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Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography, with a New Introduction Paperback – December, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although he died only 14 years ago, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr seems an elusive figure. Neoconservatives claim him for their own as a foe of Soviet communism and utopianism. Leftists champion the angry critic of consumerism, the Socialist candidate, the supporter of workplace democracy who exposed Henry Ford's exploitative practices. This biography by Fox (a historian at Reed College) is the fullest and most thoroughly researched to date, offering a vibrant portrait of the prophet-like minister whose views throughout his life were proof of his tough-minded independence. Preaching to Detroit's working-class population in the 1920s, Niebuhr told his flock that true happiness meant constant struggle, or what the world called unhappiness. In the 1930s he shocked his fellow pacifists by arguing that violence is not intrinsically immoral. In 1943, he was one of very few Americans who urged FDR to allow more European Jews to emigrate to the U.S. After World War II, Niebuhr, an anticommunist, repudiated any simple contrast between an evil Soviet regime and virtuous American democracya message that seems especially timely today. This is a valuable starting point for an understanding of Niebuhr the theologian, the political thinker and the man of action. January 21
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Fox (History, Reed College) has produced the first full-scale biography of the man many believe to be America's foremost 20th-century theologian. The thoroughly documented work takes the reader from Niebuhr's small-town beginnings through his early pastoral ministry to his emergence as the academic priest-prophet who preached both the gospel of hope for coping with everyday life and the gospel of repentance for confronting personal sin and social evil. The author succeeds in combining journalism and scholarship. He has written a definitive biography which should appeal to both the wide general audience and the more narrow professional readership. Highly recommended for academic, public, and church libraries. Ken Phifer, Montgomery Cty. P.L. & Montgomery Coll. Lib., Rockville, Md.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (December 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801483697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801483691
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,264,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Mark Koerner on April 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was--and probably still is--America's most famous theologian. From the 1920s to the 1960s, hw wrote numerous books on religious and political issues, as well as articles for LOOK, THE ATLANTIC, and THE NEW REPUBLIC among many other magazines. One of his lesser known works ("God grant me the strength to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot and the wisdom to know the difference") still adorns the bric-a-brac sold in Christian bookstores. And, not far from his old office at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a street is named after him. Richard Wightman Fox argues that beginning in the 1930s, Niebuhr became disenchanted with the "social gospel" theology that had come to dominate the so-called "mainline" Protestant churches. Niebuhr concluded that man is an inherently imperfect creature (and therefore all attempts to create a perfect society are futile), but that Christians still have to try to Christianize the social order. Such efforts are doomed to fail if their ultimate goal is the perfectability of man, but they can succeed if they have more limited goals. In other words, the world could be made better but it could not be re-made. In this way, Niebuhr reconciled in his own mind two opposing groups: the social gospel liberals and the conservative theologians who believed in sin. Niebuhr's belief in the reality of sin combined with his quest for social justice is generally called "neo-orthodoxy," though Fox uses this term only a few times. Fox does an excellent job of demonstrating how well Niebuhr's ideas fit with the assumptions of American liberals from the 1940s through the 1960s. Cold War liberals prided themselves on being both idealistic and realistic.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paul E. Hanna on December 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fair,honest,candid account of Niebuhr's amazing life from small town Midwestern son of a minister to international stature as theologian and political thinker. Fox does an excellent job of pointing out the flaws in Niebuhr as well as his great gifts. He describes very well his incredible energy as well as his difficulty in handling things after his stroke. Niebuhr will probably be remembered far more for his incisive political views than his theology.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By History Buff on November 25, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For those interested in ONLY the historical Neibuhr, this book might fit the bill. There is almost no attention given to his theology, so I do not recommend it to readers who have no prior knowledge of Niebuhr. Without some understanding of his theology it's very difficult to understand why he has historical importance. Fox also (surprisingly) does not include much information on Niebuhr's influence on later important historical figures such as Martin Luther King.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Bieter on May 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
I have not read this book, so this is really just a comment, but I have recently read the excellent work Why Niebuhr Now? by the late historian John Patrick Diggins.Why Niebuhr Now?

I recently read The Pragmatic God - On the Nihilism of Reinhold Niebuhr, by Professor Harry J. Ausmus, The Pragmatic God (American University Studies. Series VII. Theology and Religion) , a book that, strangely, has been universally ignored by scholars in history, philosophy, and religion. Ausmus contends that the logical consequence of Niebuhr's thought is nihilism, a rather serious charge to lodge against a Christian theologian and preacher.

Why has this work, published in 1990, been ignored?

I suspect that Niebuhr scholars and others fear that accepting the challenge to examine Ausmus' thesis may just disclose some nihilism in their thought.
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