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Thomas More: A Biography

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Over the centuries, biographers of Thomas More have always praised him and made him an example for their own times. He was a man for all seasons. This Tudor prelate and Lord Chancellor of England shared human qualities identifiable in all ages--pride, love, ambition, generosity, hypocrisy, and greed. He was less than common because he was witty and a great storyteller--the Over the centuries, biographers of Thomas More have always praised him and made him an example for their own times. He was a man for all seasons. This Tudor prelate and Lord Chancellor of England shared human qualities identifiable in all ages--pride, love, ambition, generosity, hypocrisy, and greed. He was less than common because he was witty and a great storyteller--the best between Chaucer and Shakespeare. Truly, he was a Renaissance man with the contradictions such praise imposes on a towering figure. In Richard Marius's authoritative and engaging portrait, Sir Thomas More, the martyr and brilliant public figure, is a lesson for our season.


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Over the centuries, biographers of Thomas More have always praised him and made him an example for their own times. He was a man for all seasons. This Tudor prelate and Lord Chancellor of England shared human qualities identifiable in all ages--pride, love, ambition, generosity, hypocrisy, and greed. He was less than common because he was witty and a great storyteller--the Over the centuries, biographers of Thomas More have always praised him and made him an example for their own times. He was a man for all seasons. This Tudor prelate and Lord Chancellor of England shared human qualities identifiable in all ages--pride, love, ambition, generosity, hypocrisy, and greed. He was less than common because he was witty and a great storyteller--the best between Chaucer and Shakespeare. Truly, he was a Renaissance man with the contradictions such praise imposes on a towering figure. In Richard Marius's authoritative and engaging portrait, Sir Thomas More, the martyr and brilliant public figure, is a lesson for our season.

30 review for Thomas More: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    Richard Marius’ biography is absolutely outstanding. Its strongest point is the way in which it analyzes More, the intellectual. It carefully reviews all More’s works but more importantly, it situates More’s writings in the historical context. It outlines the major theological and philosophical debates of the era showing where More fits in. In addition Marius' identifies the key issues on which More was close to Erasmus and Luther as well as those on which he differed. Marius in his biography pro Richard Marius’ biography is absolutely outstanding. Its strongest point is the way in which it analyzes More, the intellectual. It carefully reviews all More’s works but more importantly, it situates More’s writings in the historical context. It outlines the major theological and philosophical debates of the era showing where More fits in. In addition Marius' identifies the key issues on which More was close to Erasmus and Luther as well as those on which he differed. Marius in his biography provides a detailed portrait of More the person and a somewhat perfunctory description of his failed political career. In his analysis of More’s personal life Marius appears to push his conclusions past the point that the data warrants but in so doing he presents the reader with a very fascinating character. Marius decision to give short shrift to the political career of More is perhaps wise as Marius was a theologian not a political historian by training. Marius demonstrates a stunning command of the theological literature of the middle ages and the Renaissance in his book on More. Of particular value is his ability to analyze key texts that have never been translated from Latin. Marius shows how More was caught up with the great excitement of the humanist movement which undertook to revisit the Christian faith by examining the original Greek texts of the New Testament. Marius identifies several key areas where the Greek versions undermined the dogmas that had prevailed for almost a thousand years and which had been based on St. Jerome’s Latin translation. The value that More saw in the Greek texts was that they offered a means to overthrow the dominance of Aristotelian Scholasticism which had pushed the focus of theologians onto irrelevant dialectical arguments rather than on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. At the same time, More felt that the doctrines developed by the Scholastic tradition should be retained. In More’s view, if the prevailing Catholic doctrines were false they would not have lasted for so many centuries. More’s dominant focus in his writings and political actions was in fighting heresy. Erasmus seems to have loved thought and debate for their own intrinsic values. He was ready to embrace heretical ideas but resolutely refused to rebel against the authority of the Church. Having doubts about transubstantiation was one thing. Openly challenging the authority of the church was another. Erasmus wanted to argue with heretics not suppress them. Luther of course was an intellectual heretic and political firebrand. More hated him while Erasmus tried to sit on the fence. Marius treatment of the personal life of Thomas More makes fascinating reading. In Marius view, More felt guilty because his sex drive led him to renounce a career as a priest and to get married. More according to Marius did not approve of sex for the mere purpose of pleasure and because his second wife was past the child-bearing years when he married her, More likely never had sexual relations with her. While Marius may be correct in his conjecture, he comes back to the issue of the sexless second marriage far too often given the fact that he lacks proof for his theory. In a similar way, Marius talks too long about More’s desire for martyrdom. The record stands that More refused to take an Henry VIII’s Oath to the Succession which led directly to his arrest, condemnation and execution. Marius’ lengthy speculation on why More adopted such a suicidal course fails to through any light on the matter. Marius in his book really devotes little time either to More’s career in government or the broader political context. Given the extensive literature on the Tudor dynasty, the reader is none the poorer. Marius is however very clear about what he thinks of More as a politician. More’s overriding goal was to preserve the independence of the Church relative to the monarchy. Thus in simple terms More was simply trying to preserve the political order of the Magna Carta. More also felt that the Pope should be only a symbolic head of the universal Church and the English Church be effectively self-governing. Marius argues that More was totally devoid of leadership qualities. When he replaced Wolsey as Lord Chancellor he proved to be ineffective. He never acquired any power and never became close to Henry VIII. Marius may be quite right in his assessment of More the politician. If he is then his lack of interest in More’s political career is amply justified. What is clear is that Marius has written an outstanding book about a great English intellectual and the place that he occupied in the Renaissance.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    Read in 2010. Detailed biography. The account of his relationship and intellectual arguments with Erasmus is particularly fascinating.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Thomas R

