August 7, 2012 by Will Ray
This weekend I finished a pretty big book that’s taken me a while to work though, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy, by Eric Metaxas.
Along a steady diet of personal development, Christian living, and business/finance books, I’ve begun to include a serving of biographies of people who interest me. Most of these are massive books – Bonhoeffer weighed in at almost 550 pages; Steve Jobs, which I read earlier this year, was about the same. My next biography, John Adams by David McCullough, is 650 pages.
Though the size of these can be daunting, I often take a few months to work through them while working on other books as well. This takes the pressure off to finish in a certain time frame, and since they are narratives, I find that I can more easily stretch them out over a longer period and still enjoy it.
You may have heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but like me, don’t (didn’t) know much about him. In short, he was a German pastor and theologian who publicly – then covertly, when it became illegal – worked against the Nazi regime. He eventually joined the conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler and take control of the German government. He was executed at age 39 at Flossenburg concentration camp for his role in the conspiracy, just two weeks before the Allies liberated it and won the war in Europe.
The book itself is rather fascinating, and it’s well put-together. For someone not acquainted with German history (like myself), it shed a lot of light on pre-WWII Germany. That’s a great thing because I feel many Americans have a Hitler- or Nazi-centric view of German history – I realized while reading that I did. Bonhoeffer was a rather extraordinary person, possessing great musical talent and writing multiple theological works in his 20’s and 30’s that are still used and referenced today. The “Prophet” part of the title comes from his uncanny ability to see where the proliferation of Nazi theology and thought would lead.
One thing I would have liked to see in the book is a glossary of persons as a “quick-reference” guide. I’ve seen that in other biographies, and it’s hugely helpful when you get to page 350, have been introduced to dozens of personalities from this person’s life, and someone is only referenced by their surname. The index is helpful, however, for the same purpose, it just takes more time to find the information you need.
I’ll likely continue to write and blog about a few of the concepts put forth by Bonhoeffer and detailed in the book, which would be a bit much to include here. All in all, if you enjoy biographies, history (especially WWII or church history), theology, or even just a good story, pick up Bonhoeffer. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Question: What have you heard about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Have you read this bio? What did you think of it?