Bonhoeffer’s personality than past biographers . . . using rarely glimpsed correspondence to paint a warts-and-all portrait of this German martyr . . . No doubt Marsh’s portrayal will infuse new controversy into discussions about Bonhoeffer for years to come.”
Kirkus Review

“A masterpiece of a biography . . . Well written, thoughtful, provocative at times . . . Especially poignant is the way [Marsh] takes us deep into the humanity of the great theologian . . . It will take its place among the standard interpretations of Bonhoeffer’s life.”
—Robert Cornwall, Ponderings on a Faith Journey
 
“[A] splendid biography . . . seamlessly combines a novelist’s narrative with a biographer’s insights . . . stands as one of those rare books that both inspires and informs as Marsh offers a discerning appreciation of Bonhoeffer’s brief but rich and faith-filled life.”
—Judith Chettle, Richmond Times-Dispatch

“[A] masterpiece . . . deserves the widest possible readership . . . [Marsh] is perfectly placed . . . to tell Bonhoeffer’s life story . . . Right up to the end, [he] is by his readers’ side, clarifying and clearing away the too-pretty details that always accrue to a saintly life.”
—Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly
 
“A hero never more vividly human; a founder of critical belief, never more faithful; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Charles Marsh’s elegant biography, comes powerfully to life for a new era. Just in time.”
—James Carroll, Author of Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age.
 
“A marvelous biography, a page-turner, beautifully written. Strange Glory not only makes Dietrich Bonhoeffer come alive, but also offers us an intimate and very perceptive look into his mind and spirit. Charles Marsh confronts the complexities of Bonhoeffer’s resistance to the Third Reich with an unsentimental eye, allowing us to see why this martyred pastor and theologian has so much to offer to our increasingly godless world.”
—Carlos Eire, T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies, Yale University; author of Waiting for Snow in Havana, winner of the National Book Award
 

“An extraordinary account of an extraordinary life, Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory is profoundly researched and vividly imagined. Marsh has unearthed enough archival material to keep generations of Bonhoeffer scholars occupied, but, more important, has used his knowledge to weave a mesmerizing tale about one of the giants of the twentieth century. I can't remember when I have read a more compelling biography.”
—Alan Jacobs, professor of the humanities at Baylor University and author of The Book of Common Prayer
 

“As Bonhoeffer’s doomed quest unfolds, the experience of reading Strange Glory is by turns terrifying and exhilarating. A story of profound thought and heroic action told in crystalline prose, this is a marvelous biography.”
—James Tobin, author of Ernie Pyle's War and The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency (winner of the National Book Critics’ Circle Award)
 
 
“The life, thoughts and deeds of Dietrich Bonhoeffer inspire people all over the world. All those people will be drawn to this biography by the prominent theologian and acclaimed writer Charles Marsh, whose meticulous knowledge of the Bonhoeffer story and its sources infuses such a vivid narrative.” 
—Wolfgang Huber, former Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany

About the Author

Charles Marsh is a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia and director of the Project on Lived Theology. He is the author of seven previous books, including God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, which won the 1998 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Of Marsh’s earlier volumes Reclaiming Bonhoeffer, the late Eberhand Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s closest friend and first biographer, wrote: “This book is a theological sensation—an exciting event. Nobody who attempts to define Bonhoeffer’s legacy today will able to ignore Marsh’s book.”Marsh was a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009 and the 2010 Ellen Maria Gorrissen Berlin Prize fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 29, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307269817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269812
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A good biography will grip you, move you, and challenge you. In really getting to know someone in all the dynamics that make him or her the person he or she was, you find out things about yourself and, perhaps, what you would like to be. When Mr. Marsh takes pen in hand on Bonhoeffer that is exactly the experience you have.

Mr. Marsh can write–that is obvious. He delved into his subject until he had something to say. He took a multifaceted view and hid nothing. Even what could have been mundane information, like certain academic pursuits, was woven together to show us the man progressing to become what he finally became in magisterial prose.

As you go along you find Bonhoeffer to be a spoiled kid far into adulthood, indulgent, lazy in physical work, and a lover of extended travel, and at times, a man with a temper. Still, you could not help but admire him. There is duplicity in us all, yet Christ can raise us above it. Though his theology was a good bit to the left of mine, I firmly believe he was a believer who not only loved the Lord, but grew to love Him more.

