Two “Five Books” book lists

TalkReformation Era: History and Literature

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Two “Five Books” book lists

Edited: Mar 11, 10:11pm

An excellent site for finding books to read on almost any subject is the “Five Books” ( website. The idea seems to be like the saying - If you read 5 well-chosen books on any subject, you’ll be an expert. Actually though, expertise is really something more than that (see Rethinking Expertise by Collins), but you will be fairly well informed and possibly able to discuss intelligently with someone who is an expert.

The first list is by Benedict King, a contributor to “Five Books,” and centers on Thomas Cromwell. Fans of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and her other books may be interested in these five books. Some of these books are not very popular titles, but you can see where he is coming from.

The next “Five Books” page is a lengthy interview with prominent English Reformation historian, Peter Marshall (Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation). For anyone interested in the Reformation Era, this interview is well worth a read.

The five books Marshall talks about tend to be books with special insight. I have read one of them already, Christianity in the West 1400-1700, by John Bossy and found it especially insightful (though some of it can be difficult to follow). In it the author reveals some of the ways the medieval church was different from the later Protestant or evangelical churches. Examples would be how the medieval church emphasized “penance” (Latin = poenitentiam) and the Seven Deadly Sins, while the later church focused more on “repentance” (Greek = metanoia) and the Ten Commandments as guides to moral behavior. Even having grown up in the Catholic Church as a child - with the dominance of my (later) Protestant or evangelical background - it’s difficult to imagine the medieval church (or any church really) without the concept of repentance. Perhaps that’s an indication of our modern parochialism, both in terms of our distance from the past and our distance from other traditions of the Church. Another difference between the medieval and later evangelical churches would be the primacy of “image” in the earlier church and the primacy of “word” in the later churches. The speed with which these changes occurred was breathtaking, and Bossy claims they may have affected the fate of the sacraments in the later Protestant or evangelical churches.

Even if you are not interested in these two lists, I would recommend the “Five Books” website to anyone looking for ideas on what to read next.