Renate Bethge’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life, is about as short a Bonhoeffer biography as there is. Renate’s husband was the late Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s dear friend and biographer. Renate is also Bonhoeffer’s niece.
Whereas Eberhard’s bio is well over 900 pages, Renate’s Brief Life is under 90. It’s laid out nicely, with lots of photographs, wide margins, and quotations from Bonhoeffer’s writing and correspondence. Given how little text is actually on a page, it’s a quick read.
The book offers a succinct overview of Bonhoeffer’s life, yet it does not lack substance in its brevity. Highlights for me were the overview of his parents (and their character, and its effect on Bonhoeffer), a chapter called “Contacts with Jews,” and the personal touch of including some of Bonhoeffer’s correspondence. His beautiful poem “Who Am I?” is re-printed here in its entirety.
There are brief mentions of his writings: Life Together, Ethics, and Letters and Papers from Prison (but not, surprisingly, Discipleship). Page 87 offers a nice one-page summary chronology of Bonhoeffer’s life.
If you want to look at a couple sample pages from the book, Logos Bible Software has put some up here and here. (This book will soon be offered in Logos as part of its forthcoming Bonhoeffer Studies Collection.)
Someone looking for biographical detail will want to look elsewhere, but this only claims to be a “brief” biography, which has value especially for folks like me who are coming seriously to Bonhoeffer for the first time. As I continue to read through Eberhard Bethge’s biography, it was nice to put it aside for a bit to get a quick overview of all of Bonhoeffer’s life.