The most recommended books on the Reformation

Who picked these books? Meet our 19 experts.

19 authors created a book list connected to the Reformation, and here are their favorite Reformation books.
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Book cover of The Socialist Phenomenon

Andrei Znamenski Author Of Socialism as a Secular Creed: A Modern Global History

From my list on the history of socialism.

Why am I passionate about this?

Andrei Znamenski spent 35 years exploring religions, ideologies, and utopias. Formerly Associate Professor at Alabama State University, a resident scholar at the US Library of Congress, and then a visiting professor at Hokkaido University in Japan, he is currently Professor of History at the University of Memphis. Znamenski studied indigenous religions of Siberia and North America, including Shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism. At some point, he became intrigued with Western idealization and romanticization of non-Western cultures and spiritualities, the topic that he covered in his The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination. His Socialism as a Secular Creed, which is a logical follow-up to that project, is an attempt to examine the socialist phenomenon as a political religion of the modern age.

Andrei's book list on the history of socialism

Andrei Znamenski Why did Andrei love this book?

A Soviet dissident scientist and prominent conservative ideologist of Russian nationalism, Shafarevich (1923-2017) traces the roots of modern socialism to statist and collectivist experiments in ancient Egypt, China, and Inca civilizations. He also explores the aggressive egalitarianism of modern socialism’s predecessors among European eschatological movements in medieval and early modern Europe (e.g., Lollards in England, Taborites in Bohemia, Peasants’ War during the Protestant Reformation in Germany, and the Jesuit state in Paraguay). Among other things, the author examines in detail the early 1920s Bolshevik activities in Russia, Maoist assaults on traditional society in China, and the rise of the Western New Left in the 1960s. According to Shafarevich, each time leading to disastrous and suicidal results, socialism represents humanity’s “death wish”; the writer implies that one might slow down this enduring and recurrent dark side of human existence, but, ultimately, we will always have to deal with the socialist phenomenon…

By Igor Shafarevich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Socialist Phenomenon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Socialist Phenomenon is a powerful survey  of socialism  and socialist thought from ancient times to the present day. Most assume that socialism and communism began with the writings of Karl Marx, but through his book Shafarevich lays out with amazing clarity that socialism is an evil that has been present in man’s thoughts and actions for thousands of years. 

In the age of “democratic socialism” and other modern iterations, The Socialist Phenomenon reminds us of the truth about socialism and the dangers that come when societies embrace socialist policies and ideals.


Book cover of The Irish Church and the Tudor Reformations

Crawford Gribben Author Of The Rise and Fall of Christian Ireland

From my list on Christianity in Ireland.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like anyone else who takes an interest in Ireland, I’ve been fascinated by the long and often very difficult history of the island’s experience of religion. Where I live, in county Antrim, religious imagery appears everywhere – in churches and schools, obviously, but also on signboards posted onto trees, and in the colourful rags that are still hung up to decorate holy wells. This book is the fruit of twenty years of thinking about Christian Ireland - its long and difficult history, and its sudden and difficult collapse.

Crawford's book list on Christianity in Ireland

Crawford Gribben Why did Crawford love this book?

Since the later sixteenth century, historians have been trying to explain why the Irish refused to follow their political leaders into the newly established protestant church. Jefferies’s book highlights the scale of the problem – showing that by the turn of the seventeenth century, seventy years after the beginnings of protestant reform, the number of native Irish converts amounted to little more than one hundred. Pushing against the triumphalism that marked an older way of writing the history of the reformation, Jefferies demonstrates the popularity of the late medieval church and argues that historians should reframe their research questions.

It might be less important to ask why the protestant reformation failed, he suggests, and more important to ask why – despite everything – the Catholic church remained so popular.

By Henry A. Jefferies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Irish Church and the Tudor Reformations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This important book examines Ireland's experiences of the Tudor reformations. Part I shows that the Irish Church, far from being in decline, enjoyed an upsurge in lay support before Henry VIII's reformation. Part II shows how the early Tudor reformations failed to address the pre-existing weaknesses of the Irish Church, while Cardinal Pole's program for Catholic restoration in Mary's reign did not enjoy the time needed to do so. Instead, the problems of the Irish Church were exacerbated as Tudor policy in Ireland became increasingly militarist and expansionist. Under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth, the English crown was able…


Book cover of The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World

Larry Silver Author Of Europe Views the World, 1500-1700

From Larry's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Historian Professor Traveler

Larry's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Plus, Larry's 4-year-old's favorite books.

