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69 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spiritual Democracy
This timely, provocative book combines and shows the relationship between two large themes: a)the nature and importance of spiritual and religous values and b) the nature and spiritual character of American democray, with all its flaws. I was struck to find this book and the manner in which Needleman developed his themes. In broad outline, Needleman's preocupations are...
Published on June 8, 2002 by Robin Friedman

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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fanciful (3.5*s)
To the author, America, as an ideal, still represents the standard which nations attempt to emulate, yet he finds an inauthenticity, a shallowness, in the actual practice of Americans and America in regard to such ideals as freedom, community, democracy, well-being, and the like, which, in his estimation, reflects a culturally-sanctioned paucity of character, the lack of...
Published on May 13, 2010 by J. Grattan


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69 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spiritual Democracy, June 8, 2002
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This timely, provocative book combines and shows the relationship between two large themes: a)the nature and importance of spiritual and religous values and b) the nature and spiritual character of American democray, with all its flaws. I was struck to find this book and the manner in which Needleman developed his themes. In broad outline, Needleman's preocupations are my own. Without agreeing with everything he said, I came away from his book with my own ideas clarified and strengthened -- and a bit envious of Needleman's eloquence and ability to put his ideas into print.
Needleman draws a double picture of American freedom and its use. One picture is that freedom means everyone does simply as he or she pleases. This is, for Needleman, an America which has been criticized by many for its materialism, its emphasis on growth, its sole focus on the profit motive, its greed, racism, and, sometimes, bellicosity.
The other America is a spiritual American whose ideas of freedom and democracy was founded upon religous and metaphysical ideas of the nature of man, human commonality, the uniqueness of each person, and the search inward of each person for what is valuable and important. The ideal of democracy on this view is not simple pursuit of material wealth but rather a turning inward so that each person may pursue life and truth in his or her own way.
And what is the relationship between these two concepts of America? How do we help transform the one into the other?
Needleman's answer is in part a study of the wisdom literature common to all religions and great philosophy of life. (Needleman evidences a great deal of impatience with standard church or synagogue-going. He argues that he himself has found such conventional forms of religion sterile and routine.) He finds such wisdom, in various of its phases, in the writings of the American founders.
Thus the larger part of the book is a discussion and creative discussion of the American founders and a reading of certain of American texts. Thus Needleman gives us a paragraph-by-paragraph discussion of Washington's Farewell Address, The Tenth Federalist Paper, Lincoln's Second Inauguaral Address, an Oration of Frederick Douglass, and Iroquois Indian creation myth, and Walt Whitman's late essay, Democratic Vistas. He tries to show how these texts show an America of spiritual values rather than money-making. His aim is, avowedly, to remythologize America and its past.
In a broad sense his project is carried through well. Some of his readings of the texts, particularly of Washington's Farewell Address and of the Iroquois myth, seem to me forced. Needleman would have done better to let Washington speak for himself rather than create a Washington with, perhaps, Needleman's own spiritual preocupations. The readings of Whitman, Douglass, and Lincoln work much better, even on Needleman's own terms.
In trying to get people to think about America -- and to reassess its values in spiritual terms --Needleman has critical things to say about America's treatment of the Indians and about the long legacy of slavery. These themes are valuable and important and Needleman is right to dwell upon them. I have some question about whether the treatment of the Indians is inself free from a degree of modern stereotyping. Be that as it may, Needleman's point is that we may see America with its flaws and crimes and love it and try to recognize and bring about the ideal in the sometimes shabby nature of the real.
There is a great deal of erudition in this book, both on spiritual texts and on American history. In addition to his treatment of certain standard figures in American history, Needleman has a fascinating discussion of the Ephrata community in Pennsylvania and its founder Conrad Bissel. This Protestant spiritual community flourished briefly during the period just before the Revolutionary War.
Walt Whitman has the last word in this book, as he properly should, with his vision of America and of the American person.
There is a great deal of interest, as best as I can tell, in American history, as evidenced by the many new books on the Founders and the unending interest in Lincoln and the Civil War, and in spirituality, which I myself have found in a study of Buddhism. This book combines these two broad themes in an attempt to help the reader rething and reunderstand America. It is a worthy goal and the book carries it out well.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reconciling Spiritual Seeker and Patriot, February 10, 2002
No matter how much I dislike the oversimplifications of broad, emotionally loaded categories, I have always had to admit that I fall into two common ones. The first is "spiritual." The second is "patriot." How odd, at first glance! Aren't they rather contradictory? Am I a redneck if I put (as I have done since September 11th) an American flag on my car? It's puzzled me, as well as others.
Needleman's American Soul clarifies (I almost said "dispels," but it doesn't really make the mystery go "away," it deepens and enriches it) the mystery for me: without being in any way blind to human shortcomings, he reminds us of the spiritual ideals that this country was founded on and which can still be effective agents in life if we seek and create the America inside our souls. Our founders, like Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin were not naïve idealists who ignored the abundant greed, folly and hatred that existed then, exists now, and has always existed. The external form they created in the Constitution recognized these and created a system that could keep them in check, while promoting a unique societal climate that allowed for the spiritual growth (they called it "Reason," but meant far more than contemporary logic chopping) in both individuals and the community. Exploring the details of this is fascinating! For instance:
