The lasting effect of this book on history cannot be understated. It is the single most influential book on Protestant thinking throughout the Reformation, often read from the pulpit as scripture alongside The Bible, thus shaping that world irrevocably. The original clocked in at over a million words, and the woodcut illustrations cemented the horrors in the imaginations of the Tudor and Stuart world.
I am, unfortunately, not yet able to find a physical copy with reproductions of the illustrations for my home library, but in my quest to further deepen my appreciation for Medieval and Renaissance history, this audiobook found its way to me, filling my ears with the propaganda of the age in a most personal way. Regardless of your particular spiritual stance (I’m not a Christian myself), it’s very difficult to not be moved to anger, sadness, and sometimes pride for the various sacrifices within, both noble and indignant. Listening to these accounts of martyrdom in detail opens the window of understanding to a bygone age and makes me readily appreciate the amount of religious freedom and tolerance I am accustomed to today by comparison. My studies into history and comparative religion are going to be forever changed by my experience of this book, such is the brutality and courage found here. At the end of the day, regardless of the bias and agenda of the author, these are still tales of human suffering, and it’s inhuman to listen to such things impassively. As such, this book is a mental and spiritual beating. For a Christian, especially one of that time and place, I can only imagine the effect it would have on the devout. I’m sure it still holds some power with the faithful today who encounter it. As an outsider in a Christian culture and amateur historian, I appreciate it from my own perspectives and understandings, but it further reinforced my own beliefs about organized religion vs. personal spiritualism. I would liken this book to Yoda’s cave on Dagobah: what’s inside is shaped and perceived by what you take with you, and you will emerge from the experience with some inherent change on your psyche that you will need to come to terms with. It will not be an easy journey, and only you can decide if it’s necessary for you to confront this tome. Make no mistake, it will be a confrontation.