For well over a decade the paperback edition of Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible sat ignored in my personal library. Don’t get me wrong, I’d always intended to read it but with so many other books available to me through libraries both public and personal it just never happened. Then one day I realized I could read God’s Secretaries for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge because Nicolson’s 2003 book deals with England, specifically that nation’s attempt to produce what we Americans commonly refer to the King James Bible. So, after all those years I finally cracked it open and began reading it. And I’m glad I did, for God’s Secretaries is an impressive book that’s both intelligently written and well-researched.
With unbridgeable chasms between rich and poor, aristocracy and peasantry, Jacobean England was a dived realm. Religiously, the kingdom was far from unified as Calvinist reformers battled their high church brethren for control of the Anglican Church. English Catholics were seen by those in power as theologically and morally corrupt as well as agents of England’s enemies. Anglican clergy shuddered as dissenting Protestant sects offered viable alternatives to the dominant Church of England. Faced with these challenges, men of faith and power believed it was time for a new English translation of the Bible, one that was perfect and majestic enough for all of England to call its own and thus heal the country’s deep religious wounds.
God’s Secretaries is one of those rare books that wasn’t exactly what I thought it was but nevertheless still enjoyed. That’s because it’s much more than I expected. Yes, as advertised it shows the process of how the King James Bible was created. But it’s more about that moment in human history from which such a treasure of the English language heroically emerged, from the larger than life personalities of the assembled translators (darn near each one an intellectual giant) to the Gunpowder Plot to plague outbreaks and royal intrigue.
God’s Secretaries is an outstanding book and easily one of the best I’ve read this year. As you can probably guess I have no problem recommending it.