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Fatal Discord

Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind
Narrated by: Tom Parks
Length: 34 hrs and 52 mins
Categories: History, Europe
5.0 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Summary

A deeply textured dual biography and fascinating intellectual history that examines two of the greatest minds of European history - Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther - whose heated rivalry gave rise to two enduring, fundamental, and often colliding traditions of philosophical and religious thought. 

Erasmus of Rotterdam was the leading figure of the Northern Renaissance. At a time when Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael were revolutionizing Western art and culture, Erasmus was helping to transform Europe's intellectual and religious life, developing a new design for living for a continent rebelling against the hierarchical constraints of the Roman Church. When in 1516 he came out with a revised edition of the New Testament based on the original Greek, he was hailed as the prophet of a new enlightened age. Today, however, Erasmus is largely forgotten, and the reason can be summed up in two words: Martin Luther. As a young friar in remote Wittenberg, Luther was initially a great admirer of Erasmus and his critique of the Catholic Church, but while Erasmus sought to reform that institution from within, Luther wanted a more radical transformation. Eventually, the differences between them flared into a bitter rivalry, with each trying to win over Europe to his vision. 

In Fatal Discord, Michael Massing seeks to restore Erasmus to his proper place in the Western tradition. The conflict between him and Luther, he argues, forms a fault line in Western thinking - the moment when two enduring schools of thought, Christian humanism and evangelical Christianity, took shape. A seasoned journalist who has reported from many countries, Massing here travels back to the early 16th century to recover a long-neglected chapter of Western intellectual life, in which the introduction of new ways of reading the Bible set loose social and cultural forces that helped shatter the millennial unity of Christendom and whose echoes can still be heard today. Massing concludes that Europe has adopted a form of Erasmian humanism while America has been shaped by Luther-inspired individualism. 

©2018 Michael Massing (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Donald Paul Gates, Jr.
  • 17-04-18

Sustained Magnificence

Where does Fatal Discord rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Among the best

What was one of the most memorable moments of Fatal Discord?

As Luther defended his views of the Bible at the Diet of Worms, he declared in conclusion, "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise." At least that's what we've always been told! Apparently, he actually concluded with, "Amen." But it's not as good of a story.

Which character – as performed by Tom Parks – was your favorite?

I enjoyed Erasmus the most, as his humanist vision was ahead of his time and he presented an appealing alternative to the rigid ideologies of the day that led so many Europeans to kill one another.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

While a very flawed person, the incredible, fearless courage Luther showed in his defiance of the Catholic Church was astonishing. He could have faced burning at the stake many times over; indeed, it is a fate numerous of his followers suffered. Yet the threat never caused him to moderate his unbridled attacks against the Church, showing both the courage of his convictions and the power that beliefs of whose truth one is utterly convinced can have over a person's actions.

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  • Name withheld
  • 17-06-18

My first Audible book...and it was great!

I come to this book as a newbie to Audible and a once-upon-a-time Lutheran, i.e., spiritual but not pew-able, steeped in the traditions of Martin Luther. Always a student of history, I am no expert. I come from the educational philosophy that memorizing dates the names of battles and military conquests was learning history. (It was more “reciting” history.) This was a welcome change. I don’t know that the author and narrator collaborated on the presentation of this book. After listening to it, I think they must be brothers from different mothers. The writing is wonderful. These are stories, not just histories. The narration complements the writing beautifully. As the chapters alternated perspectives between Erasmus and Luther, I was never at a loss to identify which was the focus. Indeed, it strikes me that someone smart could do a film version and walk off with an Oscar. It’s verrrrrry long (almost 35 hours—a blessing not having to lug it around!), but it is written so that one can pick it up and have enough of a toe-hold to keep moving without losing ground. It’s not critical to keep track of all the names and dates. The story flows from an emphasis on the arguments of the day, the associated social and cultural phenomena, and the links that bring us to 2018. I look forward to reading more Audible (no, I don’t work for Audible or anyone/thing affiliated) just to see if other selections can reach this level of excellence. There’s the challenge!

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  • Nessun Dorma
  • 13-04-18

rich, and beautifully told

Where does Fatal Discord rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Right up there.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Luther. Massing does a wonderful job humanizing him, will all his (deep) flaws.

