Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Letters and Papers from Prison": A Biography

Overview

For fascination, influence, inspiration, and controversy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison is unmatched by any other book of Christian reflection written in the twentieth century. A Lutheran pastor and theologian, Bonhoeffer spent two years in Nazi prisons before being executed at age thirty-nine, just a month before the German surrender, for his role in the plot to kill Hitler. The posthumous Letters and Papers from Prison has had a tremendous impact on both Christian and secular thought ...

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Overview

For fascination, influence, inspiration, and controversy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison is unmatched by any other book of Christian reflection written in the twentieth century. A Lutheran pastor and theologian, Bonhoeffer spent two years in Nazi prisons before being executed at age thirty-nine, just a month before the German surrender, for his role in the plot to kill Hitler. The posthumous Letters and Papers from Prison has had a tremendous impact on both Christian and secular thought since it was first published in 1951, and has helped establish Bonhoeffer's reputation as one of the most important Protestant thinkers of the twentieth century. In this, the first history of the book's remarkable global career, National Book Award-winning author Martin Marty tells how and why Letters and Papers from Prison has been read and used in such dramatically different ways, from the cold war to today.

In his late letters, Bonhoeffer raised tantalizing questions about the role of Christianity and the church in an increasingly secular world. Marty tells the story of how, in the 1960s and the following decades, these provocative ideas stirred a wide range of thinkers and activists, including civil rights and antiapartheid campaigners, "death-of-God" theologians, and East German Marxists.

In the process of tracing the eventful and contested history of Bonhoeffer's book, Marty provides a compelling new perspective on religious and secular life in the postwar era.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Is it possible to write a biography of a book? Princeton's new series asserts that classic books—in their creation and reception—take on a kind of life of their own. Marty (religious history, emeritus, Univ. of Chicago; Martin Luther: A Life), a highly regarded church historian and National Book Award winner, certainly shows how Bonhoeffer's work has been vital for over half a century, explicating how the prison letters and other writings came to make such a significant impact on the religious world. Bonhoeffer, a major German theologian and member of the resistance against Hitler, had no knowledge that his prison writings would be published and disseminated so widely. Yet his courageous convictions and creative theological ideas became highly influential for Christians, including Protestants (mainline), Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox. VERDICT Religious scholars as well as general readers interested in theology or the history of Christianity will find this a great choice.—John Jaeger, Dallas Baptist Univ., TX
Sydney Morning Herald
Martin E. Marty has written a simple account of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's hugely influential Letters and Papers from Prison. He explains how the work came to be collated and Bonhoeffer's moral opposition to Hitler and how he wrote until his execution days before World War II ended. There is a thorough analysis of Bonhoeffer's theology followed by a description of how those beliefs—and his influence—spread.
— Bruce Elder
Commonweal
In my library, there is a whole shelf devoted to Bonhoeffer, whom I began reading decades ago. What has always attracted me to his writings is not only the heroic witness of his life and death, but also his instinct in a time of crisis to 'do' theology according to the quasi-monastic model he constructed at Finkenwalde. In a course on modern spiritual writers, I usually assign not the letters but The Cost of Discipleship. Having read Marty's brilliant study, I may now go back to the letters in order to—as one of Marty's subtitles puts it—'send the book further along the way.'
— Lawrence S Cunningham
Christian Century
Biography can be a powerful genre for theology, as Bethge's classic biography of Bonhoeffer demonstrates. Both the casual fan and the serious scholar should commend Marty for his fine account of Bonhoeffer's most famous and most enigmatic book.
— Barry Harvey
Association of Contemporary Church Historians Quarterly
Essentially Marty gives us a well-informed survey of Letters and Papers from Prison's reception over the past sixty-five years.
— John S. Conway
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society Newsletter
Marty's perspective spans the entire spectrum of global influence and controversy of LPP over the six decades of the book's life from its inception forward. . . . Of particular value for readers less familiar with the 20th century reception of LPP will be his sketches of its life in East and West, Protestant and Roman Catholic worlds, in Latin America, South Africa and Asia, in Black Theology, and in Evangelicalism. While the biographer's task is not to present or interpret the contents of LPP, he describes the encounters of its most challenging and controversial concepts.
— Nancy Lukens
Theology
The biography is a must for all who have their own history with Letters and Papers from Prison and who wish to revisit that story in the light of the wide range of new insights into a correspondence between two friends that wrote Church history.
— Ralf K. Wustenberg
Lutheran Quarterly
Marty tells an engaging story of how Letters and Papers from Prison gradually came to be and how in the process it has been interpreted and misinterpreted and creatively used or misused by diverse audiences around the world.
— Mark S. Brocker
Sydney Morning Herald - Bruce Elder
Martin E. Marty has written a simple account of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's hugely influential Letters and Papers from Prison. He explains how the work came to be collated and Bonhoeffer's moral opposition to Hitler and how he wrote until his execution days before World War II ended. There is a thorough analysis of Bonhoeffer's theology followed by a description of how those beliefs—and his influence—spread.
Commonweal - Lawrence S Cunningham
In my library, there is a whole shelf devoted to Bonhoeffer, whom I began reading decades ago. What has always attracted me to his writings is not only the heroic witness of his life and death, but also his instinct in a time of crisis to 'do' theology according to the quasi-monastic model he constructed at Finkenwalde. In a course on modern spiritual writers, I usually assign not the letters but The Cost of Discipleship. Having read Marty's brilliant study, I may now go back to the letters in order to—as one of Marty's subtitles puts it—'send the book further along the way.'
Christian Century - Barry Harvey
Biography can be a powerful genre for theology, as Bethge's classic biography of Bonhoeffer demonstrates. Both the casual fan and the serious scholar should commend Marty for his fine account of Bonhoeffer's most famous and most enigmatic book.
Association of Contemporary Church Historians Quarterly - John S. Conway
Essentially Marty gives us a well-informed survey of Letters and Papers from Prison's reception over the past sixty-five years.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society Newsletter - Nancy Lukens
Marty's perspective spans the entire spectrum of global influence and controversy of LPP over the six decades of the book's life from its inception forward. . . . Of particular value for readers less familiar with the 20th century reception of LPP will be his sketches of its life in East and West, Protestant and Roman Catholic worlds, in Latin America, South Africa and Asia, in Black Theology, and in Evangelicalism. While the biographer's task is not to present or interpret the contents of LPP, he describes the encounters of its most challenging and controversial concepts.
Theology - Ralf K. Wustenberg
The biography is a must for all who have their own history with Letters and Papers from Prison and who wish to revisit that story in the light of the wide range of new insights into a correspondence between two friends that wrote Church history.
Lutheran Quarterly - Mark S. Brocker
Marty tells an engaging story of how Letters and Papers from Prison gradually came to be and how in the process it has been interpreted and misinterpreted and creatively used or misused by diverse audiences around the world.
Journal of Ecclesiastical History - Andrew Chandler
This book was a job worth doing and Marty has done it sensitively and well.
Commonweal - Lawrence S. Cunningham
In my library, there is a whole shelf devoted to Bonhoeffer, whom I began reading decades ago. What has always attracted me to his writings is not only the heroic witness of his life and death, but also his instinct in a time of crisis to 'do' theology according to the quasi-monastic model he constructed at Finkenwalde. In a course on modern spiritual writers, I usually assign not the letters but The Cost of Discipleship. Having read Marty's brilliant study, I may now go back to the letters in order to—as one of Marty's subtitles puts it—'send the book further along the way.'
European Legacy - Donald J. Dietrich
This work is a singular contribution to our study of the history of ideas through one author's, Bonhoeffer's, book and how his insights inform western culture in its encounters with other systems of thought.
From the Publisher

