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Errand into the Wilderness New Ed Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674261556
ISBN-10: 0674261550
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Perry Miller has corrected the extreme revisionist historians who have overstressed the authoritarian and even totalitarian aspects of Puritan political doctrine. Miller corrects the balance by bringing out the inherent individualism of American Puritanism, its respect for private conscience, and even the revolutionary implications nurtured by Puritan doctrine....He has given us an analysis of the Puritan mind which is subtle and sophisticated, profound and humane, and revised in the light of the most recent scholarship. (Richard B. Morris New York Times Book Review)

Professor Miller has assembled materials which would otherwise not be easily accessible and which, taken together, present new perspectives on the dominant Christian origin of American political doctrine and civilization. Beginning with the Puritans and their preoccupation with orthodoxy and continuing with the Quakers, the Congregationalists, Calvinists, and Unitarians, he interprets each from the point of view of its place in social and political change....Dominant figures such as Hooker, Jonathan Edwards, and Emerson are brought to life with understanding. The chapter on the various theories and prophecies on the end of the world brings the record up to the present. The author's impressive knowledge of the subject and his persistent research are evident throughout. (Library Journal)

About the Author

Perry Miller (1905-1963) was an historian and literary critic. He is the author of numerous books, including the Life of the Mind in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1956, Jonathan Edwards, Errand into the Wilderness, American Thought: Civil War to World War I, and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province.
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Product Details

  • Series: Belknap Press
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The Belknap Press; New Ed edition (1956)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674261550
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674261556
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on August 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
When I was pursuing my Ph.D. in American history more than twenty years ago Perry Miller's studies of Puritan New England represented required reading on this religious group and its settling in North America. Having just reread this volume, originally published in 1956, Miller's work still offers insight into the Puritan mindset. He argues in this book that the Puritans came to America not so much in search of a better livelihood so much as in search of a better world. The quest for a perfect society motivated them beyond all else. I recommend "Errand into the Wilderness" both as an important statement of the intellectual history of the Puritans and an enthralling reading experience by one of the masters of American colonial history.

"Errand into the Wilderness" is a collection of ten essays, mostly previously published, on various aspects of colonial intellectual history. All but one of them deals with Puritan thought, but the one on the Virginia colony also emphasizes the religious/intellectual nature of the "errand" to create a more perfect society in North America. The Puritans explicitly accepted the mission of an "errand into the wilderness" to establish God's kingdom, serving as a beacon to England of what it should become as well. Essays with titles like, "The Marrow of Puritan Divinity," "The Puritan State and Puritan Society," "The Rhetoric of Sensation," and "The End of the World" trace an overriding concern for the salvation of humanity through increasing "perfection" in this life. The utopian element of Puritan thought comes through clearly in these essays, and they present a compelling element of the American experience. Making the world a better place has long been the "stuff" of the American character.
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Format: Paperback
For those wishing to begin learning about Puritan theology, this book is probably the best starting point there is. The book is a collection of essays covering different aspects of the Puritan experience and their belief system. This is intellectual history, and some chapters are quite difficult. Most chapters, however, are highly readable and easy to comprehend. An excellent follow-up book, which disputes the idea of a decline in Puritan piety over the generations, is Harry S. Stout's "The New England Soul." Recommended for any college level reading person.
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Format: Paperback
Perry Miller's collection of essays ranges from his stomping ground of the Puritans to Virginia and elsewhere in colonial history. Throughout, the most blindingly brilliant American intellectual historian of the twentieth century displays his craft. Unlike his magisterial histories of the New England Mind, these tend to be somewhat easier to follow, as his themes were more compact. If you haven't read Perry Miller, you're missing a first-class thinker; at the least, there's no more important colonial historian, although many are more easily accessible.
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Format: Paperback
Perry Miller's "Errand Into the Wilderness" more than any other book I've read in a long time makes you realize sometimes how little education our educational institutions actually provide. Think of the Puritans. The word conjures up images of earnest, hard-working folk bedecked in golden buckles and ruffles eager to spread their moral superiority to anyone within earshot. We think of their biggest accomplishment as managing to survive disease and pestilence for so long, despite their backward ways. The history we know of the Puritans is a history of events - things they did, their names, their travels. Miller's fascinating book opens up Puritan history for those interested in intellectual history - a history of ideas, theology, and polity. And what a fascinating world he uncovers.

While the main focus here is Puritanism, Miller does occasionally do a bit of wandering; some of the latter essays explore Emerson and the formation of American nationalist ideology. There are ten essays, all of which are full of the enticing, meaty history of ideas, so I won't be able to cover all the ground of the book here, though I would like to give a short précis of some of those essays which I thought to be the most impressive.

The book's title comes from one Samuel Danforth, whose sermon "A Brief Recognition of New England's Errand into the Wilderness" sets the existential, searching tone whose tenor can be found in each one of these essays. In the title essay, Miller notes the dual meaning of the word "errand." It can mean a task done by an inferior for a superior, or it can refer to the task alone, the very action itself. The first generation of Puritans to set foot on North American soil never thought of themselves as Americans.
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Format: Paperback
As a young man, Perry Miller looked for adventure in Africa. As he describes in the introduction to this book, he was watching American gasoline being unloaded at a riverside dock in the Congo when he unexpectedly had a kind of epiphany. "What I believe caught my imagination, among the fuel drums, was a realization of the uniqueness of the American Experience." Like his hero, Edward Gibbon, who was inspired to write a history of Rome after hearing monks chant at the Pantheon, Miller felt called to expound "his America." Gibbon had written of the beginning of a fall; Miller set out to write, "the beginning of a beginning." His scholarship would eventually take him to a history professorship at Harvard and to the production of a series of remarkable books, of which this was the first. The others are two volumes on The New England Mind, and an unfinished work called The Life of the Mind in America.

Starting at the beginning meant examining the Puritan migration which followed the earliest settlements in Massachusetts. Warned that this neglected corner of history would be a career destroyer, Miller went ahead, and found himself--a lifelong atheist--wading into 17th Century Calvinist theology. In an admirable feat of intellectual honesty, he mastered the subject, and presents it to his 20th Century audience as a comprehensible system of thought and morality. Since the foundational ideas of America were theological, the religious outlook of New England had to be taken seriously, and on its own terms.

We can sample Professor Miller's approach by summarizing the chapter called "The Marrow of Puritan Divinity," the longest chapter in the book, and the most scholarly and impressive:

The Christian church in 17th Century New England had a problem, and his name was John Calvin.
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