Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos MN Eire, 757 pages
It is not an accident that Carlos Eire's study of the fragmentation of Western Christianity in the early modern era, between the start of construction on the new St Peter's Basilica and the end of the Thirty Years War, is titled Reformations rather than "the Reformation". Taking a broad view of his subject, Eire traces the development of a diverse range of expressions of the perennial Christian desire for reform, given new force and direction by the humanism of the Renaissance. This is complemented by a distant but nevertheless real appreciation of the intimate relationship between religion, politics, economics, and culture, as well as a conscious commitment "to allow the past to be understood on its own terms" and avoid "either-or reductionism."
While it is much too late to avoid variations on the value-laden word "reform", it might be hoped that a better effort might be made in the employment of such ambiguous terms as "Scriptural", "superstition", and "rational". Of course, to thread one's way through all of the theological niceties would require at least a dozen books each as long as Eire's, which makes some simplification a necessary evil. While Reformations is hardly the final word on such a complex and contentious period, neither does Eire imagine it to be. It is, however, an excellent beginning for anyone seeking to understand the era and its legacy.