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The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear: Agitator for the Spirit Land Hardcover – September 15, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press; 1st Edition edition (September 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0268022003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0268022006
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,358,220 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Buescher offers a book on John Murray Spear, whose 19th-century life trajectory placed him in some of the period's most colorful and innovative religious and social movements. Born into a Universalist family, Spear was at turns a Universalist minister, abolitionist, spiritualist, pacifist, death penalty opponent, women's rights advocate, failed inventor of a perpetual motion machine, and vocal supporter of anarchists and socialists. . . . Recommended." —Choice (April 2007)

“In this richly detailed biography, Buescher takes seriously both Spear's most inspiriting ideas and his most outlandish in order to access the inner depths of nineteenth-century radicalism and unravel its hidden logic. . . . Buescher is one of the most knowledgeable students of lesser-used primary sources on nineteenth-century spiritualism. A generous citizen of this area of study, he makes a wealth of research materials including bibliographies, primary sources, and visual images available on his frequently updated website.” —American Historical Review, vol. 112, no. 5, December 2007

“Buescher's biography of John Murray Spear offers a transect through Spiritualism's heyday, from its rise in the reformist circles of the mid-nineteenth century to its increasingly eccentric and esoteric manifestations that marked the movement's decline toward the end of the century. Extensively researched and engagingly written, Buescher's biography of this influential and often notorious Spiritualist offers a vivid tour of some of the further reaches of nineteenth-century American culture.” —The Journal of American History, vol. 94, no. 1, June 2007

From the Back Cover

"There is probably nobody living more qualified to write this work and nobody who has explored the available sources and contemplated the social meaning of nineteenth century spiritualism more completely than John Buescher. His contribution in this area is unprecedented and vital." --Mark A. Lause, University of Cincinnati

"John Buescher has written a lively, richly-detailed account--and sometimes free-swinging critique--of one of nineteenth-century America's most idiosyncratic and radical religious leaders. By turns warmly sympathetic to Spear and his spiritualist colleagues, then harshly critical of their 'neo-gnostic' tendencies, Buescher both tells a good story and draws many inferences for present-day religious and cultural debates. Even those who might draw different conclusions should be informed and engaged by the tale he tells." --David W. Wills, Winthrop H. Smith '16 Professor of American History and American Studies, Amherst College

"Grounded in seldom-used primary sources, this is a rigorously researched, clearly written, and fascinating biography of an important nineteenth-century radical. This volume on John Murray Spear is a valuable and necessary step to uncover the lived experience of spiritualism." --Stephen D. Andrews, Indiana University

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mark Newbold on January 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Buescher is to be commended for this masterpiece of comprehensive, detailed, richly anecdotal biography of a man so diverse in his passions as to make your head swim. And for this reason perhaps this book may not become as well know as it should- though I certainly hope otherwise. John Murray Spear was an epitome of trying to live so altruistically for his fellow disenfranchied beings that like Ariel he moved on the winds of each social progressive movement that manifested itself in 19th century America.

This book for the first time gives you the entire alternative landscape of fringe religion, social movements and experiments through the almost Baron Munchausen inner adventures of Spear. From passionate Universalist, abolition, prisoner rights, (Spear & his brother should be honored as the father of the parole movement alone), feminism, free love and finally culminating in Spiritualism. Finding a spiritual home at last he becomes an apostle of this new movement and was instrumental as a first generational Spiritualist in taking the new dispensation to England.

Additional fascinating pieces of this superb book includes for the first time a detailed history of the entire "New Motor" experiment. I recall as a child first reading tantalizing tidbits in fortean paperbacks about this Victorian "Frankenchrist" event that boggled my childish mind with gothic pleasure & beginning theology. I also discovered for the first time the Spiritualist/sewing machine connection- you'll have to read the book for this one. And unless one reads a history of the Oneida colony, you'll not find a more comprehensive survey of the free love movement in America. I hope that a copy of this work may find itself falling into the hands of a Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam, no other director could capture the visual sheer surreality of the life of the Reverend Spear. Giddily recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a proud legacy for John Murray Spear - to have his life and times depicted by John Buescher, someone so devoted to historical fact and sensitive to the motives and paradoxical moments of the pioneer days of Modern Spiritualism. Spear, an early practitioner of that belief, is also one of the 19th century's most colorful characters. He is rendered here with a deft touch and keen perception by scholar and historian Buescher who meticulously researched and wrote an earlier, wide-ranging book featuring Spear, "The Other Side of Salvation: Spiritualism in the Nineteenth-Century Religious Experience." The author's skills truly shine in this immensely readable biography of the magnetic Spear's inventive and eccentric persona -- a healer and medium who attracted a multitude of devoted supporters and endorsed the ambivalent tenets of "Free Love" plus a number of colorful (if not downright crazy) plans for a utopian community at Kiantone, New York (near Jamestown). Spear also possessed a frantic commitment to development of his New Motor Project (near Lynn, Massachusetts) which seemed to cause his nubile assistant, Caroline, to become pregnant with a child that - surprisingly! - strongly resembled the married Spear. John Buescher is the genius behind the wonderfully inclusive [..] and here he has authored an entertaining and illuminating book for anyone with an appetite for nineteenth century religious doctrines and their idiosyncratic practitioners. Spear is depicted as engaging, funny, thoughtful, flamboyant, and true to his convictions. Buescher treats his subject with authority and warmth. It's a great read. I highly recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Remarkable Life Of John Murray Spear: Agitator For The Spirit Land" by John Buescher (Chief of the Tibetan Broadcast Service of the Voice of America) is the biography of one of 19th century America's most idiosyncratic and radical religious figures whose flamboyant spiritualist proclivities led him to protest slavery and capital punishment, invent 'spirit machines', and perhaps most surprisingly -- advocate 'free love'. While Spear help organize public support for anarchist, socialist, peace, and labor causes, his personal life was an eccentric mixture of the comic and the profane and provides contemporary readers with a remarkable perspective on 19th century American religious and social life. An impressive body of well research and superbly written detail, "The Remarkable Life Of John Murray Spear" is informative, entertaining, and very highly recommended reading on the life and times of a remarkable distinctive man who helped to shape American history.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Buescher has amassed a spectacular amount of facts, dates ad details about the life and times of John Murray Spear. Yet after reading this worthy book I feel that I still don't know the man John Murray Spear or what made him tick. I know where he was and what he did and when he did it but the why and wherefore remain a mystery to me. That said, this book will engage anyone interested in Spiritualism and the wacky, quacky side of 19th century thought and culture. Spear is in the pantheon of All American Kooks but this biography isn't nearly as incisive or colourful as it should be.
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