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522 of 567 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compellingly brilliant account of power in America
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...
Published on June 5, 2008 by R. Stuart

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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book gets a five star but the Kindle edition of it gets one star.
The Family

I won't bother you with my review of the book... read any one of the current 67 Five-Star rated reviews and you'll come across many of the same reasons I enjoyed the book.

My intention for this review is to WARN the potential buyer of the Kindle edition of "The Family" that the footnotes (and there are MANY) are NOT hyperlinked as they...
Published on October 10, 2009 by Patrick J. Felke


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522 of 567 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compellingly brilliant account of power in America, June 5, 2008
By 
R. Stuart (Boston, MA United States) - See all my reviews
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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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432 of 470 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important now, and for years to come, June 1, 2008
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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. He frames keen-eyed analysis and impeccable research within a gripping narrative that lets readers with even a passing interest in the ways religion has influenced American life and politics understand it in a nuanced way.

In an election season in which religion again and again rears its head, this book is particularly relevant. Yet its importance will not fade any time soon. The Family is a hundred year history that shows how we got to this strange place where candidates are forced to damn or defend pastors and everyone must genuflect to the idea that God is a part of the political process. The use of the word "secret" in the subtitle might imply to some that Sharlet is describing a hidden reality. After reading the book, signs of the Family's influence will be obvious to anyone with eyes to see.
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120 of 130 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God likes the poor, but loves the rich, July 4, 2008
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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. Over time, the Family's theology has been stripped down to "Jesus plus nothing." Members are expected to have surrendered themselves to Jesus Christ, but are certainly not asked to perform such unseemly acts as giving what they have to the poor or turning the other cheek. A prospective member gets reassurance that he (there are women involved, but with a few notable exceptions they have about as much power as the members of a ladies' auxiliary at a Moose lodge) has got Jesus watching over him, has his sins forgiven, and is now serving Jesus in everything he does. He gets to keep his power, his wealth, his vices. He is even able to tell himself that he is humble, or at least as humble as a man can be who reminds himself every day that he is one of God's elect.

And he gets one hell of a network or powerful connections.

What makes this different from other books on the Religious Right I've read, some of them quite good on facets of this phenomenon, is that those other books are about the more public, plebeian kind of fundamentalism one finds operating out in the open. Few participants in that kind of fundamentalism even know that the ethics-free kind of fundamentalism practiced by the Family exists. Sharlet does discuss how those fundamentalists fit into the plans of their elite brethren, as well as provide a rich and detailed history of fundamentalism and evangelical Protestantism from Jonathan Edwards (who encouraged an obviously disturbed woman to starve herself to death in a fit of religious fervor) onwards. If you are going to read only one book about the Religious Right, this is the one to select.
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265 of 294 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but worthwhile, June 18, 2008
This is one of the very few books of recent years that has kept me up most of the night reading. Those who discount the power of the type of schmoozing Sharlet describes have not spent much time working in and around government. I would recommend a trilogy: add to this book Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine and John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience and you will get a pretty fair picture of the cynical, amoral manipulators who have been at the heart of our recent history and why they have been so successful. It's a difficult read, but so what? I was struck with the thought that Sharlet is actually describing a cult. In this case, the cult revolves around the idol of Jesus, who offers the monumental advantage of being dead and therefore never showing clay feet, nor contradicting the pronouncements made in his name. Thus, the greedy can more freely persuade the gullible to be happy with their lot in life. We need many more investigative journalists like Sharlet.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One More Piece of the Puzzle, February 23, 2009
By 
Dena (Washington) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Hardcover)
Personal experience, extensive research, and a good story combine to make this a worthwhile read.

"The Family" is a group of powerful, authoritarian, fundamentalists who have become interwoven with American and international power. The Family believes in "leadership," a "fetishized term for power," and an end in itself. Ultimately, the Family seeks to establish God's kingdom on earth.

Few have the access to Washington power enjoyed by the Family. Over the years, membership has included many of the country's political and industrial elite. Among them: Henry Ford, Ed Meese, Sam Brownback, Strom Thurmond, John Ashcroft, David Kuo, Richard Lugar, Mark Hatfield and James Baker.

The Family has also cultivated powerful men around the globe, including Angola's brutal Jonas Savimbi, Brazil's General Costa e Silva and Indonesia's Suharto who murdered half a million of his own countrymen. Doug Coe, the present day leader of the Family, notes: "I do what Jesus did: I don't turn my back to anyone. You know the Bible is full of mass murderers."

In conversation with a member of the Family, Sharlet notes: "I tried to persuade her that the Family was a secret, undemocratic organization that aided and abetted dictators. She agreed only she thought that was a good thing."

In watching American politics play out, I often find myself with a surreal feeling. Some things just don't make sense. Sharlet's book is a peek behind at least one of the curtains that hide those who shape our world.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant, Scary, Witty Eye-Opener, July 11, 2008
By 
S. Kim (Seoul, South Korea) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The Family is much more than an expose into some shadowy religious group with political aspirations. Jeff Sharlet's book is a brilliant dissection and contextualization of the makings and workings of a political powerhouse that gained its following by tapping into mythic American ideals, has tasked itself with making Jesus America's main export, and has fine-tuned how to operate in the political sphere to ensure "a leadership led by God" across the globe. There are many things that make this book so good, but especially notable is how expertly Sharlet charts the evolutionary course of American fundamentalism and The Family's ascendency to power through the lens of politics and culture wars from the 1930s through today.

In a whirlwind through recent history, Sharlet shows us everywhere the fingerprint of the organization that eventually became The Family. The Family found its calling in the tumultuous post-WW America that was forced to deal with Labor on the home front and to grapple with new ideas about modern nations and internationalism. It found its focus during the Cold War when it backed small nation allies as the new Christian frontier. And in the culture wars of 60s and 70s and in the 80s moratorium on those previous two decades, the Family figured out that its best bet was to take a trickle-down approach to faith from the elite to the masses and to practice the "quiet diplomacy" that George H. Bush praised it for. Today, The Family has become the oil to the political machinery of connections and mutual back-scratching.

I met Jeff Sharlet when we spent a few weeks at the same artists' colony where he struck many as someone who's as intellectually gifted as he's curious, and it's no surprise that his book is equally rigorous in its examination as it is humanizing of the people he writes about. Forget the shady figures of smoke-filled backrooms. The people of The Family are neither naively misled nor simply reactionary; their leaders are keen tacticians whose actions are grounded deeply in religious thought, in nationalism, and in a sense of providential duty.

This is a book of big ideas, but to Sharlet's credit, it's one that was compelling and entirely comprehensible even to this reader with little knowledge about Washington or fundamentalism. It's also filled with some hilarious anecdotes (there's an attempted seduction to sway the author from writing his tell-all) and a host of characters not likely to be grouped together(Billy Graham, General Suharto, the Black Buffers, and Hillary Clinton, really?). It's the story of one scary marriage of American empire and gospel that Sharlet manages to tell with a gentle wittiness. The Family is the hand that will feed you what's good for you (American democracy, free enterprise, military aid, education) even if you don't know yet that it's good for you.

Sharlet doesn't just unmask the wizard behind the curtain; he outlines the unobservable architecture of how political deals get made. The Family is frightening for its invisibility, its insidiousness, and the staying power it will have, in part because it operates in the language and beliefs of what America is about. Sharlet's book is an eye-opener and truly important in a time when the US's relationship with the rest of the world is challenged with a different urgency, and when political responses are played out again in the context of religious and cultural wars.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating investigative report, July 11, 2008
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I have been following Jeff Sharlet's "The Revealer:a daily review of religion and the press" ([...] some time and have come to respect his thorough and even-handed approach to religious reporting. It was through that site that I became aware of "The Family," and, being interested in the history of American religion and issues of church and state, I ordered it.
It was not long before I began to wonder if I had stumbled into some kind of paranoid fantasy rivaling the Illuminati, but was reassured by Sharlet's careful documentation and the fact that one of his sources is a friend of mine. When I checked with the friend (whose judgment I respect highly) he confirmed what Sharlet had written.
Sharlet is a marvelous writer. At times I found myself simply marveling at the beauty of the language and the tightly-woven structure. He can pack more information into a single sentence than many authors can in a whole page. He is able to explain the intricacies of the Christian right- its history, attitudes, and interactions with the culture at large- in clear, understandable language.
The one critique I would have of the book as a whole is that Sharlet tends to lump conservative Christian groups under the single rubric of "fundamentalist." While that might work as shorthand for what he is trying to discuss here, it blurs the very real differences between Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and many other sympathetic subgroups.
Still, I recommend this book highly to anyone who wants to understand the dynamic relationship of conservative Christianity and the political scene in America today.
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66 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nuanced and complex, June 4, 2008
Because I have had a professional relationship with Jeff Sharlet in the past, and cannot approach The Family as a single work (instead viewing it with the respect and admiration I have for all Sharlet's writing) I was not going to review this book. However, the idiocy of the above rant requires me to say this:

This book is as complicated and nuanced as the religio-political landscape of our very tricky world. For this very reason, many people will NOT understand it. Sharlet has not dumbed anything down. He has not reduced the world to a two-party system, or pandered top our need for answers (that do not exist). Instead, he has approached his topic with an eye for connectedness and complexity. Remaining at hall times a sharp eye, a brilliant writer, and an honest man He has done this at no small cost to himself.

If certain readers want simpler answers, they have FOX news. For those of you willing to stretch a little, Jeff Sharlet has written an amazing book.
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105 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important look at a group we brush off too often, June 4, 2008
By 
Tamar E. Fox (Jerusalem, Israel) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
People seem to be writing off the Christian right as no longer relevant and not as powerful as before, but Jeff Sharlet's book uncovers some of the frighteningly deep roots that the Christian right, and especially The Family have in our political system. Sharlet's reporting is top knotch, and the writing is captivating. I recommend it to anyone who wonders about church, state, the religious right, and the way religious groups orchestrate legislation and diplomacy.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book gets a five star but the Kindle edition of it gets one star., October 10, 2009
By 
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This review is from: The Family (Kindle Edition)
The Family

I won't bother you with my review of the book... read any one of the current 67 Five-Star rated reviews and you'll come across many of the same reasons I enjoyed the book.

My intention for this review is to WARN the potential buyer of the Kindle edition of "The Family" that the footnotes (and there are MANY) are NOT hyperlinked as they should be. I'm not sure if this is something that Amazon or the actual publisher of the book does in creating a Kindle edition of a book but... non-hyperlinked footnotes makes reading this book via a Kindle a total nightmare.

So: ***WARNING THE KINDLE EDITION OF "THE FAMILY" DOES NOT HAVE HYPERLINKED FOOTNOTES!***
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The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
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