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Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between Hardcover – August 15, 2011

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Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between + The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (August 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393079635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393079630
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,537,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Sharp and intimate.” (Rolling Stone)

“Superb… Compelling… Stunning… A fine book, by a deeply thoughtful writer.” (Steve Yarbrough - The Oregonian)

“A Must-Read…. Brilliant portraits of the religious fringe…fleshed out in lush three-dimensional detail—a lifetime in a dozen pages, a biography distilled to its purest elements…. Sharlet impresses with his ability to mine the common humanity that lingers in even the most radically minded thinkers.” (The Daily Beast)

“The characters in Sweet Heaven When I Die are rough, unfulfilled, often doomed. But that’s what makes this collection so strong, so human. We always suspect that by the end, they will be betrayed by their beliefs, will be disillusioned or destroyed. But failure doesn’t make belief meaningless. It may be the only thing that gives faith meaning at all.” (Kansas City Star)

“For Sharlet, the story of American religion is not a polarized one of fundamentalists vs. secularists. It’s a vast landscape, and each essay in his remarkable new collection of literary journalism explores a different crag or cranny of it…. There’s no better guide to this ‘country in between.’” (Brook Wilensky-Lanford - The Boston Globe)

“The book belongs to the tradition of long-form, narrative journalism best exemplified by writers such as Joan Didion, John McPhee, Norman Mailer and Sharlet’s contemporary David Samuels. Sharlet deserves a place alongside such masters, for he has emerged as a master investigative stylist and one of the shrewdest commentators on religion’s underexplored realms.” (Michael Washburn - The Washington Post)

“[A] collection of beautifully written narratives.... Sharlet's previous works have incisively critiqued fundamentalism and American power; Sweet Heaven is equally thoughtful, but tender, acknowledging that between the extremes of snake handlers and nihilists, most of us wander through life groping for meaning, with consolation that in the act of finding, we too, may be found.” (Durham, NC Independent)

“Part reporter, part prophet, Jeff Sharlet is an American visionary in the lineage that runs from Twain to Robinson Jeffers to Sam Shepard and Joan Didion. In Sweet Heaven When I Die, he scours the desert margins of our culture, politics, and religion, training his eye on outlaws, anarchists, fanatics, and saints. In this way, he reveals the unexpected shape of our nation’s center, which is to say, our heart.” (Peter Trachtenberg, author of 7 Tattoos and The Book of Calamities)

About the Author

Jeff Sharlet is the author of The Family, C Street, and Sweet Heaven When I Die, and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and Harper's. He teaches creative nonfiction at Dartmouth College and lives in New Hampshire.

More About the Author

Jeff Sharlet is the New York Times and national bestselling author of THE FAMILY (Harper, 2008), C STREET (Little, Brown, 2010), and SWEET HEAVEN WHEN I DIE (W.W. Norton, 2011). With Peter Manseau he wrote KILLING THE BUDDHA (Free Press, 2004) and edited BELIEVER, BEWARE (Beacon, 2009). Of his most recent book, SWEET HEAVEN WHEN I DIE, The Washington Post writes, "This book belongs in the tradition of long-form, narrative nonfiction best exemplified by Joan Didion, John McPhee [and] Norman Mailer... Sharlet deserves a place alongside such masters." Excerpts from Sharlet's previous book, C STREET, were honored with the Molly Ivins Prize, the Thomas Jefferson Award, the Outspoken Award, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Asoociation's first and second prizes for feature writing. Barbara Ehrenreich called THE FAMILY "one of the most compelling and brilliantly researched exposes you'll ever read."

Sharlet is Mellon Assistant Professor of Creative Nonfiction at Dartmouth College and a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and Rolling Stone. He has been a frequent commentator on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" and NPR's "Fresh Air" and has appeared on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, "Real Time with Bill Maher," "Hardball," "Democracy Now," and other programs.

