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

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

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by Stephen Prothero
     
 

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The New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One presents a provocative crash course in the great “American scriptures”—those texts that have both divided and defined our understanding of what it is to be American. Stephen Prothero gives readers an exciting and user-friendly introduction to

Overview

The New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One presents a provocative crash course in the great “American scriptures”—those texts that have both divided and defined our understanding of what it is to be American. Stephen Prothero gives readers an exciting and user-friendly introduction to American cultural history in The American Bible. Highlighting the touchstones of our collective cultural legacy, from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial; from the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan to the novels of Mark Twain and Ayn Rand, and beyond, Prothero’s stirring and provocative handbook peels back the curtain on the inner workings of what makes America tick.

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The American Bible is a provocative, brilliantly realized illumination of American values by means of excerpted historical documents.”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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062123459
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/08/2013
Pages:
533
Sales rank:
1,092,566
Product dimensions:
6.80(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.50(d)

What People are saying about this

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.”

Meet the Author

Stephen Prothero is the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One and a professor of religion at Boston University. His work has been featured on the cover of TIME magazine, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, NPR, and other top national media outlets. He writes and reviews for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, The Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Salon, Slate, and other publications. Visit the author at www.stephenprothero.com or follow his tweets @sprothero.

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The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago