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The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power Hardcover – May 20, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Checking in on a friend's brother at Ivenwald, a Washington-based fundamentalist group living communally in Arlington, Va., religion and journalism scholar Sharlet finds a sect whose members refer to Manhattan's Ground Zero as "the ruins of secularism"; intrigued, Sharlet accepts on a whim an invitation to stay at Ivenwald. He's shocked to find himself in the stronghold of a widespread "invisible" network, organized into cells much like Ivenwald, and populated by elite, politically ambitious fundamentalists; Sharlet is present when a leader tells a dozen men living there, "You guys are here to learn how to rule the world." As it turns out, the Family was established in 1935 to oppose FDR's New Deal and the spread of trade unions; since then, it has organized well-attended weekly prayer meetings for members of Congress and annual National Prayer Breakfasts attended by every president since Eisenhower. Further, the Family's international reach ("almost impossible to overstate") has "forged relationships between the U.S. government and some of the most oppressive regimes in the world." In the years since his first encounter, Sharlet has done extensive research, and his thorough account of the Family's life and times is a chilling expose.
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“One of the most compelling and brilliantly researched exposes you’ll ever read—just don’t read it alone at night!” (Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch)

“Of all the important studies of the American right, THE FAMILY is undoubtedly the most eloquent. It is also quite possibly the most terrifying.” (Thomas Frank, New York Times bestselling author of What's the Matter with Kansas?)

“An astounding entrée to a fascinating Christian network unknown to most Americans. . . . A must-read for any American who wants to know who is actually pulling the strings at the highest levels of power.” (Heidi Ewing, co-director Jesus Camp)

“This is a gripping, utterly original narrative about an influential evangelical elite that few Americans even know exists. . . . The Christian Right will never look the same again.” (Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: the Life of William Jennings Bryan and The Populist Persuasion: An American History)

“[Sharlet] has managed to infiltrate the most influential and secretive fundamentalist network in America, and ground his reporting in the most astute and original explanation of fundamentalism I’ve ever read. . . . Indispensable.” (Hanna Rosin, former religion reporter for the Washington Post and author of God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save the Nation)

“I was once an insider’s insider within fundamentalism. Unequivocally: Sharlet knows what he’s talking about. . . . Those who want to be un-deceived (and wildly entertained) must read this disturbing tour de force.” (Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy For God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back)

“Un-American theocrats can only fool patriotic American democrats when there aren’t critics like Jeff Sharlet around—careful scholars and soulful writers who understand both the majesty of faith and the evil of its abuses. A remarkable accomplishment in the annals of writing about religion.” (Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America)

“Jeff Sharlet provides a fascinating account of how part of American Christianity has gone off on a dangerous tangent. It should worry everyone—maybe especially those of us who understand the Gospels to be a call to help the powerless, not prop up the powerful.” (Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and The Bill McKibben Reader)

“Jeff Sharlet is one of the very best writers covering the politics of religion. Brilliantly reported and filled with wonderful anecdotes, THE FAMILY tells the story of an influential group that you haven’t previously heard of, and need to know about.” (Ken Silverstein, Washington editor of Harper's and author of The Radioactive Boy Scout)

“A brilliant marriage of investigative journalism and history, an unsettling story of how this small but powerful group shaped the faith of the nation in the 20th century and drives the politics of empire in the 21st. Anyone interested in circles of power will love this book.” (Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (May 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060559799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060559793
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (234 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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, winner of the Utne/Alternative Press Award, and, 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

This book should be on everyone's "must read" list.
This is one of the very few books of recent years that has kept me up most of the night reading.
Timothy Meadows
A dispassionate, well researched, and very well written book.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

525 of 570 people found the following review helpful By R. Stuart on June 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A compellingly brilliant account of power in America and how it's shaped by religion. 'The Family' chronicles the ideas advanced by the elite Christian fundamentalist group of that name at the highest levels of government during the past half century. Through its White House and congressional connections, the Family has influenced the deployment of US power, especially in foreign policy during the Cold War and beyond. Led by the talented and Machiavellian Doug Coe, the group has operated sub-rosa in the corridors of power unhindered by democratic accountability.

