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American Heretic: Theodore Parker and Transcendentalism Hardcover – November 25, 2002

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A landmark event. . . . Grodzins delivers a wide-ranging and intelligent exploration of his subject, deftly blending narrative and interpretation." -- The New England Quarterly, September 2003


Rich in detail and thorough in scholarship, exploiting fully the manuscript journals and sermons, despite the difficulty of deciphering Parker's handwriting, this biography is persuasive in its analysis of his ideas, his relationship to the times, and his personal life.--Conrad Wright, Harvard Divinity School

This fascinating biography of one of the leading intellectuals in the Transcendentalist movement brings together an intimate insight into Parker's personal life with a vivid depiction of the European cultures that engaged him. Dean Grodzins has opened his subject's inner life and has used it to restore drama and depth to a major phase of American intellectual history.--John Higham, The Johns Hopkins University

An inspired biography, destined for classic status.--Religious Studies Review

A discerning and comprehensive account of Parker's life and thought through 1846. . . . Grodzin's sequel on the last fifteen years of Parker's life will be eagerly awaited.--Journal of American History

Scholars of American religious history owe a debt to Grodzins for a masterful treatment of Parker's life and times. . . . A fresh look at an important figure in American religious history.--Journal of American Academy for Religion

Dean Grodzins's eagerly awaited American Heretic is a tremendous achievement. Vivid, detailed, and wide ranging, it powerfully restores Theodore Parker to us as a major figure, one of our great activist intellectuals, and an inspiration for his world and ours.--Robert D. Richardson, author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Grodzins brilliantly brings Parker to life. . . . [his] rich and textured portrait is buttressed by meticulous scholarship: He has left no available book or journal unopened. . . . Great fun: an elegant, deeply scholarly work that by turns reads like a coming-of-age novel, a conversion narrative, a tragic historical romance, and an intellectual odyssey. . . . A dazzling--and essential--read.--UU World

Grodzins has written what is without a doubt the definitive treatment of the early life of Theodore Parker. . . . For its sheer scale, depth of research, level of clarity, and more, it stands as quite an achievement.--H-SHEAR

Emerson called Theodore Parker 'our Savonarola.' Emerson's proprietary yet generous comparison with the great Italian Renaissance reformer is apt: no other intellectual figure was more important than Parker in shaping, not only Transcendentalism, but also liberal religion and social reform in antebellum America. Dean Grodzins's study gives readers the first half of the first full-scale treatment in well over half a century of Parker's heroic life. In this volume Grodzins is especially good at delineating the theological context of Parker's thought and ministerial career and the poignant but heretofore largely unknown story of his personal life and marriage. Elegantly written and thoroughly researched, Grodzins's biography promises to be the standard life of Parker for our generation and beyond.--Charles Capper, Boston University

The arrival of Dean Grodzin's American Heretic is a landmark event, one that promises to begin the process of reestablishing Parker as the major figure that he was in his time. . . . Grodzins delivers a wide-ranging and intelligent exploration of his subject, deftly blending narrative and interpretation. . . . American Heretic is one of the best biographies we have of a major transcendentalist figure and far away the best one of Parker. It will become essential reading for anyone trying to understand what happened in Boston among the transcendentalists and Unitarians in the 1830s and 1840s.--New England Quarterly

Grodzins provides an intricately remastered portrait of a highly controversial yet profoundly influential scholar and pastor. . . . Far more than an impressive account of a religious figure, American Heretic provides a noteworthy contribution to American intellectual history. . . . Highly recommended.--Choice

Skillfully traces Parker's intellectual evolution. . . . A masterful treatment of Parker's life and times. . . . A fresh look at an important figure in American religious history.--Journal of the American Academy of Religion

This wonderfully written and thoroughly researched biography is not only an important addition to religious history, but also to the broader social and cultural discourse, which was very much incomplete before our introduction to Theodore Parker.--Virginia Quarterly Review

Deeply researched, elegantly written, and [an] altogether convincing portrait of Theodore Parker. . . . Grodzins guides the reader with a sure hand and a clear commitment to Parker. . . . He seamlessly integrates published writings and extensive manuscript resources to capture the nuance, passion, and brilliance of Parker's mind. . . . One of the best antebellum biographies of recent decades.--Journal of the Early Republic