    I learned some interesting things from this book. If I recall correctly he indicates the vilification of Richard III kind of began with him. But unlike Shakespeare he didn't try to portray Henry VII as all that good. He kind of felt, if I'm remembering this right, that they were both kind of tyrannical. He also had quite the potty-mouth on him, which I hadn't known before college. But there are times I think the author almost wants this to be "The Story of England's Torquemada" and I don't think I learned some interesting things from this book. If I recall correctly he indicates the vilification of Richard III kind of began with him. But unlike Shakespeare he didn't try to portray Henry VII as all that good. He kind of felt, if I'm remembering this right, that they were both kind of tyrannical. He also had quite the potty-mouth on him, which I hadn't known before college. But there are times I think the author almost wants this to be "The Story of England's Torquemada" and I don't think that's entirely justified. More did not have modern ideas on religious freedom, but then again almost no one in the sixteenth century did. Henry VIII certainly didn't, though I do like him making Henry VIII a bit more comprehensible. More was against "heresy" but so was Henry VIII. Even after More's death Henry VIII's regime would attack people for heresy. (See Anne Askew) I don't know that I got the sense More was all that unusual for his time or place. Still I did come away thinking the Carthusian Martyrs should, quite probably, be more known and celebrated.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    This remarkable biography examines Thomas More's complex personality and the characters that are part of his narrative. The author is a skilled writer. The book is great to read in order to see a master write the brilliant prose.The biography cannot be read quickly; it took me over a month of solid reading to get through the book and ponder what I had just read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    A good scholarly biography making substantial use of primary sources and doing a very good job in placing More in the context of his time. Not a teflon-coated saint by any means, but rather more complex than the dry and callous chancellor of Wolf Hall.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mlg