Jeff Sharlet, a scholar-writer on the nexus of religion & politics, pursues three goals in this remarkable book: (1) To trace elite fundamentalism's lineage from Jonathan Edwards in the 18th c. through the 19th c. religious leader Charles Finney to the present; (2) To demonstrate the Family's behind the scenes role in deployment of American power; and (3) To challenge the purely secular American historical narrative by arguing the role of religion behind the facade of formal power.

Sharlet accomplishes the first objective with verve, the Finney chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Based on his research in the Family's archives, the second goal is achieved, especially on the group's involvement in blunting US de-Nazification policy in postwar Germany, facilitating Indonesia's Suharto's crushing of East Timor, and encouraging the Somalian dictator and other similar types. The author's third challenge is the most ambitious, but I believe he meets it.

In fact, if the critical sociologist C. Wright Mills who wrote the influential 'The Power Elite' (1956) were alive today, I expect he'd be among the first to welcome 'The Family' revelations on the secretive role of Coe's elite "followers of Christ in government, business, and the military" in the projection of American power.
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436 of 474 people found the following review helpful By Peter Manseau on June 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Family is the best book available on the Christian right precisely because it unpacks the ways in which the people often described as such are neither Christian nor right. I don't mean that in the bumper sticker sense - I don't buy (and Sharlet does not suggest) that this elite group of religiously motivated power players are not real Christians because of their political interests (even if the group itself sometimes prefers not to use the word). Rather, he makes the case that such easy categorization does not do justice to, or sufficiently warn against, their actual influence and reach. The story we are often told - that there are "fundamentalists" and "evangelicals" who are easily understood because they are somehow separate from the world the rest of us live in, hidden in megachurches making megaplans -- is not found in this book. Instead, like a carpet expert explaining the patterns in an intricately woven Persian rug, Sharlet shows us how strands of fundamentalism have been woven into the fabric of the nation's history.

As a journalist, I know and have worked with Jeff Sharlet, but then everyone who writes about religion does or should. His work is particularly popular among writers who cover religion because he tells a story that many wish they were allowed to tell. The history recounted in The Family is one most media outlets deem too complex for the average reader. (What in the world does union busting have to do with religion? A lot, in fact.) Sharlet does not regard complexity as something to be avoided, however, and his true talent is in finding just the right key for unlocking it.
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122 of 132 people found the following review helpful By ophelia99 on July 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Family is the most powerful political organization you have never heard of. Its members have included a host of congressmen and senators, including some who chair important committees, CEOs of major corporations, senior officers in the military, leaders of foreign nations, members of the Supreme Court, and at least one president of the United States. It is a vast network of "prayer cells" of two or three individuals who see themselves as God's agents on earth.

The Family, as it is most commonly known, is like some immense, deep-sea leviathan that is only rarely glimpsed on the surface. Yet it is seen, like the Punxsutawney groundhog, at least once a year. This event is called the National Prayer Breakfast where the Family makes an effort to appear ecumenical and harmless. It is rather as if once a year Hannibal Lechter made a public appearance disguised as Mr. Rogers.

What is known as the Family began with a clergyman named Abraham Vereide in Depression-era Seattle. Vereide, or Abram, as he is referred to by the Family, looked upon workers who went on strike to secure enough pay to feed their families as agents of Satan. He was convinced that the Kingdom of God would be secured if the best among us, the rich that is, guided by Jesus Christ, made decisions for the rest of us unfettered by such messy things as democracy and the rule of law. If the poor could be made to see that God intended them to be poor and humbly accept their lot all would be well.

Abram, as one might have guessed, regarded the New Deal as an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.

Abram was a very effective salesmen for this idea among wealthy businessmen in Seattle. The Family grew through members recruiting new members who were either wealthy or in positions of authority.
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