For many Americans (who are not Catholic), church history begins with the founding of their church or denomination. Non-Catholics can trace their church's roots to the Protestant Reformation, and even Catholics can identify ways in which the Reformation impacted Catholic theology and worship. For all of us, it's important to have a sense of that history. For a primer or refresher on the Reformation, I recommend The Reformation: A History by the late University of Cambridge historian Patrick Collinson.
Collinson places the Reformation in context, emphasizing both its importance and, in a sense, its inevitability. He covers the movement on continental Europe, of course, with Luther and Calvin and the others, but spends a fair amount of time on events and movements in England. As a historian, Collinson doesn't dwell a lot on the theological questions that marked the Reformation. In fact, he almost deemphasizes them. I was particularly interested in his linking the development of language and printing, which led to and made possible the Reformation.
The printing press sparked a movement of literacy and put the Bible into more hands than ever. The Reformers rode the wave of literacy and printing, producing volumes of sermons and treatises and pamphlets to disperse their ideas. The availability of the Bible and the Reformers' writings solidified their respective languages, making them more uniform and standardized.
According to Collinson's account, what we call the Reformation is much more widespread, multi-layered, broad, and far-reaching than Luther and the 95 theses and Calvin's Geneva. He covers these elements, debunks some myths, and gives a full picture of Reformation history. Collinson's The Reformation is thorough without being dry or inaccessible. Whether you call yourself a Lutheran or a Calvinist, or whether those names mean nothing to you, The Reformation: A History will give you a good understanding of this crucial period of church history.
2016 Reading Challenge: A book about the Reformation