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The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil Hardcover – October, 1995

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1st edition (October 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374135665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374135669
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #787,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Columbia University literary scholar Delbanco (The Puritain Ideal) weighs in with a plea for revival not of old-time religion but of the sense of personal responsibility fostered by traditional religious notions of evil. His subject: "the incessant dialectic in American life between the dispossession of Satan under the pressure of modernity and the hunger to get him back." Delbanco argues that in contemporary America, the Devil and the evil the Devil represents are stranded between the liberal tendency to explain heinous acts as the consequence of bad social luck and the fundamentalist hunger to demonize one's enemies. The author takes his most useful notion of evil from St. Augustine by way of Jonathan Edwards, Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King Jr., who, he argues, all saw Satan not as an invading other but as a symbol of "our own deficient love, our potential for envy and rancor toward creation." When we cease being able to imagine and name this evil (whether in horror movies or serious literature or daily conversation), Delbanco argues, it will have truly gained mastery over us. This is serious cultural history, as witty and elegant as it is impassioned. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

That our society absolutely requires a sense of evil to maintain its cultural center forms this work's hue and cry. Irony, which now permeates our modern sensibilities, has come to dominate not only the formation of the American sense of evil but its current obsolete status. In its place is a secular liberalism, a cultural wasteland that Delbanco (The Puritan Ordeal, Harvard Univ. Pr., 1989) claims, "has deluded itself into believing that human beings can manage without any metaphor at all." Steeped in literature, history, and theology, Delbanco's critique of the unique American psyche as discerned through its sons (mainly) grapples with the reality of something we feel "that our culture no longer gives vocabulary to express." Masterly and thoroughly presented, this is a discussion, not a diatribe. Delbanco's national spiritual biography aptly chronicles the modern malaise. Recommended for specialists and informed readers.?Sandra Collins, SLIS, Univ. of Pittsburgh
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 14, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book takes an interesting look at the way in which the modern world has steadily lost its fear of perpetual damnation since we have begun to pull ourselves out of the pit of a lost history. And, in some regard, Delbanco's thesis holds strong. He points out that the loss of fear and belief in the idea or actuality of Satan (depending on how you look at it) has steadily lost its power since the pilgrims landed on the proverbial Plymouth Rock. This book looks at various ideas about fear, evil and modern cynicism, and it leaves the reader with a choice that seems somewhat miniscule at first, but monumental in the long run: What are we to believe about a concept of evil when our Norh American culture works so hard to rid the world of it? Delbanco points to the rise in trully horrific and violent forms of entertainment in the past century.
Overall, it's a great book, with a lot of insight into who we are. Probably, it will be better recieved by religious liberals than cynics and fanatics.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 5, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a rich and subtle book whose prose is so smooth and lucid that it risks masking the depth of its thought. While it is a book of literary and cultural history it has philosophic roots and impulses without the dense language that often accompanies them.

The title is straightforward enough--an account of the ways in which Americans have lost their sense of evil (which was often embodied in a fallen archangel). The author begins with the colonies--the old enemy coming to the new world--and proceeds across history to our own period.

Ultimately, this is a book about secular rationality, secular epistemology, secular relativism--the current world in which intellectual elites (by and large) live and move and try to find their being. There are specific historical arguments. The horrors of the civil war and the first world war, for example, undercut our belief in providence and focused attention on luck and chance. (Of course, the Roman Goddess Fortuna and fortune's wheel were much in evidence in the Middle Ages and Renaissance despite the rise of Christianity, so we are talking here about stresses and emphases, not absolutes.) The rise of science obviated the need for certain religious/quasi-religious explanations. Witches largely disappeared because we had better explanations for human behavior and phenomena.

Still, the need to believe, the hunger for transcendence, persists. Exorcisms are common in popular culture even if they have faded from common experience. Satan might not be the source of explanations in philosophy textbooks, but he is almost surely alive and well at a cineplex near you.

The ultimate inspiration for Delbanco's argument is Augustinian (the Confessions remaining an important text in the general education program at Columbia).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By jordon arwood on November 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
Delblanco brings up many good points in this extremely controversial book: Satan has not died, people simply dont fear him as they used to; why should we when we can blame each other. Evil is a human act. The work of the Devil is everywhere, but no one knows where to find him. Delblanco is very precise and unbiased, although; real evil did exist in Germany during the holocaust, Delblanco dosent blame any one race for evil, but states that evil is the only way for humans to deal with life. Men need to place the blame on somebody, and throughout the ages it has become harder and harder to blame it on an idea like the devil: why not, simply, blame it on someone of another race? Overall this was a very good read, although, it can slow down tremendoulsly, the overall thesis is very easy to believe, and rather scary to think about.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David George Moore on January 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
I have perused different sections of this book over the past several years, but had not given it a careful read. Now that I have read with marker and pencil firmly at hand, I can say it was well worth reading. Delbanco has an amazing grip on history and literature. His insights on American culture are truly stunning. Highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By charlene at Dosido Bookshelf on January 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Andrew Delbanco is such a master of American Studies that he is able to thread a single topic, in this case the character (or caricature) of Satan the devil, through 400 years of history and literature, illustrating with events and authors drawn from his vast knowledge. All the while, his writing is so smooth and accessible that I want to stand and applaud what I think society intends in supporting institutions of higher education.
My response to his analysis of Satan and "the death of Satan," is that his scope does not permit consideration of Satan as a reality. When I look at evil, I see natural/human evil and I see supernatural evil that overtakes the natural world like cancer overtakes the natural body. Examples are the mushrooming of Nazism after WWI; and now, the metastasis of political jihad around the world. It is reported today that terrorists drawn into the Syrian civil war are drinking the blood of their victims, and worse. To me, this behavior goes beyond human evil, and is fanned by a supernatural source. I wonder what Delbanco would think about this. Who could have imagined it when his book was published, almost 20 years ago!
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