God’s Secretaries

The Making of the King James Bible
Narrated by: Clive Chafer
Length: 8 hrs and 39 mins
4 out of 5 stars (102 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A net of complex currents flowed across Jacobean England. This was the England of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Bacon; the Gunpowder Plot; the worst outbreak of the plague England had ever seen; arcadian landscapes; murderous, toxic slums; and, above all, sometimes overwhelming religious passion. Jacobean England was both more godly and less godly than it had ever been, and the entire culture was drawn taut between the polarities.

This was the world that created the King James Bible. It is the greatest work of English prose ever written, and it is no coincidence that the translation was made at the moment “Englishness” and the English language had come into its first passionate maturity. Boisterous, elegant, subtle, majestic, finely nuanced, sonorous, and musical, the English of Jacobean England has a more encompassing idea of its own reach and scope than any before or since. It is a form of the language that drips with potency and sensitivity. The age, with all its conflicts, explains the book.

The sponsor and guide of the whole Bible project was the king himself, the brilliant, ugly, and profoundly peace-loving James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England. Trained almost from birth to manage the rivalries of political factions at home, James saw in England the chance for a sort of irenic Eden over which the new translation of the Bible was to preside. It was to be a Bible for everyone, and as God’s lieutenant on earth, he would use it to unify his kingdom. The dream of Jacobean peace, guaranteed by an elision of royal power and divine glory, lies behind a Bible of extraordinary grace and everlasting literary power.

Adam Nicolson is the author of Seamanship, God’s Secretaries, and Seize the Fire. He has won both the Somerset Maugham and William Heinemann awards, and he lives with his family at Sissinghurst Castle in England.

©2003 Adam Nicolson (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“This scrupulously elegant account of the creation of what four centuries of history has confirmed is the finest English-language work of all time is entirely true to its subject: Adam Nicolson’s lapidary prose is masterly, his measured account both as readable as the curious demand and as dignified as the story deserves.” (Simon Winchester, New York Times best-selling author)
“So few documents have survived this labor—apart, of course, from the translation itself—that piecing together the tale is at least as much a matter of intelligent guesswork as of hard research. This is what Adam Nicolson has done, and he has done it extraordinarily well.” ( Washington Post Book World)
“An astonishingly rich cultural tour of the art, architecture, personalities, and experiences of Jacobean England: high and low entertainment, high and low churchmanship, courtiers, schoolmasters, and ecclesiastics. [Nicolson’s] picture is beguilingly full.” ( Times Literary Supplement (London))
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A Committee That Actually Accomplished Something!

Fascinating book on how the translation was accomplished. The author fully develops the history, the context of the 'why' (to, in essence, end the war between the factions supporting the horrid Bishop's translation and the anti-king Geneva bible), the politics, and the budget. It would be a worthy read if it were written on any literature. Classically, even those not given to following the words of the bible, have always called the KJV 'great literature.' It is! And this book shows us how that came to be.

Out of the extravagant court of King James, surrounded by clusters of 'spangle babies' (men and women made juvenile by money), came the king's desire to bring unity to the nation, a nation with rising literacy.

Great scholars across the spectrum were consulted. Yes, even moderate Puritans (but no Presbyterians!). Unofficially, even men at the extreme ends served as consultants to the translators when they were truly expert in a subject. The translators brought prodigious linguistic scholarship to the project, able to tease nuance and subtleties from the original texts.

To loosely quote the author: The beauty of this project is the end result by a committee - a system not designed for genius or great works. It was the organization that was the genius. The translation committee was divided into 6 subcommittees. Each committee had assigned sections, and member was to work alone until he finished his part then review with other members of his subgroup. Each committee had oversight over all the others.

What is amazing is to see how men of so varied opinions, with vigorous and even fierce disagreements, could develop this beautiful and fairly accurate translation. The author weaves their backgrounds in beautifully so you truly understand them as men, not names in a history book.

