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The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (Early American Studies) Paperback – February 25, 2009


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Product Details

  • Series: Early American Studies
  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press; Reissue edition (February 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812220595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812220599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,648,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Many historians of Revolutionary America have plundered the diaries of Philip Vickers Fithian, but until now no one has satisfactorily told the life story of this great diarist. John Fea's insightful book does just that—and yet more. By showing how Fithian pursued the values of a cosmopolitan Enlightenment, in concert with the values of Presbyterian Christianity and American patriotism, his study reveals much about an enduring American tradition."—Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame



"John Fea has given readers . . . a gift in this delightful biography of diarist Philip Fithian. . . . Fea has captured a multifaceted world that teachers of American history should rush to share with their students."—Dallett Hemphill, author of Bowing to Necessities: A History of Manners in America



"In this absorbing and elegantly written biography, John Fea . . . shows how seismic philosophical upheavals profoundly shaped the life of an ordinary man far from the epicenter. Perhaps Fea's signal contribution is his nuanced reading of the relationship between the Enlightenment and Christianity."—Books & Culture



"A wonderfully teachable volume in undergraduate classrooms. However, it is also a book for specialists . . . for its simultaneously clear and complex explanation of the social an intellectual climate of middling participants in the American Revolution."—Journal of the Early Republic

About the Author

John Fea is Associate Professor of History at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania.

More About the Author

John Fea (Ph.D SUNY-Stony Brook) chairs the history department at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. His writing on early American history has appeared in a variety of scholarly and popular venues. He is the author of *The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in America* (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), *Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian's Vocation* (Notre Dame University Press, 2010); and *Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction* (Westminster/John Knox Press, Feb. 2011). He is currently working on a book about a revolutionary-era "tea party" in the town of Greenwich, New Jersey and a book about Presbyterians in the American Revolution. He blogs daily at www.philipvickersfithian.com

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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This book is a great read for any historian or history buff.
Mary Julia Moore
I appreciate this book because of the lessons which it offers to those who seek self-improvement still today.
T. A. DeShong
It is extremely well written, models careful scholarship, and yet remains accessible for the general reader.
David George Moore

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By T. A. DeShong on April 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Through the brilliant writing of Dr. John Fea, I was introduced to a topic that is always briefly mentioned but never flushed out in most high school history classrooms: the Enlightenment. This movement of ideas consisted of much more than the traditional Europeans one thinks of (Locke, Voltaire); rather; the Enlightenment was a trans-Atlantic movement that spread from European countries to their colonies worldwide. Philip Vickers Fithian, a country boy born and raised in rural New Jersey prior to the American Revolution, comes face to face with these new and exciting ideas and chooses to step away from the family farm.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of Philip's life is the tension in which the Enlightenment ideas which he encounters at Princeton co-exists with his loyalty to his native land. Philip, after experiencing a call from God, plans to become a preacher under the tutelage of one of British America's greatest intellectuals, John Witherspoon. Philip comes to embody the Enlightenment in British America: a shift from narrowly-focused parochialism to a universal love of humanity, a conscientious effort to control one's emotions and "passions", and a desire to improve not only oneself but society at large.

Through the diaries left behind by Philip Vickers Fithian, John Fea has afforded his readers the opportunity to step back into the past and understand what it was like when Enlightenment thinking meshed with Protestant Christianity. I appreciate this book because of the lessons which it offers to those who seek self-improvement still today. Fea allows his readers to live with the tension. Philip, a man who wanted to control his passions, destroyed another couple's relationship because he could never let go of his love for Betsy (his childhood crush).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By hmf22 on December 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a remarkable book. Fea seeks to show how an ordinary, albeit well-educated, American from a rural farming background actually lived the ideals of the Enlightenment: how he blended moral reasoning with his deeply held Presbyterian faith, how he balanced the competing claims of cosmopolitanism and localism, how he cultivated his taste for enlightened conversation and morally uplifting society even when stranded in remote rural pulpits. "Philip's story," writes Fea, "teaches us that the abstract, urban, and elite-centered republic of letters that has so captivated early American historians over the past two decades had a real impact on individual human experience" (211).

While this is, in a broad sense, a study of how Americans lived the Enlightenment, it is also, in a narrower sense, a biography of Philip Vickers Fithian, Presbyterian minister and army chaplain. Fithian died before he reached his thirtieth birthday; his importance lies not so much in what he accomplished in his lifetime as in the intensity with which he chronicled it. Most students of early America are familiar primarily with Fithian's journal of the year he spent as a tutor on Robert Carter's Virginia estate; Fea demonstrates that Fithian's journals and letters from his college years and his early years in the ministry are equally rich. I found the chapters on Fithian's education at Green Hall and the College of New Jersey (Princeton) and on his preaching tours of the Pennsylvania and Virginia backcountry particularly illuminating.

Fea skims over some essential biographical details (I had a hard time locating the date of Fithian's birth, and his siblings are introduced rather late in the book).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By William J. Kauffman on December 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
John Fea's "The Way of Improvement Leads Home" is a lively, thoughtful and informative account of colonial American Philip Vickers Fithian's life as a Presbyterian minister, a Revolutionary War soldier, and a human being struggling with the paradox of being enlightened and yet bound to a sense of place. Fea's narrative is scholarly but also story-driven. His book's overarching theme - the spiritual tension between self-improvement's rootless nature and traditional society's rootedness - has wonderful implications of what "place" means, a concept that needs to be addressed all the more in commodified and homogenized, and altogether rootless 21st-century America. In "The Way of Improvement," Fithian emerges from the pages as an American to glean much from, a spirited figure who valiantly balances self-improvement and "home".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Love To Read on November 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
In "The Way of Improvement Leads Home" I expected a history book that would simply add a piece to the puzzle of my favorite period in history - Early American. But it was much more than that. In addition to being an excellent example of the Colonial mindset, Philip Vickers Fithian's personal journey was simple yet awe-inspiring, a great example for the reader's own personal growth. The author's research, presentation and writing style make this an uplifting page-turner and an excellent read for history buffs and non-history buffs alike. I was sorry to see it end!
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