"Religious scholars as well as general readers interested in theology or the history of Christianity will find this a great choice."--John Jaeger, Library Journal

"Martin E. Marty has written a simple account of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's hugely influential Letters and Papers from Prison. He explains how the work came to be collated and Bonhoeffer's moral opposition to Hitler and how he wrote until his execution days before World War II ended. There is a thorough analysis of Bonhoeffer's theology followed by a description of how those beliefs--and his influence--spread."--Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald

"In my library, there is a whole shelf devoted to Bonhoeffer, whom I began reading decades ago. What has always attracted me to his writings is not only the heroic witness of his life and death, but also his instinct in a time of crisis to 'do' theology according to the quasi-monastic model he constructed at Finkenwalde. In a course on modern spiritual writers, I usually assign not the letters but The Cost of Discipleship. Having read Marty's brilliant study, I may now go back to the letters in order to--as one of Marty's subtitles puts it--'send the book further along the way.'"--Lawrence S Cunningham, Commonweal

"Biography can be a powerful genre for theology, as Bethge's classic biography of Bonhoeffer demonstrates. Both the casual fan and the serious scholar should commend Marty for his fine account of Bonhoeffer's most famous and most enigmatic book."--Barry Harvey, Christian Century

"Essentially Marty gives us a well-informed survey of Letters and Papers from Prison's reception over the past sixty-five years."--John S. Conway, Association of Contemporary Church Historians Quarterly

"Marty's perspective spans the entire spectrum of global influence and controversy of LPP over the six decades of the book's life from its inception forward. . . . Of particular value for readers less familiar with the 20th century reception of LPP will be his sketches of its life in East and West, Protestant and Roman Catholic worlds, in Latin America, South Africa and Asia, in Black Theology, and in Evangelicalism. While the biographer's task is not to present or interpret the contents of LPP, he describes the encounters of its most challenging and controversial concepts."--Nancy Lukens, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society Newsletter

"The biography is a must for all who have their own history with Letters and Papers from Prison and who wish to revisit that story in the light of the wide range of new insights into a correspondence between two friends that wrote Church history."--Ralf K. Wustenberg, Theology

"Marty tells an engaging story of how Letters and Papers from Prison gradually came to be and how in the process it has been interpreted and misinterpreted and creatively used or misused by diverse audiences around the world."--Mark S. Brocker, Lutheran Quarterly

"This book was a job worth doing and Marty has done it sensitively and well."--Andrew Chandler, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"This work is a singular contribution to our study of the history of ideas through one author's, Bonhoeffer's, book and how his insights inform western culture in its encounters with other systems of thought."--Donald J. Dietrich, European Legacy

"A theologically sophisticated but gripping narrative in a rare genre: the biography of a book. . . . This is a demanding but engaging read for faculty, students, pastors, and laity."--John C. Shelley, Religious Studies Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691139210
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/21/2011
  • Series: Lives of Great Religious Books Series
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 684,028
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin E. Marty is professor emeritus of religious history at the University of Chicago. He is the winner of the National Book Award and the author of more than fifty books. His recent books include "Martin Luther: A Life" (Viking) and "The Christian World: A Global History" (Modern Library).

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Chapter 1: The Birth of a Book 1
Chapter 2: The "Gradual" Editor 31
Chapter 3: The Decisive Turns 51
Chapter 4: Travels East 74
Chapter 5: Travels West 103
Chapter 6: The Worlds of Two Strangers 133
Chapter 7: Travels around the World 178
Chapter 8: Continuity and Change 211
Notes 247
Index 261
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2012

    recipient of this book expressed interest in it, so I purchased it as a gift

    the woman that I sent this book to has since passed away.

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