Cromwell, the Reformation, and Anglican Identity: A Review of “Thomas Cromwell” by Diarmaid MacCulloch

*This review was originally published over at The Englewood Review of Books. If you have a few minutes, please go check out some of their other reviews.

Thomas Cromwell’s administrative prowess, enigmatic personality, and the striking nature of his rise and fall provide rich material for both fans of Hilary Mantel’s novels and aspiring historians wanting to sink their teeth into the fraught world of 16th century Tudor England. For these audiences, I think Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life may become one of their more long-lasting guides and conversation partners. MacCulloch possesses impressive credentials as a religious historian of the English Reformation in particular and Christianity more generally, so from one perspective, it’s interesting to see him take on a biography of Cromwell, who is sometimes viewed as a coldly calculating, rather Machiavellian secular figure (4). One of MacCulloch’s aims in this work, though, is to subvert this estimation of Cromwell and show how his religious and political motivations were intertwined (4, 371).

In this biography, MacCulloch gives readers a serious work of scholarship, coming in at over five hundred pages in length, with an impressive number of pages of notes gathered in the back of the book. These details may give the impression that Thomas Cromwell is a struggle to get through—and it’s true that MacCulloch’s minutely reconstructed account of life in the English royal court shows no fear of diving into the historical weeds. However, his dry sense of humor shines through in the book’s prose, rewarding those willing to take a deep dive into Cromwell’s life while also possessing a sharp wit. MacCulloch is a master when it comes to telling an engaging historical narrative, and this biography is no exception. Continue reading

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The Summer Reading List: 2017 Edition

Summer is once again almost upon us. For students and professors, this means a collective sigh of relief—a short but nevertheless real break from grappling with papers and stressing over deadlines. While I may not currently be in school, I still love summer reading lists. There’s something refreshing about the ambition, hope, and unabashed bookishness that goes into making them. Therefore, just as I’ve done for the last few years (here are the 2016 and 2015 lists), I’ve put together a stack of titles to work through before autumn sets in. My eyes are usually too big for my literary stomach, but I figure there’s no shame in failure if that means the summer was still full of great books and interesting conversations. So, without further ado, let’s look at this year’s list:

Three Subjects and a Favorite Voice

1. Wesleyan Studies. 

The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley is an edited collection of essays that gives readers a solid, wide-ranging survey of John Wesley’s life, work, and theological legacy. It also puts Wesley and the rise of Methodism in some historical context by introducing readers to different perspectives on relevant topics like the state of the Church of England in the 18th century, the nature of the British Enlightenment, and examining early Methodism as a movement within the Anglican Church. For those who are curious about the Wesleyan tradition but don’t have much background knowledge, this volume seems like a useful starting point. Continue reading