I was surprised at another reviewer's comments on the "dark" stance of the author vis-a-vis this translation. After hearing 2 lengthy interviews with him and reading the book, I have to say I don't see that at all. The pace slowly gathers all the stories together, so it starts slower. But I definitely did NOT find it monotonous.

The timing was impeccable. It was finished in 1611. By 1614 Parliament had enough of James' excesses and cut his budget. James moved away from reconciliation with the Puritan's camp that had included so many Puritan moderates in the project. And the 30 years' wars in Europe began, with Catholic pitted against Protestant.

7 people found this helpful

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Entertaining and well-researched

Lots of colorful characters, not dull academics translated the KJV. Narrator keeps it interesting.

4 people found this helpful

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A wonderful book

This is a well researched, highly literate but very engaging history of the King James translation of the Bible. The author plunges the reader into the world of 16th century England, headed by the difficult, learned, complicated monarch, King James. He conveys the special majesty of the translation, and its enduring significance. One does not have to be a churchgoer to appreciate the heightened language of the King James translation. Beautifully narrated in a well modulated tone.

3 people found this helpful

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Great read!

This elegant and fascinating history beautifully imerses the reader in Jacobean England, as it introduces the reader to many of the Translators and persons involved in creating the Bible known as the Authorized Version. A must read for all who love the English language and its heritage.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Monotonous

This book starts slowly and is ponderously written throughout, but it is the exceedingly dull narration that ultimately does it in.

4 people found this helpful

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Very good history of the King James Bible

It is a tedious read but very informative.
I have a new found respect for King James & the translators.

I must admit I have not finished the book yet but I do enjoy listening to it. It is a great study of world history at the time.

5 people found this helpful

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Interesting, good historical content, dryly read

The first thing that immediately stood out to me was in the reading of this book. The man has a very nice accent and is very articulate. However, his voice is monotonous in this reading and the flavor is dry. To be clear this is not meant as an insult and I believe the performer is an excellent reader.
The author did a fine job of presenting the historical evidence for the book in a very objective manner, which is difficult to come by for books of spiritual and religious matters. I may object as to the truth or validity of the author’s personal comments at the end of the book, but it was evident that there was separation between this personal exposé and the rest of the book.
I enjoyed it and will listed a second time to get more of the information. It is not, however, a complete story of how the Bible was manufactured, but does an excellent job of illustrating how the King James Version came to be.

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Lengthy, but does justice to the subject

The narration is great, keeps it interesting over the long complicated process. The subject is fascinating.

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Poor performance ruins the book

I could only listen to this for about an hour or so before the narrator’s read about brought me to tears.
I really wanted to hear this as the subject matter is most interesting to me but I’ll have to buy it again as a physical book 😏

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More history than Bible

Not what I expected at all. I recently read the entire Bible cover to cover - it was a 'bucket list' item. So this book sounded like a fascinating way to learn about how the King James version was created. I knew that there were some matters of interpretation and translation, and disputed passages, and disagreement about which books to include, and the like.
But almost all of this book was about the lives of the men who translated it, in interminable detail. And commentary on the social and political times -, the royal family, the Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot, the Puritans, etc etc.
You WILL find that fascinating if you are into British history and want to know all that detail. But I do mean every detail. The research is, I'm sure, impeccable. But the detail goes on and on.
I actually can't believe that I slogged through the entire book, but I kept hoping that it would become more interesting and that the author would finally focus on the Bible itself. The last part of the book (maybe the last hour or 1 1/2 hours) had the most information about the actual translation of the Bible, and I did find that interesting.
I rarely, if ever, pay much attention to the narrators of the audiobooks I listen to. They are all good - or maybe I'm just not picky. I have never complained about one ever - until now. This narrator spoke in clear and precise English... in an absolute monotone for the entire book with barely a break or rise between sentences or paragraphs... in some places that made the text difficult to follow, and it almost put me to sleep.
I wouldn't say don't get the book. Definitely read it if you are a history buff. But I wish I had gotten the print version; then I could have just skipped to the parts that interested me and saved a few hours.

2 people found this helpful