"... Scholarly controversies aside, the fact is that many of the ideals that Americans now consider definitive of our nation were introduced and developed by these mystical communities, and the original and deeper meaning of these ideals may be astonishingly different than what we now understand of them. For example, the ideas of human equality and independence in these communities are rooted in the notion that God, or "the inner light,? exists within every human being, and that the aim of life revolves around the endeavor and the necessity for every man or woman to make conscious contact with this inner divine force. This interior divinity?in William Penn?s language, ?the inner Christ"?is the source of true happiness, intelligence and moral capacity, and is meant to be the guide and ultimate authority in the conduct and assessment of our lives and obligations."
"Seen from this perspective, no human being can have ultimate authority over another, not because the individual has the right to satisfy the desires of the body or the ego; not because every individual has the right to plot the scheme of his or her own actions with respect to the social, economic or sexual aspects of life; not because every individual has the right to say whatever he wants to say. No, a human being is his own authority only because he has within him the inner Christ, the inner divinity."
These kind of thoughtful and stimulating insights abound in American Soul. This is one of Needleman's most profound books, and I recommend it enthusiastically!
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading for all American Citizens, December 5, 2003
By 
Robert B. Yeaman (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders (Paperback)
Going to school at San Francisco State University, I am often confronted with cynical views of America. After going through four years at one of the most "liberal" schools in the country I could say that I to was very discouraged with my country and at times disgraced by the fact that I was a citizen of a nation riddled with such hypocracy.
With Needleman's book "The American Soul" I received great hope for myself and my country. While acknowledging the crimes of America, Needleman shows that the roots of this country are based on the freedom of the individual to pursue their own growth of "character" in light of bettering the whole of America. The flaws we now see in our country are simply a drifting from this ideal and a reflection of the lost individuals which compose our vast nation. It is not a single corrupt politition nor some unjust law which taint this great country, but a compilation of individual citizens who have all, in some way, lost sight of their role and purpose in supporting the whole of our nation.
"The American Soul" is a philosophical guide book on how to be a better American citizen which transends the dualities of liberalism and conservativism. It is a light of hope in our often depressing world.
After reading a book of such depth and conviction, one may wonder if the man speeking of such high ideas actually has the ability to live in such a manner himself. For that I am truely fortunate to have had Jacob Needleman as a professor at San Francisco State and can verify that he is a man of more integrity, joy and dedication than any I have met. Anyone who has the chance to meet this amazing human being will see that for themselves.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn What the Deeper American Soul is Really About, September 21, 2005
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This review is from: The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders (Paperback)
Jacob Needleman's book The American Soul is a masterful explanation of a deeper America, an America that has been lost in the hype and deceit of corporate greed, a media managed for misinformation and consensus and the professional wrestling that too often passes for religion in this country. Needleman writes with an elegant depth of Soul that is his subject and so he writes as a true and an especially wise American indeed. His discussion of the heart moving and inspired Iroquois solution to pettiness, greed and violence is itself worth many times the price of the book. If by some stroke of magical good fortune we could get Dr. Phil and others to stay home for a week so we could have greater access to a voice like Needleman's, America might make move toward remembering who she really is and in doing so become once again a beacon for those who seek the freedom to pursue a life of true depth, meaning and happiness, a life that lies beyond the surface freedom to stock up regularly on consumer goods. By all means, buy this book for yourself and for anyone you truly care about. The American Soul allows us to "remember" something essential and profound within ourselves, something that is the very Heart of America-something that we need to pledge allegiance to once again. This book offers profound perspective on what fitness for conscious citizenship is all about.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "must read" for anyone who calls themselves an American, February 25, 2004
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This review is from: The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders (Paperback)
This book captures what our founders had in their minds and hearts when they envisioned what America could be. While we have strayed substantially from the original ideals, and lost sight of the original "American Dream," reading Needleman's words reminds us of what possibilities we are sitting on. We still have the potential to become as great, as free and as inspiring - to ourselves and all the world. All we need to do is get ourselves back on track. This book offers reminds us of our roots and instills visions of new possibilities. This is the kind of American I want to be!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beyond words, January 18, 2006
By 
Rodger Dodger (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders (Paperback)
For several years now, when the topic of my favorite book comes up, I say without hesitation, "The American Soul" by Jacob Needleman. Its insights are nothing short of brilliant; his language so sublime I can't help but reread passages for the sheer poetry with which a philosopher in his prime can convey a profound insight.

