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The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders Hardcover – February 4, 2002

4.8 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

San Francisco State philosophy professor and author Needleman (Money and the Meaning of Life) invites readers to contemplate the deeper spiritual meaning of the American legacy of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Finding a deep resonance between the founding principles of this country and the ancient spiritual quest for an inner liberation, Needleman proceeds to examine and "remythologize" the founders and some of their great deeds. Subjective rather than academic, at times lyrical, provocative, and profound, Needleman's new work infuses contemplation with a child's sense (a sense that most of us share) of boundless faith in a place "that accepted one's true inner self, one's inner good will, one's real wish to serve..." The reader is asked to consider Franklin's courageous experimentation ("...the man played and worked with lightening!"), Washington's restraint retiring from the army and later from the presidency rather than exploiting his matchless popularity and political power, Jefferson's brilliant articulation of the value of community, and the sheer gravity and awareness in Lincoln's face. Each man is presented as embodying a different facet of the inner freedom and integrity that is achieved only as one learns to live in accord with conscience that is, with a deeper self that is, Needleman says, allowed to develop in this country. While Needleman clearly finds much to love about America, he balances our light with our darkness, our genuine good will and spirituality with our great crimes of slavery and the genocidal abuse of the American Indian. Decidedly not for strict materialists or historical literalists, Needleman's latest work gives open-minded readers a new set of spiritual role models and much valuable food for thought at a crucial moment.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

An eclectic mixture of autobiography, U.S. intellectual history, philosophical inquiry, and spiritual wonderment, this extended meditative essay examines "America as an Idea" by uncovering the latent wisdom of many of its shining lights Benjamin Franklin, William Penn, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Walt Whitman. Needleman, a philosophy professor and author of Money and the Meaning of Life, reinterprets the lives of each of these leaders in the context of their strong spiritual beliefs and their contributions to unifying a deeply divided body politic. The author liberally quotes classical philosophers, historians, biographers, and the subjects themselves, and he often interjects his own life experiences and spiritual beliefs into his loosely structured narrative. Needleman also tackles what he considers to be America's two most grievous historical blemishes the murder of Native American culture and slavery and suggests how America should confront these wrongs. Though repetitive and sometimes overly dramatic, this unique look at the spiritual meaning of America should resonate with scholars and lay readers alike, especially during this time of national crisis. For academic and larger public libraries. Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib., CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher; First Edition edition (February 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585421383
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585421381
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This timely, provocative book combines and shows the relationship between two large themes: a)the nature and importance of spiritual and religous values and b) the nature and spiritual character of American democray, with all its flaws. I was struck to find this book and the manner in which Needleman developed his themes. In broad outline, Needleman's preocupations are my own. Without agreeing with everything he said, I came away from his book with my own ideas clarified and strengthened -- and a bit envious of Needleman's eloquence and ability to put his ideas into print.
Needleman draws a double picture of American freedom and its use. One picture is that freedom means everyone does simply as he or she pleases. This is, for Needleman, an America which has been criticized by many for its materialism, its emphasis on growth, its sole focus on the profit motive, its greed, racism, and, sometimes, bellicosity.
The other America is a spiritual American whose ideas of freedom and democracy was founded upon religous and metaphysical ideas of the nature of man, human commonality, the uniqueness of each person, and the search inward of each person for what is valuable and important. The ideal of democracy on this view is not simple pursuit of material wealth but rather a turning inward so that each person may pursue life and truth in his or her own way.
And what is the relationship between these two concepts of America? How do we help transform the one into the other?
Needleman's answer is in part a study of the wisdom literature common to all religions and great philosophy of life. (Needleman evidences a great deal of impatience with standard church or synagogue-going. He argues that he himself has found such conventional forms of religion sterile and routine.
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Format: Hardcover
No matter how much I dislike the oversimplifications of broad, emotionally loaded categories, I have always had to admit that I fall into two common ones. The first is "spiritual." The second is "patriot." How odd, at first glance! Aren't they rather contradictory? Am I a redneck if I put (as I have done since September 11th) an American flag on my car? It's puzzled me, as well as others.
Needleman's American Soul clarifies (I almost said "dispels," but it doesn't really make the mystery go "away," it deepens and enriches it) the mystery for me: without being in any way blind to human shortcomings, he reminds us of the spiritual ideals that this country was founded on and which can still be effective agents in life if we seek and create the America inside our souls. Our founders, like Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin were not naïve idealists who ignored the abundant greed, folly and hatred that existed then, exists now, and has always existed. The external form they created in the Constitution recognized these and created a system that could keep them in check, while promoting a unique societal climate that allowed for the spiritual growth (they called it "Reason," but meant far more than contemporary logic chopping) in both individuals and the community. Exploring the details of this is fascinating! For instance:
"... Scholarly controversies aside, the fact is that many of the ideals that Americans now consider definitive of our nation were introduced and developed by these mystical communities, and the original and deeper meaning of these ideals may be astonishingly different than what we now understand of them. For example, the ideas of human equality and independence in these communities are rooted in the notion that God, or "the inner light,?
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Format: Paperback
Going to school at San Francisco State University, I am often confronted with cynical views of America. After going through four years at one of the most "liberal" schools in the country I could say that I to was very discouraged with my country and at times disgraced by the fact that I was a citizen of a nation riddled with such hypocracy.
With Needleman's book "The American Soul" I received great hope for myself and my country. While acknowledging the crimes of America, Needleman shows that the roots of this country are based on the freedom of the individual to pursue their own growth of "character" in light of bettering the whole of America. The flaws we now see in our country are simply a drifting from this ideal and a reflection of the lost individuals which compose our vast nation. It is not a single corrupt politition nor some unjust law which taint this great country, but a compilation of individual citizens who have all, in some way, lost sight of their role and purpose in supporting the whole of our nation.
"The American Soul" is a philosophical guide book on how to be a better American citizen which transends the dualities of liberalism and conservativism. It is a light of hope in our often depressing world.
After reading a book of such depth and conviction, one may wonder if the man speeking of such high ideas actually has the ability to live in such a manner himself. For that I am truely fortunate to have had Jacob Needleman as a professor at San Francisco State and can verify that he is a man of more integrity, joy and dedication than any I have met. Anyone who has the chance to meet this amazing human being will see that for themselves.
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