Any additional comments?

The juxtaposition of Luther and Erasmus is extremely effective in highlighting the importance of each.

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  • S. Marshall Priddy
  • 21-05-18

Really an amazing work

I had worried a bit about this title, given that the nature of the topic coupled with the length might produce something very abstruse, dry, or dependent upon a high degree of prior knowledge about the topic. I was very pleasantly surprised on all fronts, and would strongly recommend this to students of the late Renaissance/early Reformation. One of the great things about this work is the degree of depth given to background information. If the topic at hand is St Augustine, St Jerome, St Thomas Aquinas, or the Apostle Paul, you need not be steeped in theology, because Massing covers these topics each in turn. Neither does this book suffer from a surplus of front-end loaded background of questionable relevance; the author meters out the background and brings it to review at the time which makes the most sense. Part also of what places this so high in my estimation is the contrast with a biography of Thomas More I finished immediately afterward. While More was not a primary subject of this book, I felt I learned more useful information about him here than in the other biography, despite his role being marginal to this book. Additionally, this author does a tremendous job of tying up loose ends afterward and drawing the past into the present. The reason I listen to things like this parallel biography of the Renaissance/Reformation is because I think it bears on the present, but the further back it is, the harder to trace the lines of descent. He does a great job in this. I suspect my politics and Massing's may differ, but the overall coverage was respectful and objective in its layout. As to the narration, I truly don't remember it, and honestly that's the highest praise I can give: I don't listen to nonfiction audiobooks for the narration. I want to be able to hear you clearly and articulately, be able to listen and retain at high speed, and to have very few points of needing to skip back to understand what I just missed. Parks hits all of these marks perfectly. This was the first book he narrated that I've listened to, but would gladly see him read more of the works I have.

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  • Michele Esposito
  • 24-08-19

Excellent work - up until the discussion of America

This is an incredibly impressive and deeply researched book about the relationship, parallels, and differences between Luther and Erasmus, and between the Humanist and Reform movements. It includes a similarly erudite overview of the period between the early church and the middle ages. The two sections following the trajectory of Erasmus’ and Luther’s impact in Europe after their deaths is also strong and useful. The book entirely falls apart when it comes to a discussion of Protestantism in the United States. One can only imagine that this concluding chapter was pressed on the author by the editors and/or reviewers, and was not the author’s original intent. The chapter races to bring us up to 2018 and current American politics. If the author had wanted to go there, he should have written a second book on the influences of Lutheranism and Calvinism in Protestant America. On top of it, the Lutheran Church in America isn’t even discussed! Though I make this strong criticism, I highly recommend reading this book. Overall, it is outstanding, and I learned a tremendous amount. The reader is excellent.

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  • No to Statism
  • 28-01-19

Excellent Biographical Work

Mr. Massing did a great job in revealing the type of persons that Erasmus, and Martin Luther were. His detailed descriptions of these important reformation characters, added much to my meager knowledge. With that, I want to say thank you sir! Also, Tom Parks did a terrific job reading the text !

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  • Mark I. Agee
  • 29-08-18

Read the last two chapters first

Excellent books about interesting men in interesting times. I would suggest reading the two afterwards first, however. They explain why Luther and Erasmus still matter.

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  • D. Donohue
  • 29-06-19

Great sweeping history brought up to today

The author has done a splendid job of researching this period and drawing together the intertwined histories of Luther and Erasmus. It's both scholarly and highly entertaining. Once again audio director has failed to ensure proper pronunciation of essential names and terms, though.

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  • Russell
  • 11-04-19

Very enlightening

Loved it throughout despite its length, esp the historical vignettes about other historical figures. Only criticism: i Wish the reader (otherwise excellent) would have spent an hour to learn German pronunciation though :(

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  • Marianne
  • 07-04-19

Utterly fascinating

In order to understand religion today one needs to start at the very least with the Reformation. Fatal Discord takes one back to the origin of Christianity and the bible, and the schism that rent it in the 16th century. Sadly, the narrator cannot properly pronounce the many European places and words, and when he refers to 'thesis' it sounds like feces. Someone familiar with European languages and their pronunciations would have been a better choice than Tom Parks who has a very American accent with no ability to navigate un English words

1 person found this helpful