If only our presidents, senators, and congressmen had this book at their bedsides. We might actually become the America we once imagined ourselves to be.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive compendium of timeless truths, May 10, 2002
The American Soul: Rediscovering The Wisdom Of The Founders is an impressive compendium of timeless truths deeply embedded withing the founding vision of the United States of America. Here presented are the key ideals underlying democracy, individual liberty, freedom of conscience, and a human wisdom freed from religious dogmas and philosophical imperialisms which have proved essential to the success of the uniquely American perspectives on government, community, and the worth of the individual citizen. Read by the author Jacob Needleman, and additional enhanced with the narrations of Gabriello de Cuir, Stefan Rudnicki, M.E. Willis, and William Windom, The American Soul is whole heartedly recommended to students of American History, Political Science, and Philosophy. (Running Time: 3 hours).
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fanciful (3.5*s), May 13, 2010
By 
J. Grattan (Lawrenceville, GA USA) - See all my reviews
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To the author, America, as an ideal, still represents the standard which nations attempt to emulate, yet he finds an inauthenticity, a shallowness, in the actual practice of Americans and America in regard to such ideals as freedom, community, democracy, well-being, and the like, which, in his estimation, reflects a culturally-sanctioned paucity of character, the lack of well-developed inner-selves. He uses the examples of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson to demonstrate how those with strength of character can have large public impact, while asking for little in return.

To the author, America has always, at least in its finest moments, represented a search for the Good, or that which is best for mankind. The Constitutional Convention of 1787, in its extensive, wise deliberations, is the perfect exemplar of what men with strong personalities can achieve for the greater society. For him, the Constitution provides a practical framework for the external commercial, legal world, but more importantly gives space, or freedom, for the sanctity and growth of individuals.

But he finds that commercialism, materialism, and militarism have overwhelmed the promise of America. Democracy has become essentially a tool to manipulate for self-gain or questionable agendas. He notes the justifying cynical view held by many that the Founders were no less self-interested. The author also decries the fact that Americans have not and do not fully appreciate just how out of step the massacre of America's indigenous population and the enslavement of millions were with our ideals. Basically, it is both an illusion and hypocritical for Americans to maintain that America, in its actual practices, represents the height of human society.

The author's call for a renewed ascendance of America's soul seems fanciful. He wants us to re-mythologize the past, especially our heroes, deemphasizing their shortcomings. It is their inner-selves that we need to emulate. There are no suggestions as to how such a transformation will occur. His quasi-religious sentiments and prescriptions seem at odds with the reasoned understanding that he views as essential. Furthermore, the author does not address the permeation of American society by the values and control of huge corporations. In our land of downsizing, unemployment, and foreclosure, where are the supportive democratic communities that he extols? How does personal growth occur in a dog-eat-dog world?

