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The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation

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Overview

Bestselling author Stephen Prothero addresses the question of "Whose America is this," by exploring American political discourse and the significant texts that make up the living history of the American people.

American politics is broken because we have forgotten how to talk with one another. Instead of arguing on behalf of of our nation, we argue on behalf of our party.

The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a ...

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The American Bible-Whose America Is This?: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation

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Overview

Bestselling author Stephen Prothero addresses the question of "Whose America is this," by exploring American political discourse and the significant texts that make up the living history of the American people.

American politics is broken because we have forgotten how to talk with one another. Instead of arguing on behalf of of our nation, we argue on behalf of our party.

The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation reacquaints us with the oft-quoted (and misquoted) speeches, songs, and sayings that animate our politics, inspire social action, and drive our debates about who is—and is not—a real American. It reconnects us with a surprising tradition of civility that manages to be both critical of Americans shortcomings and hopeful for positive change.

To explore these "scriptures," is to revisit what Americans have said about liberty and equality and to revitalize our ongoing conversation about the future of the American experiment.

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Editorial Reviews

Harvard University Colloquy
The American Bible is a provocative, brilliantly realized illumination of American values by means of excerpted historical documents.”
Religion News Service
“There are certain speeches, songs, books, letters, laws, and axioms that Americans honor enough to argue about, says religion scholar Stephen Prothero. Like the Declaration of Independence, this almost consecrated canon inspires endless commentary about what it means to be American-and what ‘America’ means.”
Washington Post
In The American Bible, Prothero has turned his considerable talents to assembling a version of the American canon. The author’s prose is, as usual, spritely, informed and incisive.”
-Jon Meacham
“In these pages Stephen Prothero has brilliantly captured the American spirit-a spirit that has always seen us through hours of division and disagreement. With Prothero’s expert analysis, these texts should spark civil conversation, informed debate, and intelligent discussion.”
Jon Meacham
"In these pages Stephen Prothero has brilliantly captured the American spirit-a spirit that has always seen us through hours of division and disagreement. With Prothero’s expert analysis, these texts should spark civil conversation, informed debate, and intelligent discussion."
Publishers Weekly
What makes America unique, Prothero convincingly argues, is that the words that manifest its "core ideas and values—" from the Declaration of Independence to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged—continue to be debated by its citizens. To illustrate this, Prothero (God Is Not One) takes excerpts from important American speeches and documents and places them next to various commentaries. A particularly rich result of this juxtaposition comes in the supplements to John Winthrop's 1630 sermon "A Model of Christian Charity," wherein themes from Winthrop's speech are used by John O'Sullivan to justify Manifest Destiny, by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to posit the 9/11 attacks as divine retribution, and by Sarah Palin to praise America while misattributing the coinage of the "shining city on a hill" to Ronald Reagan. Despite the book's arrangement according to biblical headings (e.g., Genesis, Acts, Law, Epistles, etc.), Prothero deftly balances the debate between religious and secular voices, such as on the godlessness of the Constitution. The book's greatest strength lies in this neutrality, offering commentaries from both sides of the discussion—all enlightening, encouraging, and frustrating in equal measure. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
A religious scholar's compendium of essential American texts. Prothero (Religion/Boston Univ.; God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter, 2010, etc.) assembles a canon of what he suggests are the nation's most sacred documents and a selection of Talmud-like commentary on them over history. Few would challenge his inclusion of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Washington's Farewell, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or King's "I Have a Dream" speech, but some might question the presence of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (the only "scripture" not actually quoted because the author's estate denied permission) or Malcolm X's Autobiography, among others, for having been most influential only to narrow interests. Others may wish for more women, Native American or Latino voices, even among the commentators. But it is difficult to fault Prothero for selecting texts that, as his subtitle indicates, may unite or divide us according to our party, race or class, but remain central to the ongoing discussion of what it means to be American. The book should be required reading just for putting in one place so many historic pieces that are more opined over than actually read. Perhaps frustratingly for some, Prothero declines to hint about where he stands on any of the controversies--slavery, race, abortion, the proper role of government in the economy, the proper role of religion in politics--his "scriptures" engender. But his object is not to settle these difficult questions, but to bring Americans "together to argue" about them. Awesome scholarship to an admirable purpose.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062123459
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/8/2013
  • Pages: 533
  • Sales rank: 947,765
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

STEPHEN PROTHERO is the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One, a professor of religion at Boston University, and a senior fellow at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. His work has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, National Public Radio, and other top national media outlets. He blogs for CNN's Belief Blog and writes for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, USA Today, The Washington Post, and other publications. Visit the author online at www.stephenprothero.com.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Genesis

The Exodus Story 18

"A Model of Christian Charity" (1630) John Winthrop 34

Common Sense (1776) Thomas Paine 52

The Declaration of Independence (1776) 73

The Blue-Back Speller (1783-) Noah Webster 98

Law

The Constitution (1787) 108

Brown v. Board of Education (1954) 129

Roe v. Wade (1973) 146

Chronicles

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) Harriet Beecher Stowe 162

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) Mark Twain 181

Atlas Shrugged (1957) Ayn Rand 199

Psalms

"The Star-Spangled Banner" (1814) Francis Scott Key 214

"God Bless America" (1938) Irving Berlin 226

"This Land Is Your Land" (1940) Woody Guthrie 236

Proverbs

"Remember that time is money" (1748) Benjamin Franklin 244

"God helps those who help themselves" (1758) Benjamin Franklin 246

"Give me liberty or give me death" (1775) Patrick Henry 248

"Remember the ladies" (1776) Abigail Adams 250

"Ain't I a woman?" (1851) Sojourner Truth 252

"With malice toward none, with charity for all" (1865) Abraham Lincoln 254

"I will fight no more forever" (1877) Chief Joseph 256

"The business of America is business" (1925) Calvin Coolidge 258

"I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people" (1932) Franklin Delano Roosevelt 260

"Ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country" (1961) John F Kennedy 262

"evil empire" (1983) Ronald Reagan 264

Prophets

"Civil Disobedience" (1849) Henry David Thoreau 268

Farewell Address (1961) Dwight Eisenhower 284

"I Have a Dream" (1963) Martin Luther King Jr. 294

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) Malcolm X 308

Lamentations

Gettysburg Address (1863) Abraham Lincoln 330

Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982) Maya Lin 346

Gospels

First Inaugural Address (1801) Thomas Jefferson 358

First Inaugural Address (1933) Franklin Delano Roosevelt 372

"The Speech" (1964) Ronald Reagan 389

Acts

The Pledge of Allegiance (1892,1954) 408

Epistles

Farewell Address (1796) George Washington 420

"Letter to the Danbury Baptists" (1802) Thomas Jefferson 452

"Letter from Birmingham Jail" (1963) Martin Luther King Jr. 462

Epilogue 483

Acknowledgments 490

Notes 491

Credits 517

Index 519

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2013

    Excellent Treatment of our American Culture Background

    I am enjoying the author Stephen's treatment of key books, speeches, and songs that make the cultural backbone of the American experience. Structured around Biblical themes, Stephen builds our fundamental beliefs through excerpts of original work plus supplemental references, reviews and reflections by key leaders from past to present. I recommend it for anyone wanting to structure a better understanding around their American experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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