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A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 26, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the popular imagination, the New England Puritans are often portrayed as dour and authoritarian individuals out to quash social liberties and enforce conformity to particular religious principles. Hall's captivating study of American Puritanism between 1630 and 1650 challenges this view and offers instead a portrait of a group of people deeply engaged in fostering vital alliances between civil government and ecclesial government. Drawing deeply on colonial records, the Harvard historian demonstrates that the Puritan colonists asked questions about who should have the vote and what kind of rulers they wanted, how the inheritance of property should be arranged, what role the civil state should play in religion, and how land should be distributed. He shows that the colonists, in contrast to their contemporaries in England, were ambitious to restore the religious practice of the earliest Christian communities, the Congregational Way. Hall's first-rate book offers a glimpse of a small slice of American religious history, challenging prevailing ideas about the nature of reform in Puritan New England. (Apr.)
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Review

"David Hall shapes mounds of evidence into a depiction of New England unlike any we have ever seen. His Puritanism is neither authoritarian nor democratic but something of its own. Hall makes Puritanism intelligible to the 21st century." –Richard Lyman Bushman, author of The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities

"In this elegant and richly nuanced book, David Hall rescues the New England Puritans from the dark myths of repression. By recovering their probing ideas and eloquent debates, Hall reveals our original revolutionaries in search of equity, justice, and community." –Alan Taylor, author of The Civil War of 1812

"A Reforming People powerfully transforms our understanding of the role of Puritanism in the re-making of political culture and institutions in seventeenth-century New England. A model of elegance and erudition, David Hall’s thought-provoking book re-opens the testing question of the roots of modern politics in the Anglo-colonial world. It tells a compelling story that has immense resonance for our understanding of the past–but also the present." –Alexandra Walsham, author of Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England 1500-1700

"In A Reforming People, David Hall reminds us of the political accomplishments of New England’s founders, their radical remaking of the nature of public life, through their commitment to self-government and their ethic of equity and mutual obligation. With an authority rooted in his unmatched mastery of the sources, Hall provides an elegant and heartfelt testament to the continuing relevance of the Puritans." –Mark Peterson, author of The City-State of Boston, 1630-1865

"Thanks to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Arthur Miller, Puritan New England is popularly identified with authoritarian theocracy. In this book, a brilliant historian of early New England takes us beyond the stereotype, and reveals how the first Puritan settlers enacted their own ‘English Revolution’ in public life. Hall depicts a society that (despite its failings) prized and institutionalised accountability, participation and equity. Never before have we had such a compelling account of the New Englanders’ civic achievement." –Professor John Coffey, co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679441174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679441175
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By William Stott on January 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Hall's New England Puritan colony is both new and familiar. New because it isn't like Perry Miller's, where blear-eyed theologians agonize over a certain Peter Ramus, nor like Nathaniel Hawthorne's and Arthur Miller's, where men in black snoop out sex and witchcraft. Rather, it is a community of other-directed souls conscious of and concerned about the least among them--and also many wayward pigs--and laboring to build a place that's just and humane. What Hall recreates for us is the American small town that for so long was the center of our lives and aspirations.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Aronson on December 11, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This very excellent book is not for the casual reader.

It seems one cannot begin to understand 17th C. Anglo-American history until you have been both Catholic and a Calvinist and been to law school and thought the first year curriculum in law school was the most interesting thing ever.

In this very excellent work David Hall approaches the first 20 years or so of the Bay Colony from the religious and cultural point of view.

Through out the book, Hall presents his conclusions from his research into how the town and colony government developed and functioned roughly between 1630-50. The words that came to my mind to the describe the process was "iterative" or perhaps "dialectic" The first issue was who or what was sovereign. Following Hall, it seems the king was never mentioned; that the presbyterian system of bishops was rejected out of hand; and the result was that first Christ and then His godly people speaking both personally and through their representatives were sovereign. Hall suggests that the populism implicit in all this was tempered by Winthrop who, in Hall's excellent observation, was just the right man to ensure that the governor and his assistants retained just enough magisterial power to prevent the colony from coming apart. Hall's Winthrop reminded me strongly of Henry Ireton and Sir Thomas Fairfax.

Hall advances the thesis (which I strongly endorse) that the Puritans who founded the Bay Colony are properly considered as the most successful and historically important of the many factions and sects that emerged from the Puritan Revolution that had been simmering in England since the short reign of Edward VI and that exploded into civil war when Charles I raised the royal standard in Nottingham on August 22, 1642.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Atlantic Aviator on August 7, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
Another great offering from Hall, a Harvard professor and scholar of Colonial history, particularly religious history. I enjoyed classes with Hall nearly thirty years ago, and much of his teaching is with me today; I wish I could say the same of all my professors. Unlike so much of the faux history circulating these days, usually in the attempt to make the colonial fore-fathers and mothers into something they were not, Hall's books are extremely well researched, understandable even for the lay reader, and keeping to the excellent tradition of historical scholarship our Ivy League schools have been known for in the main.
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