Larry Silver Why did Larry love this book?

The kind of history I love—a significant short period, examined closely but through the lives of wildly different individuals, from Columbus to Luther, who changed society, thought, and culture and brought on the seeds of our modern world.

This is highly readable and constantly shifting in focus in each biography-based contribution. This is storytelling through individual lives but with major consequences.

By Patrick Wyman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Verge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the bestselling tradition of The Swerve and A Distant Mirror, THE VERGE tells the story of a period that marked a decisive turning point for both European and world history. Here, author Patrick Wyman examines two complementary and contradictory sides of the same historical coin: the world-altering implications of the developments of printed mass media, extreme taxation, exploitative globalization, humanistic learning, gunpowder warfare, and mass religious conflict in the long term, and their intensely disruptive consequences in the short-term.

As told through the lives of ten real people -- from famous figures like Christopher Columbus and wealthy banker Jakob…


Book cover of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change

David M. Skover Author Of The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon

From my list on freedom of speech history and purposes.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a retired federal constitutional law professor, the former Fredric C. Tausend Professor of Constitutional Law at Seattle University Law School. Moreover, I am the coauthor of more than ten books, most of them focusing on First Amendment free speech topics. Often, I wrote at the intersection of popular culture and free speech rights. My booklist reflects my passion for books about the history, purposes, and practices of freedom of speech, particularly as it is exercised in the United States.

David's book list on freedom of speech history and purposes

David M. Skover Why did David love this book?

Like most people alive today, I am an avid user of the Internet and am aware of the astounding changes that electronic media have made to communication. With the rise of social media and AI, I am increasingly aware of the profound effects that these media already have and will have on society in general. However, I lived in the print age without specifically focusing on the socio-economic and political changes that the printing press advanced. 

I love Eisenstein’s book because it brilliantly portrays the astounding global and cultural aftermath of the Gutenberg invention.

By Elizabeth L. Eisenstein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Printing Press as an Agent of Change as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally published in two volumes in 1980, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change is now issued in a paperback edition containing both volumes. The work is a full-scale historical treatment of the advent of printing and its importance as an agent of change. Professor Eisenstein begins by examining the general implications of the shift from script to print, and goes on to examine its part in three of the major movements of early modern times - the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of modern science.


Book cover of Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation

Harriet Lyon Author Of Memory and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Early Modern England

From my list on the impact of the English Reformation.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of early modern Britain, with particular interests in the cultural and religious history of the English Reformation, as well as in the fields of historical memory and time. I enjoy pursuing these subjects not only through research and reading, but also teaching. I am currently the J. H. Plumb College Lecturer in History at Christ’s College, University of Cambridge. 

Harriet's book list on the impact of the English Reformation

Harriet Lyon Why did Harriet love this book?

There have been many histories of the English Reformation, but Peter Marshall sets the standard in this engaging and profoundly human take on the religious changes of the sixteenth century. I admire the way in which he balances the sweeping story of the legislative Reformation with small details and anecdotes that really bring the period to life.

This book reminds us that the Reformation cannot be understood simply as an institutional transformation but also as a cultural phenomenon and that real lives and livelihoods were at stake in the process of religious change.

By Peter Marshall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heretics and Believers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2018 WOLFSON HISTORY PRIZE

Centuries on, what the Reformation was and what it accomplished remain deeply contentious. Peter Marshall's sweeping new history-the first major overview for general readers in a generation-argues that sixteenth-century England was a society neither desperate for nor allergic to change, but one open to ideas of "reform" in various competing guises. King Henry VIII wanted an orderly, uniform Reformation, but his actions opened a Pandora's Box from which pluralism and diversity flowed and rooted themselves in English life.

