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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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Editorial Reviews


“Neither pedantic nor superficial. [Preston] is the rare scholar who can educate a non-academic audience in the complexity of an important subject. Preston cuts through a confusion that often surrounds America foreign policy, by laying bare the unusual moral history behind it, a history that begins with the Puritans and proceeds in the grooves illuminated in this beautifully written book.”
—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

About the Author

ANDREW PRESTON teaches American history and international relations history at Cambridge University, where he is a fellow of Clare College. Before Cambridge, he taught history and international studies at Yale University. He has also taught at universities in Canada and Switzerland, and has been a fellow at the Cold War Studies Program at the London School of Economics. He is the author of The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400043239
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400043231
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Shamgar with an Ox Goad on January 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
Cambridge University professor Andrew Preston has done an admirable job trying to interweave the history of American religion and American diplomacy. In the book he leaves little doubt that faith, particularly protestant faith, has at times served both to spur the United States into conflict and has also been a vocal voice of restraint and pacifism. For historians, religion tends to be something that they often overlook, in particular political and diplomatic historians tend to assign logical and realist causes to peoples actions. Preston's work is a welcome corrective, suggesting that if someone like President William McKinley says he is occupying the Philippines to Christianize it we should take such statements at face value. For Preston faith is not something that is simply a cloak for realpolitik but an important force in its own right.

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.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By John Maxwell on June 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I thought that this was a thoughtful, balanced presentation of the interaction between religion and foreign policy in the US. It covers both religious liberals and religious conservatives without taking sides, as well as other religious traditions (such as the peace churches). It also discusses different schools of thought in foreign policy, and how they interact with the religious traditions. It gave me a lot to think about.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey P. Skosnik on March 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought the Kindle version of this Book and found the Kindle format to be great for this kind of academic writing. The book itself would make great reading in any format.

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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Neuman on December 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Preston did an excellent job of pulling together a complex American history of the interplay between religion and politics. I would prefer he follow-up his work with an IN-DEPTH corresponding review of this same interplay for the years 1980 to the current time.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By jeff weddle on August 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Preston does a fantastic job of documenting his book as he carries you through US history pointing out how religion shapes our foreign policy. Our primarily Christian views, bent toward Calvinism, have given the US a special feeling that we are God's chosen people placed on earth to defend righteousness and liberty.

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.
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