This book uncovers so much new evidence and produces so many gems of original insight into Parker's brilliant yet complex personality that any reader interested in the social or intellectual aspects of the period should profit greatly.--American Historical Review

American Heretic gives us again the Theodore Parker known to his contemporaries in the Transcendentalist movement: biblical scholar, radical theologian, celebrated preacher, antislavery activist, author and editor. Dean Grodzins's capacious scholarship makes Parker's intellectual world clear to the modern reader, even as his sympathetic evocation of Parker's life lets us understand the impulses that gave rise to Parker's famously explosive sermons and books.--Barbara Packer, University of California, Los Angeles

American Heretic . . . [offers] a fair-minded, perceptive, and detailed account of the transcendentalist phase of Parker's career from the early 1830s to 1846.--Journal of Religion


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 631 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1st New edition edition (November 25, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080782710X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807827109
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 7.1 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,778,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Grodzins has written an astonishingly thorough and readable biography of an important but neglected 19th Century American. Parker is one of the most influential Americans of the mid-1800s, a brilliant scholar and powerful preacher who became a crucial figure in our religious and political history.
The book is destined to become the standard biography of Parker for generations. Anyone interested in American political thought and the evolution of American religious doctrine will find this book invaluable. Any New Englander will find this a treasure trove of well-written stories.
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Format: Hardcover
Transcendentalism has never been easy to define, all the more so because its two most well-known adherents, Emerson and Thoreau, were highly poetic souls who had much better uses for their rhetoric than the crafting creeds or clear-cut manifestoes. It is a pleasure then to read Grodzins' biography of Theodore Parker, in whose life and work we can see more clearly the philosophical and personal dramas that played themselves out within the Unitarian Church in regard to its Transcendentalist sympathizers - in particular, the attempts of one Transcendentalist to define his views against the charges of Deism. Religion is a key concern for Transcendentalism, though in Emerson and Thoreau there is no sense that organized religion can play a key role in the individual's enlightenment. Parker remained in the Church as he struggled to know and preach Truth, and gained a large following. Our understanding of Transcendentalism is eminently richer for our appreciation of his struggle.
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Format: Hardcover
This is probably the best biography I've ever read... of anyone. Grodzins must have spent a decade or more scouring the depths of libraries and archives, and yet each chapter is coherent, readable, and fascinating. The book is a thorough account of the life and career of the famous preacher, theologian, and activist Theodore Parker (1810-60), stopping before the final phase of his career, when he moved from preaching to political activism. Grodzins delivers a finely sketched, sympathetic portrait of this complex man. It isn't hagiography - Grodzins notes his shortcomings in painful detail, even delving into his code-written diaries. You see Parker's evolution from a relatively traditional early 18th c. Unitarian Christian to a self-proclaimed prophet of what he thought was the real essence of Jesus' teaching. But the thing I most enjoyed about the book was its thorough picture of Parker's intellectual environment - Transcendentalism, Boston Unitarianism, congretationalism, a few utopians, controversies about Christian ethics, the Trinity, biblical criticism, belief in miracles, religious experience, freedom of conscience, creeds. This is rich, rich stuff. Grodzins provides even-handed summaries of countless books and articles, both by Parker and his friends and foes. He handles the theology and philosophy accurately enough, without bogging down the storylines. You get a real feel for other fascinating characters, and even pictures of them, such as Andrews Norton, William Ellery Channing, and Convers Francis. Grodzins summarizes many complex controversies between Parker and his Unitarian and Orthodox opponents. I could not put this book down! Highly recommended for those interested in 19th c. American history, theology, or philosophy of religion. You'll learn a lot about American religion and theology in the first half of the 19th c.
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How did "the most powerful minister of the mid-19th century" fade away into oblivion. Why is a literary figure, Ralph Waldo Emerson, credited as the father of transcendentalism when this Parker genius who spokes 20 languages, translated a 14th century John Wycliffe bible, is quoted by Pres Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King (quotes currently decorating the oval office), the grandson of a national icon, etc. passed over by history. It's as if Parker's work was given to the less controversial Emerson. The same Emerson who places the "shot heard round the world" at Concord instead of Lexington where Rev Parker's grandfather and his minutemen bravely faced a trained military force with 10 times their number?

Why is Parker conspicuously absent from the history books?
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