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William Sloane Coffin, Jr.: A Holy Impatience Hardcover – March 10, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From the mid-20th century until now, Coffin has served as the prophetic conscience of a nation divided by race, war and economic injustice. In this compelling and eloquent biography, Goldstein captures the enigmatic nature of the great preacher and activist who came to be called the voice of American Protestant liberalism. Drawing on interviews with Coffin's friends and family as well as on unprecedented access to his archives, Goldstein begins with Coffin's privileged early life in a wealthy family committed to helping in various social causes, then highlights his stint as a second lieutenant in the army. After the war, Coffin studied at Yale, where he discovered the significance of religion as a cultural force, and at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where his uncle, Henry Sloane Coffin, had been president. Although he spent only one year at Union, his study there amongst the giants of theology and social activism—Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and John Bennett—cemented his commitment to social justice and the ministry. With the advent of the Civil Rights movement, Coffin threw himself headlong into the fray; he participated in 1961 in the Freedom Rides and in various demonstrations, and later joined Benjamin Spock and Daniel Berrigan in actively protesting the Vietnam War. Goldstein captures Coffin's fervent commitment to helping others as well as his flaws as a husband and father. Coffin remains one of America's most important cultural figures, and Goldstein's first-rate biography provides a deeply appreciative and unflinchingly honest tale worthy of its celebrated subject.
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From Booklist

Although saying that William Sloane Coffin Jr. "remains the last of a once flourishing breed in American public life: the liberal Protestant minister preaching to the nation's faith and conscience" seems hyperbolic, he is definitely one of the most influential religious figures of the twentieth century. Goldstein paints him as the successor to Martin Luther King Jr., and the liberal Protestant counterpart to Billy Graham--characterizations that illuminate political and religious fissures of great significance in twenty-first-century America. Goldstein's life of Coffin is also a compelling biography of twentieth-century American liberalism that delves right down to liberalism's anticommunist, conservative, patriarchal, and privileged roots. Goldstein wisely gives Rabbi Arnold Wolf and Coffin himself the last words. According to Wolf, Coffin is, politically, "not particularly radical, courageous in a personal way, but not particularly vanguard or unusual," yet a "real" and "authentic" preacher, "giving classical Christian sermons based on the Bible." Authenticity permeates even the more troubled aspects of Coffin's life, and life, according to Coffin, is an "instrument" to be played by God. Steven Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300102216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300102215
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,261,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By inkstone on June 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In one of Paul's letters (I think it's Timothy), Paul speaks of "fighting the good fight"-- and Coffin has fought the good fight his entire life. Coffin's passion, courage, empathy and ability to inspire are cherished by all who have had the privilege of knowing him (as I have). For those old enough to remember the 1960s, this book will rekindle the embers of your idealism; for those too young, it will provide a primer in how to speak truth to power and translate faith into action. This is essential reading for all who seek to keep alive the tradition of dissent that holds our government accountable to the principles it was founded on, and deliver a thunderous "No" to both injustice at home and the ongoing horror in Iraq.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Arthur R. Krieck on January 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is the third biography I've read about a person whom I know well, and I must say that of the three, it succeeds the most at bringing its subject to life. It reads like a long visit with this extraordinary man, and it's filled with much detail about the rich life he's lived.

I have one major issue with this book. WSC's decade as Senior Minister of Riverside Church in New York was perhaps the high point of his life. His life-affirming and thought-provoking preachng reached its widest audience from Riverside's pulpit. As pastor and friend, to me and many others, he had a great and wide-reaching influence. Twenty years later I still quote him and talk about him. In the course of his tenure there, Bill met and worked with perhaps the most diverse and challenging group of people he'd ever dealt with in his life, in the congregation, among the lay leadership, and on the large staff. I admired his enthusiastic response to this challenge: he embraced it wholeheartedly and fearlessly, always willing to stretch his mind and heart, while maintaining his integrity as a person committed to some very controversial causes, with which some people at Riverside most decidedly did NOT agree.

In spite of this, the author seems to give this rich period of Bill's life only a quick once over. It's as if by this point in the book he lost interest in his subject and distanced himself from the project. As a result, he gives only a bare-bones picture of what this most important period in William's life was like, and how Bill responded to it.
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