Sharlet is a cofounder of KillingTheBuddha.com, winner of the Utne/Alternative Press Award, and TheRevealer.org, created at NYU's Center for Religion and Media with support from the Pew Charitable Trust. He has received grants and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, the Blue Mountain Center, The Nation Institute, and other organizations. His writing on music has twice been featured in the annual BEST MUSIC WRITING volume.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 12 customer reviews
He is such a beautiful writer.
Read this book and revel in what it means to be human and wonder at the majesty and diversity of the human experience.
R. Golen
Read Sweet Heaven because you love words and stories.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Peregrinator on August 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Such a pleasure to finally hold a hard-bound book of Sharlet's essays in my hands, the true stories he's held closest to his heart, collecting on the side as he worked on The Family and C Street. Knowing Jeff, I've read some of these before, on screen at KillingTheBuddha.com (a site he founded and I continue to help edit) and amid the ephemeral pages of Rolling Stone and Harper's. But between the covers of Sweet Heaven When I Die, on thick stock, they're richer with the re-reading. For the many essays that were new to me, I got a fresh look at what I've always loved about his writing, the anti-scripture of a man who is crazy about a world that drives him mad, in love with ordinary people around us that he can see are larger than life. The comparison to Joan Didion is apt. He writes passages like this, from the tale of a college love from Colorado and a return visit to see her years later:

"She thought she might study religion. She bought herself a concordance. She would sit cross-legged on the floor, the concordance's giant pages spread on her lap like the wings of a gull, a cup of wine or a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a Marlboro in the other. Her back curved like calligraphy--she had worn a brace as a girl, and her legs were a bit crooked, and her toes wrapped onto one another because when she was little she'd refused to abandon a pair of shoes that she'd loved--and she would parse scripture."

Read Sweet Heaven because you love words and stories. Read because you long and love. Read Sweet Heaven because you believe, or wish you did.

Buy the book, for yourself and a friend.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Nathan T. Schneider on August 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Sweet Heaven When I Die" is, for the observer of American religion, either a shock or a relief. Thank God, I say--the American spiritual landscape is not, after all, captured in Gallup polls (much less Barna or Pew), in percentages of church (or other "places of worship") attendance, which are the preferred measurements of tone-deaf newspapers and political strategists. As he has been doing for well over a decade, but here better than ever, Jeff Sharlet shows that, and how, the heart of this country's spiritual life is in its supposed fringes. A New Age snake-oil saleswoman greases the engines of New York's high-end real estate market. A UFO enthusiast becomes one of Washington's chief fundamentalist power-brokers. A huge media monopoly corners the market on the underground punk scene. What do punks have to do with "faith"? By the time you get to them you'll know.

For the non-observer of American religion, however, "Sweet Heaven" is even better, because you won't be clouded by all the dumb hang-ups. This is, above all, a book of stories, and a book about people--mainly extraordinary "ordinary" people whom the author encounters by accident or intention. Each story holds its own, and where there are points to be made, they're made only by implication, through the lives of those we meet. It's about radical aspirations, and the creep of big money into small communities, and it's about music, frustration, land, and desire. Two chapter titles include the same expletive.

This book reminds me why, when I discovered Sharlet's first book, "Killing the Buddha," I was almost afraid to read it. He exposes us to ourselves in a way that's uncomfortably dead-on, yet also so pleasurable, and funny, that you'll want it never to end.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Lorinda Ann Neumann on August 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Sweet Heaven When I Die, Jeff Sharlet's latest, is a beautifully written book. Most know Sharlet as a diligent muckraker who's exposed corruption and religious power-wielding at the highest levels of government (The Family, C Street). Sweet Heaven reminds us that he can also write, and with an insight and deftness that's garnered comparison to the greatest of the past few generations--Didion, McPhee, Mailer. Through these essays, on musician Doc Boggs, philosopher Cornell West, and me (yes, and more disclosure, I succeeded Sharlet as editor of TheRevealer.org, a publication of NYU's Center for Religion and Media), Sharlet tells us about the endless varieties of belief and unbelief in a political and media landscape that has collapsed religion into unknowable, monolithic categories.

For this reason, Sweet Heaven is also a timely and important collection of essays. With another election cycle upon us, and one that has brought conversation about religion to bear on every aspect of democracy, Sharlet's given us a way to examine how faith works, for good, bad and nought, in our public and personal lives. Don't just read Sweet Heaven because it's beautiful. Read it to remember the diversity of thought (and practice) in America--about individual conscience, desire, hope, despair, and faith.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Danielle on August 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: I've known Jeff since college. But I've never read more than a few pages of his previous books, for various reasons.

But this book. I cannot put it down. He is such a beautiful writer. I would read his description of a rock if he wrote one.

He studied literary nonfiction at our college and at the time, I thought, what the hell is that? But it's this book - a collection of his essays previously published in Harper's & Rolling Stone. It's every sentence he writes. You feel richer for having read each one.

Even if you don't care about religion and politics, buy this book and read it. Even on your iPhone, like I've been doing.

Yes, it's that good.
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