I’ve been promising this review for almost two years, ever since I started the book on vacation. It’s a perfect vacation book: big enough to get you through several weeks of reading, engaging, thought-provoking. Alas, I started it at the end of vacation, only made it through the first 250 pages, and then put it on my bedside table for another 21 months before picking it up again.
Why did I put it down? Several reasons, probably. One, it was big enough to make my arms hurt when I read it lying down. Two, as a non-German speaker I had a hard time keeping some of the names straight. (Sam listened to the audiobook, which solved both those problems for him.) The bigger reason was that the first half was the set-up: Bonhoeffer’s early life and training, which were both essential to the man he became. But then Hitler arrived, and I knew where that was headed. I needed another year and a half before I could face the Holocaust. I started it again a few weeks ago and, as my children can attest, couldn’t put it down.
Bonhoeffer’s own writings are woven throughout the book; his friends’ recollections and other historical material provides the historical context. This book is an amazing biography. Bonhoeffer’s actions during the war were complex, and his life and writing has been frequently misinterpreted. But taken as a whole, he was entirely consistent in his whole-hearted obedience, not to a set of dry principles but to a living God. Metaxas’s account of Bonhoeffer’s life is clear, compelling, and challenging. After reading it, I am looking at my own life through a sharper lens and am asking myself what it means to be faithful today, in this place.