    The best biography of Thomas More that I have ever read. Martyr or zealot? The reader has to decide. How many people would die for a belief now days?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    Biased.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Marius has every claim to being an expert on More, and the comprehensive of the biography leaves little to be desired. The book is now 35 years old, and some of the trends among historians are evident in the biography: easygoing psychological speculation, a widely assumed theory of secularization, a blithe sense that religious earnestness of a certain sort can be characteristic only of modern fundamentalists. Some themes get tiresome and leave you without much insight. Marius insists that More's Marius has every claim to being an expert on More, and the comprehensive of the biography leaves little to be desired. The book is now 35 years old, and some of the trends among historians are evident in the biography: easygoing psychological speculation, a widely assumed theory of secularization, a blithe sense that religious earnestness of a certain sort can be characteristic only of modern fundamentalists. Some themes get tiresome and leave you without much insight. Marius insists that More's lifelong regret of not becoming a priest or religious (if such regret existed) explains all of More's bemoaning the futility of earthly affairs. ('Perhaps More here vents his frustration that he never became a priest.' Or, notably, More's last days, alone, without kith or kin, no books, nothing: 'Now More had what he always longed for, the monastic life.') The fashion of the time, it must be, explains Marius's recurrent use of More's energetic and repressed libido as an explanans for a range of phenomena: his hatred of Luther, his non-mentioning of his second wife in certain letters, and so on. Most of the book, in recollecting More's literary and political career, leaves you with a sense that Marius finds More a petty character, too given to fury over small matters, too aware that flattery might be effective. And if you're like me, these leaves you wondering why exactly Marius finds More so engrossing. I like hagiography as little as the next fellow, but the labour involved in bringing forth such a thick life of a figure so apparently un-magnificent is perplexing. The last two chapters do change tone; there Marius becomes slightly less critical of the 'hagiographical' sources we have of More's last days, and Marius seems genuinely impressed, even if puzzled, by More's martyrdom--his performance, as Marius would say. If you have Bolt's play and Marius's biography next to each other, Marius seems the less clever, less genuinely insightful interpreter of More's life. Bolt, an atheist, nonetheless seems more clairvoyant about why he is drawn to More. Much attention is given, as is expected, given Marius's expertise, to More's treatment of heretics in England. By my lights, More seems utterly unexceptional on this score: that is, he made decisions, in his offices both as judge and chancellor, that we cannot but find abominable today but which were hardly uncharacteristic of those who held such offices in his day. More did not abuse the laws of his country; he used the only ones they had--bad ones. I cannot rate the biography very highly, but it did not disappoint me in this respect: I was not looking for hagiography but rather for a biography that would give More a hard time. I suspect historians today might have fewer blind spots than Marius did (the ones mentioned above), but if no one has undertaken to write about More's whole life, one cannot go too wrong in reading Marius's life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Timothy

    Haven't been able to finish the book, but I was required to read excerpts from it in a college class. This is the only time I have ever gone out and bought the book after a class. Richard Marius' writing is excellent and engaging. I truly intend to finish this someday for the sheer pleasure of it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    • This was not a quick read, but it was an informative and enjoyable read. Marius not only reveals the man, he illuminates the times that form the web within which More lived. Read this book…it is a worthy endeavor for anyone wanting to learn a bit about Tudor England. •

  11. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    got into watching Showtime's "The Tudors" on DVD, remembered I had this book somewhere in the house, and now I have to read it. UPDATE: Deeply researched & authoritative; tough, slow read. got into watching Showtime's "The Tudors" on DVD, remembered I had this book somewhere in the house, and now I have to read it. UPDATE: Deeply researched & authoritative; tough, slow read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Will

    Someone who has come to the shocking realization that More was not a twentieth century liberal (Gasp!).

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

    Surprised by the corruption in Henry VIII's court; and the incredible, horrible violence!! Henry and ISIS were/are head to head on violence and terror!!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alan Johnson

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ruby

  17. 4 out of 5

    Corinne Apezteguia

  18. 4 out of 5

    Maddie

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rose Ann

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joe Valentine

  21. 5 out of 5

    Pat Webb

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bobby Thym

  23. 5 out of 5

    Pam Fullem

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anatole David

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ron Cannon

  26. 5 out of 5

    Harold Smith

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jennings Peeler

  29. 5 out of 5

    Annie Belanger

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Martin

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