BRAND LUTHER by Andrew Pettegree
  Book Reviews    October 25, 2015     Eric Larkin


You couldn’t make this up.

A completely unnoteworthy monk in a relative backwater of northern Europe, cold-starts the German publishing industry, becomes a best-selling author, introduces near-universal education – including for women – while preaching at church, teaching at university and starting a large family.

Oh – and launches the Protestant Reformation.

photo Pop, cc

Luther created the perfect wave for publishing and Protestantism to catch: provocative writing, with high quality printing and evocative art. This is the cover of one of his short publications, featuring the Pope on a pig with a palmful of poop (yes, it’s steaming). That lettering was top-notch for the day. And it would have been cheap enough for your average Josef to buy. photo Pop, cc

It’s not a believable story. It just happens to be true. Andrew Pettegree’s straight-forward chronicle of this impossible doo-dah parade of history keeps all the fascinating details and leaves out anything that would bog down the action. The title Brand Luther refers to the publishing juggernaut Luther and friends built in the third-tier town of Wittenberg. The genius decisions to publish in the vernacular German, to make small, affordable works, to practice business generously with an ever-increasing quality control and innovation in both marketing and technology not only changed the publishing industry, but made the Reformation possible. You meet all the critical players: friends, enemies, frenemies, and come to understand that even with Luther’s individual brilliance and energy – and many, deep flaws – he had a miraculous set of colleagues and protectors that literally kept him alive long enough for the movement to grow out of the reach of Rome’s hitherto undefeated dissent-crushing mechanism.

It somehow makes it reasonable that this one oft-constipated*, doting father could change everything. This is a really stellar book.


* I told you, it’s detailed.


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