Peter Ackroyd The Life of Thomas More

ISBN 13: 9780385477093

The Life of Thomas More

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Peter Ackroyd's The Life of Thomas More is a magnificent reconstruction of the life and imagination of one of the most remarkable figures of history. Thomas More was a renowned statesman, the author of a political fantasy that gave a name to a genre and a worldview (Utopia), and, most famously, a Catholic martyr, who paid with his life when he refused to follow his sovereign, King Henry VIII, in severing England's ties with the Catholic Church.

Born into the professional classes, Thomas More (1478-1535) rose by dint of formidable intellect and well-placed connections to become the most powerful man in England after the king. An exponent of what was called in his day "the mixed life," More combined medieval piety with worldly mastery of legal argument and the art of negotiation. Ackroyd dramatically shows how the clouds of Lutheran reformation that swarmed over the continent unleashed the storm of the early modern period that swept away More's world and took his life. He clarifies the whirl of dynastic, religious, and mercantile politics that brought the autocratic Henry VIII and the devout More into their fateful conflict. And he narrates the unrelenting drama of More's final days--his detention, trial, and execution--with a novelist's mastery of suspense.

In Ackroyd's hands, this renowned "man for all seasons" emerges in the fullness of his complex humanity; we see the unexpected side of his character (a preference for bawdy humor) as well as his indisputable moral courage. Acclaimed for his magisterial biographies (T. S. Eliot, Dickens, Blake), Peter Ackroyd has once again scored a triumph.

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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

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Thomas More's Utopia is one of the supreme achievements of Renaissance humanism. His complex and ironic account of an imaginary communist society has not only given rise to the genre of utopian fiction but has been an inspiration to generations of political reformers.

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