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I have read and recommended many books to friends, acquaintances, and strangers over the years, but I have done so selectively, carefully choosing what I recommend and to whom I recommend it. I have found few books, aside from dictionaries and Douglas Adams, that I would urge on others almost without condition. I have added one to that list: Protestants: The Radicals Who Made The Modern World, by Alec Ryrie.
The Protestant Reformation made and remade what we consider to be modern Western Civilization, and regardless of what your faith is (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist), Protestantism has affected it for good or ill, even if you live half a world away from the epicenters of its origins in Europe. Regardless of whether you are even a Christian, you live in a world where Protestant Christianity has shaped, and even governed the way entire nations have thought and acted. If the 20th Century was the American Century, and the 19th Century was the British, then both were also the Protestant Centuries, for the very identities of those nations were inextricably bound up with Protestantism, both in their greatest triumphs and darkest sins. Alec Ryrie, a devout Anglican himself, presents the history of Protestant thought, denominations, and life in a single narrative volume that spans the past 500 years. It is his love letter to his faith, but told fairly and written with honesty and humor, and as such, it is an invaluable window into seeing the state of the modern world, and the origins and workings out of much of what we assume to be true.
“Protestants are fighters and lovers. They will argue with anyone about almost anything. Some of these arguments are abstruse, others brutally practical. If we look at the great ideological battles of the past half-millennium – for and against toleration, slavery, imperialism, fascism, or Communism – we will find Protestant Christians on both sides…. But Protestants are also lovers. From the beginning, a love affair with God has been at the heart of their faith. Like all long love affairs, it has gone through many phases, from early passion through companionable marriage and sometimes strained coexistence, to rekindled ardour.” (pages 1-2)