With sensitivity to individual experience as well as masterfully synthesizing historical and institutional developments, Marshall…


Book cover of Luther and Liberation: A Latin American Perspective

Martin J. Lohrmann Author Of Stories from Global Lutheranism

From my list on Lutherans and social change.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was going to church as a kid, I noticed there were a lot of things about faith that were really important to people but that they rarely talked about. In my work as a pastor, professor, and church historian, I’ve tried to identify and name those core values, so that we can learn from one another, share our beliefs in meaningful and respectful ways, and grow together as we explore life’s big questions and practice living out our beliefs in the here and now.

Martin's book list on Lutherans and social change

Martin J. Lohrmann Why did Martin love this book?

Because the Reformation took place in 16th century Germany, it’s common to wonder how ideas that were popular 500 years ago in Central Europe might have anything to say to today’s global realities. In this book, Brazilian Lutheran professor Walter Altmann explores the ways that Martin Luther’s teachings resonate with the contemporary concerns of Latin American theologies of liberation. Altmann’s approach sets a great model for how people today can apply the spiritual riches of the past to the practical needs of the present.

By Walter Altmann, Thia Cooper (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Luther and Liberation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the approach of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's inauguration of the Protestant Reformation and the burgeoning dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans opened under Pope Francis, this new edition of Walter Altmann's Luther and Liberation is timely and relevant. Luther and Liberation recovers the liberating and revolutionary impact of Luthers theology, read afresh from the perspective of the Latin American context. Altmann provides a much-needed reassessment of Luther's significance today through a direct engagement of Luther's historical situation with an eye keenly situated on the deeply contextual situation of the contemporary reader, giving a localized reading from the author's…


Book cover of From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life

Steven D. Smith Author Of The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity

From my list on why Western civilization is falling apart.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a misplaced law professor, you might say: I never wanted to be a lawyer; I went to law school almost by accident; and for four decades I’ve used law as a window into my deeper interests– religion, history, and philosophy. I couldn’t make myself write books unless the subjects were personally engaging; and in defiance of editors, I insist on writing readable prose. If this adds up to “dilettante,” so be it. My books, published by the university presses of Harvard, Oxford, Notre Dame, Duke, and NYU, as well as Eerdmans, have dealt with constitutional law; Roman, medieval, and modern history; legal philosophy; and religious freedom.

Steven's book list on why Western civilization is falling apart

Steven D. Smith Why did Steven love this book?

Barzun, who lived to be 104, was in his lifetime possibly the most erudite human being on the planet. 

And this book, published when he was much younger (as a spry 93-year-old) is an almost perfect history of the modern age: a superb, readable sort-of survey that is not surveyish but rather earnestly engaged with themes that were important in the 16th-century beginnings of our modern civilization and are important still. 

Barzun doesn’t seem to be a gloomy naysayer, and he admires and appreciates the achievements of Western civilization; but as his title suggests, he came to believe that the culture is exhausted and unraveling. An informative and provocative read!

By Jacques Barzun,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked From Dawn to Decadence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A stunning five-century study of civilization's cultural retreat."  — William Safire, New York Times

Highly regarded here and abroad for some thirty works of cultural history and criticism, master historian Jacques Barzun has set down in one continuous narrative the sum of his discoveries and conclusions about the whole of Western culture since 1500.

Barzun describes what Western Man wrought from the Renaissance and Reformation down to the present in the double light of its own time and our pressing concerns. He introduces characters and incidents with his unusual literary style and grace, bringing to the fore those that have…


Book cover of Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing

Benjamin Giroux Author Of I Am Odd, I Am New

From my list on debut children's books of 2021.

Why am I passionate about this?

Over the past several months, I have had the pleasure to work with amazing authors who, like me, have debut children's books that were released in 2021. These books range in topics, from overcoming your fears to transgender to history, to cute rats that will let your imagination run wild. Being a kid myself, my parents read every night to me. These are books that like mine, are filled with representation that was lacking in those books that were read to me.

Benjamin's book list on debut children's books of 2021

Benjamin Giroux Why did Benjamin love this book?

This book will not only teach you history about different people from diverse backgrounds, it will give you tips on how to write so that you can start changing the world with your own words. This book is a great bedtime book so that your children can learn about some of history's great writers.

