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Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song Paperback – Bargain Price, November 11, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, November 11, 2003
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This carefully crafted and finely probed book will stand as the definitive look at what is perhaps the most popular hymn in American history a song that Turner argues has "more than eleven hundred currently available albums featuring versions." Turner's previous books on music and musicians (Trouble Man: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye; Hungry for Heaven: Rock and Roll and the Search for Redemption) have dealt with the religious themes behind the historical facts, and his newest is no exception. Turner begins by detailing the life of the song's author, John Newton, an 18th-century slave trader whose miraculous survival during an 11-hour storm at sea in 1748 sparked a religious conversion that led to his becoming a minister (and later an avowed abolitionist) and to writing the hymn in 1773. Turner's examination of Newton's life and how it influenced the words of "Amazing Grace" gives an added resonance to the second half of his book. From the song's early 20th-century popularity in gospel music to its adoption by folk singers in the 1950s, from Judy Collins's hit single in the early 1970s to openly secular interpretations by artists and writers such as Allen Ginsberg, the central historical paradox of Newton's specifically religious song, Turner observes, is that "although the song still holds its original meaning for millions of Christians around the world, it now has a parallel existence outside the church, where often the only link is a shared belief that it is a song about hope."
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Turner, a respected British music biographer (Trouble Man: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye), divides his excellent book into two almost even halves. Part 1, "Creation," tells the story of John Newton (1725-1807), the lyricist of "Amazing Grace." Part 2, "Dissemination," provides new evidence for the tune's origin, explains how the words and a variety of tunes came together until the familiar match was arrived at, reveals which stanzas are commonly sung, and discusses popularizers like Mahalia Jackson and Judy Collins (who wrote the foreword). Turner's account of Newton's life reads like a good suspense novel: he carefully sets the stage for Newton's conversion from slave trader to abolitionist champion while presenting his experiences as a country clergyman and relationships with poet William Cowper and politician William Wilberforce, among others. The hyperbolic subtitle does not originate with the author, but the book is fully researched and supplemented by useful appendixes, including a discography and a "Who's Who" of performers who recorded the song, as well as up-to-date references to events in 2002. William Phipps's Amazing Grace in John Newton is the most recent comparable title, but it has a more academic slant and focuses more on the person than the song. Heartily recommended for all collections.
Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (November 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060002190
  • ASIN: B004JZWKO6
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,102,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jerry Guild TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I'm not sure why,but this book has a lot more to it than first meets the eye.Often books of this nature are of the 'edited 'type with very little effort put into them and while the concept is good ;usually filled with a bunch of fluff.But not this one.A great effort has gone into it and as a result we have an excellent work.
While he never gets away from his topic,Turner gives us an awful lot about the history of Newton and everyone associated with him,a thorough understanding of the slave trade,a good understanding of the various Protestant churches of the18th and 19th centuries .If that isn't enough, he has covered in minute detail the evolution of the hymn,it's meaning word by word,it's associated music and how it spread ,and by whom ,throughout it's 225 year history.
He has beautifully shown the deep religious and theological meaning the hymn has for those who understand it and have a faith in God.He has just as well explained how and why so many people love and get inspiration from the hymn even though they may have little in the way of faith or religious involvement.He does this without being judgemental in any way.
As to how Newton could be involved in the slave trade.."Slavery was as acceptable as abortion is today-it was legal,it had immediate and tangible benefits,and people predicted widespread calamity should it ever be banned.There was no social pressure for him to feel shame.Cities had been built on the fruits of slavery and the great merchants of slaves were celebrated,giving their names to buildings and streets.It was those who were opposed to slavery who were regarded as irritants-ememies of social stability,troublemakers,idealists with no concern for progress."
There is one thing I would like to add and that is..If there ever was a book that would have benefited from an included CD,this would have been it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is divided into two parts. The first part tells the reader the history behind the song involving the slave trader named John Newton who, even after his conversion, saw no conflict between his Christian beliefs and transporting Africans against their will into a life of involuntary servitude. How was he able to praise God for the gift of freedom while denying it to others? Perhaps it was because people at this time, Newton included, didn't think that slaves had souls, or that they could, like him, receive God's grace. Newton believed that his faith only required him to be a more humane slave trader. After suffering a stroke, Newton's career as a slave trader came to an abrupt end. It wasn't until the mid 1780's that Newton publicly spoke out about slavery. If Africans have the same spiritual and intellectual capacity as whites, then slavery would not be possible to justify.
The second half of the book is about the history of the song along with various singers who have performed the song. Special attention is given to Judy Collins who introduced the song to a new audience with her 1970 hit recording. The timing appeared to be correct with America entangled in the Vietnam war, Charles Manson was in the news, and people yearned for a less complicated lifestyle. Other singers of the time such as The Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn), Simon and Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Waters), and Norman Greenbaum (Spirit in the Sky), are mentioned that came out with appropriate songs during this troubled time. Other hymnwriters such as William Cowper (pronounced "Cooper") who appeared to have some emotional problems and wrote some hymns that may be considered on the depressing side are also mentioned.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love Steve Turner books, and I love the song Amazing Grace. What a combination!...a work of history that reads like a good mystery novel! I couldn't put it down until I'd read it from cover to cover. This book has everything...a great redemption story, both for the man, Newton--and his song, which didn't really take off until someone put the perfect tune with it a hundred years later. Turner manages to present the context of Newton's theology in a scholarly way that will be informative, but not off-putting to those who are not into reformed theology. The secular life of the song is fascinating...to see how this song was popularized, and now touches millions. To me this song has what we wan't all music to have...something that touches our insides in a way we can't describe, but we know that it makes our lives more complete. And the biggest surprise of the book?...Newton became a slave-trader AFTER his conversion, and only opposed slavery much later in life. Considering how slowly America has repented of it's historic racism, there may be a lesson for us all as we see the sanctification that occurred over time in Newton's life.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Divided into what amounts to two books, the author masterfully tells the story of John Newton, the composer of one of Christendom's favorite hymns from his dark days as part of the slave trade and as a slave himself, to his salvation as a Christian, and even his influence on William Wilberforce, who lead the fight to end the slave trade in England.
The second half of the book traces the history of the hymn itself. From country churches to concert halls and many recordings, the ups and downs of its popularity and surprising array of artists who have performed it. There is also an exhaustive and interesting list of films, references in other songs, a year by year discography and even a list of products using the "Amazing Grace" name.
In sum, well written and interesting. From the thanks that I have received, I can attest to its being a wonderful gift.
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