As with any of us he wrestled with some of the hard choices of life. In the end, he far more came down on the right side, a side fraught with danger and pain. I do not know what he died thinking, but he died a victor.

The only negative of the book was the suggestion that, perhaps, there was a homosexual attraction for his dear friend Bethge. That seemed a cheap gimmick for our ages’ fascination of homosexuality. The friendship was as close as possible, but Bethge always clearly refuted this suggestion.
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Having read much on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, including Bethge's seminal work, I didn't find much new in Marsh's treatment. The one area which was new was also disturbing. To come out and say that Bonhoeffer had some sort of erotic feelings toward Bethge is a stretch, to say the least. When I read about the relationship between Bethge and Bonhoeffer, I see kindred spirits living in a very difficult and dangerous time. They were living a monastic life while in Finkenwalde. It would not be uncommon for two men with common interests (theology) and the camaraderie developed while facing extremely perilous times to develop an extremely close friendship. The friendship of David and Jonathan comes to mind. Have we come to the place in which two people of the same sex can no longer have a kindred spirit relationship without it being painted with the brush of homosexuality? Bethge was married to Bonhoeffer's niece and Bonhoeffer was engaged at the time of his death. He was looking forward to experiencing sex after marriage, according to his letters to Bethge. In addition, Bethge outright denied that there was anything erotic about their relationship. I read absolutely nothing in Marsh's book that indicates anything other than a very close friendship. In my opinion, it is disrespectful of a man who deserves so much respect to make this kind of an insinuation which would be a complete break with his character as revealed in his own writings.
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Charles Marsh's account of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer achieves everything it sets out to accomplish. In lucid and engaging prose, Marsh provides the reader a sense of the man and his times that simultaneously refuses the temptation to overdraw points of similarity between Bonhoeffer's day and our own (as some are wont to do) while also rendering Bonhoeffer's thought and life generative for a new generation of scholars and readers. He accomplishes this through attention to detail that, like a cup of tea, could, in the hands of the unskilled, suffer from either over or under extraction. Here we get Bonhoeffer the human being, the man whose love of the outdoors and a fine dinner jacket were not at odds with his convictions on Kant, Hegel, Barth, and others. We also get a Bonhoeffer whose life was sustained by friendship. Happily, Marsh makes this explicit, and while readers may be surprised by the intimacy that marked Bonhoeffer's attachment to the friends that constituted his life, this reader (at least) learned a great deal about the capacity of friendship to sustain a life and, coordinately, the paucity of theological work done on the matter in our day. This is an excellent work, one that deserves all the plaudits it will undeniably receive.
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Charles Marsh's biography is full of insightful surprises, largely because he insists on going beyond standard interpretations of Bonhoeffer's life and thought to offer a portrait that sometimes startling in both detail and interpretation. As other commentators have pointed out, the Bonhoeffer he presents us isn't a plaster saint. He was the pampered son of a well-to-do family who remained throughout his life something of a sartorial dandy and a lover of the comfortable pleasures of life. He could be peevish and self-occupied, and he sometimes made hasty judgments about both ideas and people. But in offering us this fuller profile of his subject, Marsh helps us appreciate the genuine grandeur of a man who, notwithstanding his all-too-human foibles, nonetheless re-thought what it meant to be a Christian in the troubled 20th century, and who was willing to die for his convictions.

For my money, the most interesting section of the book is Marsh's analysis of Bonhoeffer's radicalization during his year-long stay at Union Theological Seminary. Initially contemptuous of Union's "practical" approach to theologizing that eschewed, in his estimation, rigorous dogmatics, Bonhoeffer gradually became convinced that his own earlier theology was too abstractly indifferent to issues of social justice. Through the influence of Niebuhr's emphasis on ethics, the pacifism of friends like Lassure, and the deep incarnationalism of the black spiritual tradition, Bonhoeffer emerged a new man after his year in the States. Marsh, some of whose earlier work focus on the religious antecedents and dimension of the Civil Rights movement, wonderfully provides background information on Christian social justice thinkiing of 1930s America that so influenced Bonhoeffer.

Well worth reading and thinking about. Going through Marsh's bio has inspired some friends and me to re-dive into Bonhoeffer's works this summer.
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