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American Heretic: Theodore Parker and Transcendentalism Hardcover – November 25, 2002
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"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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Why is Parker conspicuously absent from the history books?
Grodzins wove together a deft combination of the chronology of Parker's life (up until his leaving the ministry) with analysis of Parker's thinking and actions. I assume Grodzins is working on a book about the last 15 years of Parker's life?
As a Christian conservative, i lamented the movement leftward, so to speak, of Parker's religious thought, but even for that, i gained a lot of insight for that 'move' on the part of Parker and the rest of the transcendentalists.
So moving was Grodzins' description of Parker's mostly unhappy married domestic life, mostly due to the very negative influence of his wife's live-in aunt.
This book does a splendid job of not being a hagiography nor a hatchet-job.
On p. 117, in his personal journal, Parker agrees with Brownson that RW Emerson "is a great Egotist". But Parker was also something of an egotist, always believing that he should have been in a larger, more prominent congregation. It was interesting to note on p. 127 that even in 1839, many Bostonians pronounced the word "Lord" as if it were spelled 'laaawd!'
From p. 127 onward, Grodzins shows how Parker's and others' more 'spiritual' Unitarianism led to a more relativistic morality. Yet on p.142, Parker declared that the family as man, woman and children was ordained by God, and was thus "unchangeable."
Toward the end of the book, Grodzins candidly illustrates that as Parker moved out of the ministry, he changed his priorities, ordering them as: most important "political action," then the economic sphere, matters of the communication press, and only then religion. On p.491, Grodzins opines that Parker overplayed his hand as a modern martyr, as many of his fellow ministers avoided him due to the 'heresy' in the book's title.
Overall, "American Heretic" is well worth your while.