Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed on April 9, 1945. In honor of that date I wanted to post about the best books I have read on Bonhoeffer. I waited later in the day to post this because in the past several of his books went on sale in honor of this anniversary. Unfortunately that does not seem to be the case today. (This is edited of a post from a couple years ago.)
If you read just one biography of Bonhoeffer, I think it should be:
This biography was published in English in June 2010. Schlingersiepen was a close friend of Eberhard Bethge and is one of the founders of the International Bonhoeffer Society. This biography was first published in German in 2005 and was the first modern biography that was the result of the completion of Bonhoeffer’s complete papers that were published in 16 volumes. This is the best modern biography of Bonhoeffer. But it is also very expensive. Right now is it $14.39 on Kindle and out of print in English. If you do not want to spend that much, then you should read:
Metaxas has written the first really popular level biography of Bonhoeffer. And it has sold very well which means that you can easily find it and it is relatively cheap. I picked up my copy for $1.99 on kindle a couple years ago. Right now the Kindle version is $12.99 and the paperback is $15.05 (but there are lots of used copies).
The strength of Metaxas is that it feels like a novel. It is very fast paced and written in a very accessible prose. The negative is that Metaxas is not a Bonhoeffer scholar, makes mistakes on the history (mostly minor) and like to use creative language. In the end Bonhoeffer ends up looking like a modern American Evangelical in many areas.
I picked up the audiobook of this earlier this week but have not started it yet. It is the most recent of the full biographies and has been very well reviewed. But like much about Bonhoeffer, it is not cheap. The Kindle Edition is $16.14 but the paperback which will be released at the end of the month is $13.46 for pre-order. If you want the kindle edition, I would advise waiting for a couple weeks because it is likely to drop to at least the paperback price. (I get a lot of these expensive books on audio, both because I like to listen to audiobooks, but also because I buy credits to purchase audiobook in bulk at Audible, so each credit ends up being just over $9).
There are also several other biographies that are available. The classic biography written by Bonhoeffer’s best friend Eberhard Bethge is exhaustive (over 1000 page) but not widely available. There is a paperback version available for $35.17 on Amazon, but the hardcover is out of print and there is not an Kindle version.
Another option is:
Again I have not read this one, but it is another recent book (Aug 2012) and it has been well reviewed and is reasonably priced ($9.99 Kindle, $11.39 paperback.)
Part of the book description is: “While Jon Walker was encountering Bonhoeffer every day as he wrote the books Costly Grace and In Visible Fellowship, he found his world collapsing and his faith faltering. After almost twenty years in ministry, Walker was laid off twice, lost his home and savings, was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, and then his wife filed for divorce just a few days before their twenty-fourth anniversary….In BREAKFAST WITH BONHOEFFER, Walker brings to a new generation the timeless teachings of Bonhoeffer, especially the teaching that calls Jesus’ followers to break free from the tyranny of popular culture and religious thinking. It also o!ers hope for those who face loss or have been hurt by the economic downturn.”
So it looks to me like is more of a memoir interacting with Bonhoeffer than a biography of Bonhoeffer.
There have also been some well reviewed books on particular parts of Bonhoeffer in the last couple years including:
Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together
No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State (a short joint bio with Bonhoeffer and his lesser known brother in law)
Books by Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer’s complete works have been had new critical editions released and all been newly translated into English. There are 16 volumes total. Several of these have been released in kindle format and they keep changing price and availability. Prices range from $10 to $60. Get the new versions if you can instead of the older translations.
The 16 volumes are
- Sactorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (his doctoral dissertation)
- Act and Being: Transcendental Philosophy on Ontology in Systematic Theology (his second dissertation)
- Creation and Fall (Series of Lectures from 1932-1933)
- Discipleship (originally published in English as Cost of Discipleship)
- Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (two short books released together, start here if you have not read Bonhoeffer before) Bookwi.se Reviewed the parts separately Life Together and Psalms
- Fiction from Tegel Prison (during his first year of imprisonment Bonhoeffer wrote a good bit of fiction, mostly plays.)
- Letters and Papers from Prison (This is a new edition of the book that initially was first widely available and made Bonhoeffer well known, see below)
- The Young Bonhoeffer: 1918-1927 (These are Bonhoeffer’s papers and letters from before he turned 21)
- Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928-1931 (these are mostly previously unpublished sermons, letters and papers)
- Ecumenical, Academic and Pastoral Work: 1931-1932 (One of the most striking things to me is how much Bonhoeffer was both a local church pastor, and an international Ecumenical Advocate and an academic, all at the same time, all before he was 30.)
- Berlin: 1932-1933 (these are letters, sermons and university lectures from the time when the Nazi Party took power and Bonhoeffer started gaining a national voice.)
- London 1933-1935 (These are sermons, diary entries, correspondence and other work from while Bonhoeffer served a church in London and worked with the international Ecumenical movement outside of Germany)
- Theological Education Underground: 1935-1937 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 14
- Theological Education Underground, 1937-1940 (This volume is supposed to have a lot of commentary and context to how Bonhoeffer’s writing and theology changed and includes the point when Bonhoeffer briefly traveled to the US to escape Germany but quickly decided he had to return and participate in the resistance.)
- Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945 (These are the unpublished letters, sermons and other short works that were not included in Letters and Papers from Prison.
Other books Reviewed by Bookwi.se (links to reviews)
I assumed that since I first read Cost of Discipleship and Life Together that those were the two books that made Bonhoeffer famous. But they were not translated into English until the 1960s and 1970s. Letters and Papers from Prison was published in 1951 and was one of the best selling books of the 20th century.
Bonhoeffer Christ and Culture is a collection of essays originally given at the Wheaton Theology Conference
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Meditations on Psalms edited by Edwin Robertson is a mix of sermons, letters, essays and other writings about the Psalms.
Anxious Souls Will Ask…: The Christ-Centered Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by John Matthews (Bookwi.se Review) – This book is attempting to give Bonhoeffer his Lutheran context. Don’t listen to this on audiobook.
Other books that might be interesting are:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ (Making of Modern Theology Series) – this is an introduction to Bonhoeffer’s less well known work and intended to be an overview of his theology.
The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer – this is a collection of essays about Bonhoeffer. It has very mixed reviews