Another book recommendation: Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Reformation: A History just out from Viking.
I've been hunting around for a good single volume history of the Reformation for years. And this is a very, very good book. The parts of the era about which I have some detailed knowledge — particularly the English Reformation, and its echo in the American colonies — are gracefuly and judiciously handled. The rest was told in a way I always found accessible and clear.
A book like this is a joy to read because the author's deep mastery of the topic shines through effortlessly page after page, allowing him to anticipate developments further down in the narrative and refer back to earlier discussions while never letting the reader get lost in the shuffle. With a topic as broad as Reformation history, spanning almost two centuries, fracturing into different confessional histories, with different tempos and outcomes in different parts of Europe, that sort of command is essential for the story not to descend into chaos or a crude textbookish regimentation.
The emphasis is on ideology — the internal dimensions of religious thought and theological transformation — rather than the economic and political trends that shaped the period, though those issues are by no means short-changed. Neither are movements of Catholic renewal, reform and reassertion crowded out or shortchanged by the story of the growth of Protestantism.
If there's any criticism I have of the book it's that it is marred by an occasional infelicity of language or perhaps minute editing errors. If every book had so few it would be a blessing. And I mean perhaps as few as a dozen in a book that runs hundreds of pages. But here it presents a certain level of distraction much as one might find listening to a LP of a brilliantly conducted symphony which nonetheless has three or four scratches that stand out all the more for the excellence of the recording.
In any case, that's a minor matter, just something I thought I'd note. If this topic interests you, this book will not disappoint you. [Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall]