Bruce Gordon, Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the Divinity School of Yale University, is the author (among other books) of a major biography simply entitled Calvin (Yale University Press, 2009), “a biography that seeks to put the life of the influential reformer in the context of the sixteenth-century world. It is a study of Calvin’s character, his extensive network of personal contacts and of the complexities of church reform and theological exchange in the Reformation.”
Here are five biographies he recommends:
1. Peter Russell, Prince Henry “the Navigator”: A Life (Yale, 2001).
Russell’s command of every detail, from ship construction to tribes in Senegal, is evident at every point in this beautifully written and compelling tale.
2. Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (2002).
The book captures the vivacity, wit, and debauchery of Pepys through a sympathetic account of his life in the fast-paced world of Restoration England.
3. George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (2003).
From start to finish, pure elegance of prose and a magisterial command of Edward’s thought and character.
4. Rüdiger Safranski, Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (2002).
Focuses on a brilliant and tortured mind while telling the life of a remarkable man: a rare balance of narrative and philosophical discussion.
5. Jonathan Bate, John Clare: A Biography (2003).
An extraordinary nineteenth-century English poet from the laboring class who achieved brief fame in London before descending into the hell of mental illness.