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Carlos Eire is the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.
Image credit: Courtesy of Carlos M. N. Eire

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This beautiful memoir, has left me with much to think about. It was heartbreaking at times (especially that unnumbered chapter), but it was also filled with lots of fun and precious memories. I loved the richness of the author’s descriptive writing, his use of metaphors, and how each chapter felt like a story, with yet another adventure from his life. It was interesting to read (from the postscript) that he took 4 months to write the book and so lovely that each time he wrote a new chapter, he read it out aloud to his children. This was a Bookclub read and I’m looking forward to discussing it with the others, soon.

Vintage photos 1930-1950 Cuba
Pedro Pan Website
Focus Five Talk Show
Reading Guide (Simon and Schuster)
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Carole888 | 24 other reviews | Aug 10, 2022 |
Carlos Eire’s Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 is a brick of a book that attempts to cover a vast topic: the Protestant Reformation, its causes and consequences, with a focus on western Europe but also some coverage of the Americas, Africa, and Asia. (Scandinavia and eastern Europe get short shrift here.) That Eire was attempting to make this “a narrative for beginners and nonspecialists” makes the task he took on here even more daunting. It’s not one that I think he succeeded at.

Eire clearly has a wide-ranging knowledge of early modern history, but I had a number of issues with his characterisation of medieval religion (very clearly not his area of expertise) and indeed how he thinks of what “religion” is. He argues again and again for “religion” as a driving force in history that needs to be studied on its own terms, but never grapples with the fact that his concept of “religion” is one posited on a lot of assumptions that what “religion” is is what Christianity looks like. (See also, for instance, the fact that Eire at one point near the end of the book refers to Christianity as “Europe’s ancestral religion”—hoo boy, and that definitely ensured I wasn’t surprised to google him and find that he’s the kind of Christian who talks blithely about “Judeo-Christian values.”)

His grasp of early modern history is also not total—while I’m not an early modernist, I am Irish, and there were a couple of times that his brief references to what was happening in Ireland made me blink.

This is also a determinedly old-school history: an intellectual/political history that’s largely driven by elites and in which women scarcely appear as actors. (There’s perhaps a page in which Eire acknowledges that histories of women in the Reformation exist, but snidely dismisses them as ideological axe grinding—ironically enough on the grounds that they dare to ask the same kinds of questions (were women better off because of the Reformation? worse?) that he chastises historians in his conclusion for not daring to ask of the Reformation more generally.) And while it’s laudable that Eire tackles the spread of European Christianity to other parts of the world during the early modern period—a topic that most textbooks on Europe during the period often ignore—his characterisation of missionary activities made me suck my teeth more than once. Missionaries and their work are referred to as “heroic”; the “success” of missions is calculated in terms of numbers of converts. Eire might not outright talk about civilizing the natives, but the implications are clear, and distasteful.

Cramming more than two centuries of complex global history into fewer than 900 pages is a feat of concision. Yet I feel like it’s still probably going to be overwhelming for most “beginners and nonspecialists”, and the average undergrad would probably balk on being assigned this. Eire’s language (“hermeneutic”, “soteriology”, “dialectic”, etc) wouldn’t help there either. Yet it would also be an odd fit in a graduate seminar, I think: no footnotes, and determinedly Anglophone and overwhelmingly male bibliography.
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siriaeve | 5 other reviews | Jul 17, 2022 |
The very word “Reformation” is a product of the English-speaking world’s Protestant orientation, which saw Luther’s 1517 announcement as a “reform” of something, but of course his Catholic counterparts saw him more as a rebel. Seeing history more broadly, as this book does, helps recognize that, in fact, there were multiple such “reformations”, all triggered by events of the 1400s, including the invention of the printing press, discovery of the New World, long-running changes in the relationship between monarchs and the nobility, etc. etc.

Unlike other accounts, which focus just on the historical events, the author offers extensive commentary on the act of history writing itself, and how views shift over time. The last two chapters (“Consequences” and “Epilogue”) are an especially good summary from this perspective and are worth reading alone if you already are familiar with the history itself.
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richardSprague | 5 other reviews | Mar 26, 2022 |
This is solid, but with so many options out there, I have high standards for general histories of the reformation(s). Eire's is good, particularly in setting the scene, and on Catholicism during the period. The chapters on the various Reformation churches were weaker, I thought, and the final section was somewhere in between. Eire occasionally flashes a very tedious contrarian streak (i.e., if you dare to explain things, particularly if you try to explain things rather than just assuming that they are exactly how they present themselves, you are damned). But he writes well, and his book is admirably wide-ranging in terms of its foci. On the whole, though, Chadwick's telling is briefer, and MacCulloch's more compelling.… (more)
 
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stillatim | 5 other reviews | Oct 23, 2020 |

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