His hugely impressive life of Cromwell ... employs...sources with an immensely painstaking concern to reconstruct the exact order in which events occurred and to ascertain who was where at any given time. He is also able to draw upon an abundance of scholarly writing on the period, much of it of very high quality ... Although his own writing is lucid, witty, and acerbic, MacCulloch’s extremely detailed book—with its careful argumentation, its large cast, and its intricate reconstruction of the networks, connections, and affinities at the court of Henry VIII—makes heavy demands on the reader’s memory and powers of concentration. MacCulloch knows his characters intimately ... But unlike a novelist, he cannot make things up when the evidence is not there. As a result, his narrative abounds in fascinating probabilities, most of them highly plausible but none of them certain. All too often he has to use words like 'maybe' or 'likely' or 'possibly' or 'perhaps.' He does, however, dispel much of the mystery that previously surrounded Cromwell’s early life ... it is hard to imagine that Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life, based on research spread over several decades, will ever be replaced.
A masterpiece of documentary detective-work, which buzzes with the excitement of a great historian immersed in archives, interrogating not only the thousands of papers Cromwell left behind, but also the gaps left by a (presumed) shredding of evidence as Cromwell’s partisans sought to save him from the king’s wrath at the end ... acute, elegant and devastating.
A major work of scholarship of the type that will reset academic understanding of Tudor politics for a generation...MacCulloch’s dry donnish humour lifts each page...part of MacCulloch’s skill is to introduce even the general reader to the thrill of a historian’s process.
Diarmaid MacCulloch’s biography Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life will satisfy popular curiosity about Mantel’s protagonist. It’s a gripping story about power, political turmoil and seismic cultural change played out against the backdrop of rule by a psychopath. MacCulloch... not only exhibits a witty and readable writing style, but he also proves himself to be a formidable master of the archive ...The sheer accessibility of this book belies the work that must have gone into researching and writing it ... Indeed MacCulloch’s recurrent use of the term 'traditionalist' to describe Cromwell’s contemporaries who retained a conscientious loyalty to the mainstream of Western Christendom occasionally seems somewhat tendentious.
Now, with a nod to her, scholar Diarmaid MacCulloch has crafted a monumental portrait that sticks steadfastly to the actual circumstances of Cromwell’s life. His biography is a massive and comprehensive picture of the man who the great Tudor historian (and MacCulloch mentor) G.R. Elton once called 'unbiographable' ... MacCulloch has done an exhaustive job here, mining contemporary and near-contemporary printed sources and manuscripts, letters, and reports from diplomatic luminaries to their superiors on the continent, including the pope. He also relies on hundreds of primary and secondary sources touching on his subject’s life, accomplishments, and shortcomings ... From this decidedly rich corpus, Diarmaid MacCulloch has produced a stunning chronicle. Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life is crafted with elegant style; it’s as witty and observant as the work of any historian writing today. And it will prove an invaluable resource for scholars and serious devotees of 16th-century English history for decades to come.
Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by the great Diarmaid MacCulloch, a work by one of our greatest living historians that was years in the making and lays out a wonderfully eloquent and challenging massive new interpretation of Cromwell’s life and times. MacCulloch’s book dives deep into the brambles of Tudor documentation, reads all the old accounts afresh, and presents to readers a portrait every bit as complicated and suggestive and enhanced as the one by Holbein ... Readers drawn to this book by their love of Wolf Hall will find a world of fact in the place of a narrative of fancy, and such is MacCulloch’s own storytelling gifts that most of those readers will happily keep reading for the whole 700 pages. Cromwell’s rise, flourishing, and fall traced an entire broad arc of Henry’s reign, and MacCulloch illuminates the familiar story of that arc with new color and emphasis and argument.
A history as much as a biography ... even so compelling a figure as Cromwell occasionally gets lost in the maelstrom. This is not MacCulloch’s fault, but the inevitable consequence of his determination to describe the political sacrifices of a great reformer and self-made man who flew too close to the sun ... MacCulloch covers a lot of familiar ground in a fresh and deeply researched way.
MacCulloch’s challenge is that most of Cromwell’s correspondence to others was destroyed after his execution, leaving historians to sift for clues in letters that others wrote to him. Still, this is a landmark portrait of a complex, confounding man.
Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life is a wonderfully rich, detailed and demanding account of an extraordinary career ... Mr. MacCulloch has written what Elton thought impossible: a compelling biography of Cromwell. It’s a book to satisfy academic historians and the general reader alike. Nothing so dramatically and persuasively conveys the reality of life in these blood-soaked years.
MacCulloch’s biography is itself an exercise in Cromwellian rigour. Nothing here is rushed, no detail overlooked. Care and precision are everything. Later reminiscences of Cromwell are positioned and repositioned, the chronology tested, every particle sifted and cross-referenced. We need to know before we can judge. We feel by the end of MacCulloch’s formidable book that we know Cromwell very well indeed ... This is where MacCulloch’s passion lies: one feels his love of ecclesiastical process and order, his sympathy for spiritual men wrestling with the material realities of change and ambition. He has the pleasure in fine detail of an antiquary, the historian’s range and depth of vision and the biographer’s feel for his subject.
MacCulloch does not chase, but instead leads us through the 'maze' of surviving documents, meticulously piecing together the puzzle of how an obscure Putney blacksmith’s son revolutionised early modern England ... MacCulloch painstakingly charts the spread of Cromwell’s tentacles through politics, property and patronage ... There is certainly no more definitive guide to that extraordinary journey than MacCulloch’s excellent biography.
A nuanced and appreciative but not hagiographic portrait ... The few false notes—the prose sometimes has the feel of an awkward fairy tale and the penultimate sentence’s foreshadowing of the decline of the United States is out of place—can be forgiven...A deeply researched, important biography that will set the standard for future Cromwell studies.
... meticulously researched ... This comprehensive biography is ideal for passionate devotees of Hilary Mantel’s historical novels, which also paint Cromwell in a forgiving light, and Tudor history buffs.
Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life,...gives us new insights into these much-examined lives... also present us with early examples of a now cautionary figure: the political climber who transforms his world only to tragically crash and burn ... Historical biographies face two dangers: that of having not enough information, leading to speculation, or having too much, leading to the seemingly endless recitation of dates, names, and other facts. MacCulloch’s life of Cromwell has to deal with both: moving from a youth and young adulthood we can only partially reconstruct to a time in office that is very well documented, albeit still open to some interpretation ... MacCulloch gives us a fresh perspective on the always enjoyable Tudor horror show, and makes the case for how important a figure Cromwell was in effecting a revolution in English government.