By Rochelle Melander, Melina Ontiveros (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mightier Than the Sword as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Throughout history, people have picked up their pens and wielded their words--transforming their lives, their communities, and beyond. Now it's your turn! Representing a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, Mightier Than the Sword connects over forty inspiring biographies with life-changing writing activities and tips, showing readers just how much their own words can make a difference. Readers will explore nature with Rachel Carson, experience the beginning of the Reformation with Martin Luther, champion women's rights with Sojourner Truth, and many more. These richly illustrated stories of inspiring speechmakers, scientists, explorers, authors, poets, activists, and even other kids and young…


Book cover of The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Peter Marshall Author Of Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation

From my list on the English Reformation.

Why am I passionate about this?

Peter Marshall is Professor of History at the University of Warwick, co-editor of the English Historical Review, and the author of nine books and over sixty articles on the religious and cultural history of early modern Europe. His authoritative account of the Reformation in England, Heretics and Believers, was awarded the Wolfson History Prize in 2018. Peter is a native of the Orkney Islands, and currently writing a book on the islanders’ experiences in the Reformation era.

Peter's book list on the English Reformation

Peter Marshall Why did Peter love this book?

Thirty years after its first publication, Patrick Collinson’s elegantly written account of how Protestantism transformed English society remains fresh, challenging and surprising. Focusing on art and culture, urban life, the family and ideas of nationhood, it persuasively argued that it makes more sense to see the Reformation as a drawn-out process rather than a dramatic ‘event’, and as one that was coming to fruition only in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. It is also a triumphant demonstration of how short books can punch above their weight.

By Patrick Collinson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Birthpangs of Protestant England as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'...a masterly study.' Alister McGrath, Theological Book Review '...a splendid read.' J.J.Scarisbrick, TLS '...profound, witty...of immense value.' David Loades, History Today Historians have always known that the English Reformation was more than a simple change of religious belief and practice. It altered the political constitution and, according to Max Weber, the attitudes and motives which governed the getting and investment of wealth, facilitating the rise of capitalism and industrialisation. This book investigates further implications of the transformative religious changes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for the nation, the town, the family, and for their culture.


Book cover of John Knox

Andrew Greig Author Of Rose Nicolson: Memoir of William Fowler of Edinburgh

From my list on the wild side of the Scotland-England borderlands.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in rural Bannockburn in Scotland, two fields from the site of the famous Battle (a rare victory over England) of 1314. From the start, the Past has always been very present to me. I have written 22 books: novels, non-fiction memoir, and poetry. In differing ways they all explore aspects of Scotland and being Scottish – our landscape, geology, history, culture, and psyche. I was brought up in East Fife, near St Andrews, and live in Edinburgh and Orkney; my mother was English, as is my wife, novelist Lesley Glaister. Which is by way of saying I am interested in writing the joys, aches, and complexities of being human, in the universal and the local, in our present and the Past that shapes it.

Andrew's book list on the wild side of the Scotland-England borderlands

Andrew Greig Why did Andrew love this book?

So it is not a novel, but might as well be for its twists, turns, and transformations. Edinburgh in 1572 was a small town of some 3,000 families, so my real-life narrator William Fowler would know and meet one of its most notable citizens, Preacher John Knox of Haddington, along with his young and socially aristocratic second wife (the latter attribute was more a matter of gossip and criticism than the thirty-seven years age gap), and witnessed him being helped up into the pulpit at St Giles to give his congregation a last good talking to. This is the most recent (drawing on a major new cache of letters), and highly readable, life of the man who pushed Scotland towards a Presbyterian Calvinist form of Protestantism – crucially distinct from that evolving in England under the Auld Hag aka Elizabeth I. He is revealed as a much more complex and…

By Jane Dawson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked John Knox as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The definitive biography of John Knox, a leader of the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Scotland

"Never before has there been such a thoroughly and sympathetically critical treatment of the 16th-century Scottish reformer's thought and times. . . . A joy to read and a book to value."-Sean Michael Lucas, Gospel Coalition

Based in large part on previously unavailable sources, including the recently discovered papers of John Knox's close friend and colleague Christopher Goodman, this biography challenges the traditionally held stereotype of the founder of the Presbyterian denomination as a strident and misogynist religious reformer whose influence rarely extended beyond Scotland.…