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The Life of Thomas More
ISBN 0385496931 / 9780385496933 / 0-385-49693-1
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The Life of Thomas More is Peter Ackroyd's biography--from baptism to beheading--of the lawyer who became a saint. More, a noted humanist whose friendship with Erasmus and authorship of Utopia earned him great fame in Europe, succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor of London at the time of the English Reformation. In 1535, More was martyred for his refusal to support Henry VIII's divorce and break with Rome. Ackroyd's biography is a masterpiece in several senses. Perhaps most importantly, he corrects the mistaken impression that Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons has given two generations of theater and film audiences: More was not, as Bolt's drama would have us believe, a civil disobedient who put his conscience above the law. Ackroyd explains that "conscience was not for More an individual matter." Instead, it was derived from "the laws of God and of reason." If the greatest justice in this book is analytic, however, its greatest joys are descriptive. Ackroyd brings 16th-century London to life for his readers--an exotic world where all of life is enveloped by the church: "As the young More made his way along the lanes and thoroughfares, there was the continual sound of bells." --Michael Joseph Gross [via]