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Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 28, 2012
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—Michael Kimmage, The New Republic
“A unified field theory of American foreign relations capturing the play of personality and politics, passion and hypocrisy—all written with a style that further distinguishes [Preston] in a domain as deficient in literary grace as in candour . . . Preston excels in portraits of the people at the heart of the matter, from the Puritans to Barack Obama. No governments here in faceless generality, no US in absolving abstract, but rather the frame and temper of human beings in all their force and frailty. History as biography, his work achieves the most elusive of biographical rendering—what did they really think about the nature of man and the universe, and how successfully, as Bierce would put it, did they adapt faith to the sins of policy. This is no simplistic case for religion as single cause. Preston’s genius is to find the blending with all the other, frequently contradictory strains.”
—Roger Morris, The Globe and Mail
“[A] monumental study . . . This book solidifies Preston’s reputation as one of the foremost young scholars working in the great tradition of historical interpretation of war, diplomacy, and peace. . . Preston describes how America’s religion has been far more intimately intertwined with its statecraft and foreign policy than is generally understood . . . This is not the new master narrative of America, but it is close enough.”
—Charles Hill, The Wilson Quarterly
“Fascinating . . . As a comprehensive survey, the book opens up pathways for others to explore.”
—Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“Encyclopedic . . . [Preston] leaves no religious stone unturned . . . I hunger for more.”
—Richard I. Immerman, San Francisco Chronicle
“What is most astonishing is not this or that episode but rather the ubiquity of religious influence on America’s international relations, an ubiquity that Preston complains has for far too long been hidden by the secularist bias of academic historians. A much-needed corrective to that bias.”
—Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)
“Andrew Preston has written a remarkably comprehensive and uncommonly wise history about one of the most critical elements in the making of American foreign policy. It is a landmark work of scholarship about religion and politics — and a pleasure to read.”
—Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers
“Andrew Preston demonstrates that one of the keys to understanding American foreign policy lies at the interstices of religion and diplomacy. This is a most impressive book, not only for scope of the author's research but also for his judicious conclusions.”
—Randall Balmer, author of God in the White House
“[M]arvelously readable . . . A sharp, clear, deeply researched examination of the consistent application of the founding religious principles to American foreign policy.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Reading this book is a thrilling intellectual adventure: it challenges received ideas at the same time as it throws light on buried, troubling perplexities and changes the way we view not only the United States but the rest of the world. Erudite, balanced and respectful, it could not be more timely and should be required reading for policy-makers, concerned citizens, atheists and religious alike.”
—Karen Armstrong, author A History of God
“There have been a number of good books on particular aspects of religion and American foreign policy. But no one before Andrew Preston has written such a thoroughly researched, consistently insightful, and ideologically balanced general history of this timely, important, but strangely under-studied subject. This splendid book makes a major contribution in its own right, but also opens up an entire field for much-needed further study.”
—Mark Noll, author of America’s God
“In this landmark work, Andrew Preston sheds light on a critical element of the American experience: the role of religion in our relationship to the world. Faith is one of the most influential factors in our national life, and Preston’s excellent book gives religion its due as a force that shapes who we are, what wars we fight, and which causes we make our own.”
—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion
“This extraordinarily important book explores the relatively unknown link between religion and U.S. foreign policy. The author, a historian at Cambridge University, shows that religion has influenced the nation's foreign policies from the intermittent wars with the Barbary pirates in the 1790s to President Obama's Cairo speech in 2009 . . . Preston's work is exhaustive . . . in the opinion of this reviewer, [it] deserves a prize for historical scholarship and writing.”
—Al Menendez, Voice of Reason
“Every now and then a book appears that redefines a field. This is one of those occasions.”
—Andrew J. Bacevich, Commonweal
"Wide ranging, deeply researched, and clearly expressed, Preston’s history of the influence of religion on U.S. foreign policy, from Colonial times through the Obama administration, is a landmark in the field of American foreign policy studies."
—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
"A staggering achievement ... Those who shape American foreign relations in the future—and that, of course, includes all citizens—will learn much from the past recounted here that they can apply to the task."
—James M. O'Toole, America
“[M]asterful . . . brought off with . . . intelligence, sophistication, and grace . . . Sensitive to complexity, nuance, and ambiguity . . . Preston’s splendid history illuminates how we came to our present pass. That history cannot, of course, patch over our abiding and legitimate differences, but its author’s supple combination of hard thought and sympathetic imagination demonstrates how the friction generated by our finally irresolvable moral conflicts might best serve the perpetual dialectic of democratic politics.”
—James Nuechterlein, First Things
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Top Customer Reviews
However Preston's work does suffer from being unevenly written. The first 200 pages of the book cover from the first European settlement until the Spanish American War (roughly 1607-1898). This section simply lacks detail and it is unclear that Preston has a firm command of the religious history of this period. He spends considerable time comparing the Puritans and Jamestown but ignores the importance of other colonists, both Catholic and Quaker. When he deals with the lead up to the Civil War Preston doesn't seem to realize how important denominational identity is and even sometimes drops names without clearly identifying what group they belong to. I feel the book could have just picked up 200 pages later and been better off for it.
This minor overreach however should not detract from the pioneering work of scholarship that Preston has completed here. If you have an interest in American history, diplomacy or religion you should have a copy of this book.
As I read the book, I found myself largely agreeing with what the author has to say on his subject matter except for the three points below:
1. American Exceptionalism
The beliefs that Preston alleges as support for American Exceptionalism are by no means unique to America. These beliefs may in fact be the basis on which some Americans consider themselves to be exceptional, but Preston should at least have mentioned that Americans are not in fact exceptional in virtue of believing that they are God's chosen people. More than one war has been fought between nations who have declared themselves exceptional on such grounds.
2. The Role of Religious Conviction in American Foreign Policy Decision Making
In his discussion of how religious beliefs affect American foreign policy decisions, I think Preston needed to make a distinction between the religious beliefs which motivated American leaders to make their foreign policy decisions in a certain way and the religious beliefs which they may have used to sell those decisions to their fellow Americans. It is not enough to say, as Preston does, that these leaders are part of the same culture as the people to whom they must justify their decisions. To judge from the popular sermons of the day, some Founding Fathers appear to have been better educated and more in tune with "the Age of the Enlightenment" than many of their fellow Americans and in consequence were often much more sceptical of the claims of traditional religion than many of their fellow Americans.Read more ›
Preston shows both the plus and down sides of these views and gives voice to the constant theme of dissension to our foreign policy that runs through US history as well.
This book would inspire thought in many Christians, unfortunately, most Christians will never plow through a book so deep and long. This is too bad, because we're being used.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An excellent history and analysis of how religion has influenced America's outlook on the rest of the work and our foreign policy. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Rancy
An essential perspective on American history, and a story and them far too little understood. The research is detailed and massive, and the book reads very well. Read morePublished on January 7, 2014 by Gerald Filson
okay read, not spectacular; thought it would be far more insightful than it was; there is no doubt that a religious belief in america & its special ideals, real or imagined, played... Read morePublished on October 9, 2012 by Ed Deisley