The detailed look at some of the writings, speeches, and actions of the Founders, as well as Frederick Douglas, is not without interest, but seems overly long and ultimately somewhat pointless. The author sincerely wants to see an America different from what it has become and what he believes it may have once been. He avoids any real discussion of how many early Americans adhered to high-minded principles. Nonetheless, he has a rather quasi-religious faith that perhaps America will change, will come to its senses and reflect our founding ideals. For those with similar hopes, the book will likely be appealing. For others, beyond the interesting history, the book will seem delusional.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vital book, August 2, 2007
By 
Mark Sell (Miami, FL USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders (Paperback)
"You don't know what you have here," A British lover of America tells a shaggy, typically left-leaning group of circa-1974 Bay-area students at the start of this book. "You simply don't know what you have."

Indeed we don't, as Needleman illustrates by the end of this fine book, and it has nothing to do with "patriotism" as often perceived. At this spiritually fraught moment in our nation, this book is a tonic for doubters, and a useful corrective for the smug. While not a difficult read - a high school sophomore would profit from it - this work compels your attention and deserves to be savored one chapter at a time.

Needleman offers us a sober-minded meditation on the spiritual underpinnings of America; the soaring, and deftly revealed, beliefs of the founders (Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Franklin); a fine chapter on Lincoln; bracing chapters on America's two great original sins: the genocide of the Native Americans, with the legend of Hiawatha as a framing device; and the crimes of slavery and racism, with Frederick Douglass brought to compelling life. Tying it all together at the fitting end is Walt Whitman as a bard of a "community of conscience."

With a close, careful reading, a deeper, resonant pattern emerges.

If one is thirsty for inspiration after reading the toxic, persuasive non-fiction books on the current administration and its works (the latest, the outstanding Tragic Legacy by Gary Greenwald), Needleman's book refreshes as an inspiring - and unstinting - reminder of all there is to love in this country.

The nation's greatness, Needleman posits, lies not in its material success, but in the universalist spiritual underpinnings of the "pursuit of happiness," which Needleman persuasively argues is the freedom to discover, in our own ways, the still, small voice in each of us, or, as Lincoln would say, the better angels of our nature. IF European secularism offers us freedom FROM religion, the American secular tradition offers us freedom OF religion, or the recognition that we are each free to explore, or not explore, the divine mysteries in our own, communal and individual ways.

He does not shirk from crimes against Native Americans and African Americans, but goes beyond to a deeper look at their own spiritual traditions and roots, which have blended into the warp and woof of American life. (He does not explore Mormonism, but has a fascinating chapter on the pre-Revolutionary experimental community of Ephrata, Pa.)

This book actually revived my long-shattered belief in American exceptionalism. That exceptionalism is not the brutish sort that much of the world perceives, but a special, carefully thought vision that comes comes from spiritual and philosophical roots in the Enlightenment. It is not simple-minded, or arrogant, or materialistic, or the heedless and even reckless notion of "freedom" that has cost us so dearly.

Needleman concludes with an inviting, modest bibliography for further reading. I read this not as a bibliography but as an invitation, a call to action through service in a humble, open spirit to our communities and our world. We do not need to be mere consumers; we have more power than we know as citizens. We indeed do not know what we have here - we have plenty. As Needleman insists, we ignore that at our peril. This is one of the best books I have read on what it means to be, and why it is special, to be lucky enough to be American.

Yes, the book can get too dramatic and personal at times and can occasionally rankle. In the context of the overall message, though, these are cavils.

I can't help but think of the neglected final lines of the second verse of America, the Beautiful, one that people never sing: "Confirm thy soul in self control; thy liberty in law."
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book for Americans, August 22, 2005
This wise, much-needed book by one of America's distinguished philosophers should be required reading for every American. It goes deeply not only into the great ideals that lie at the heart of the original American vision, but also into its crimes throughout its history. "The crimes of America are as much a part of its meaning as its ideals," Needleman writes, "and to embrace one without the other will lead us nowhere." Needleman shows how it is only through awakening to the real meaning of such ideals as liberty, individuality, self-determination, and conscience that we can "become genuine men and women of the soul."
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The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders
The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders by Jacob Needleman (Paperback - June 2, 2003)
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