- Paperback: 680 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 17, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195395964
- ISBN-13: 978-0195395969
- Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 1.8 x 5.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,593,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Faith and the Presidency From George Washington to George W. Bush 1st Edition
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"Wonderfully informed...one could do far worse than approach his text as an alternative biographical portrait of certain chief executives. But he does such a fantastic job of explicating the Presidents' career trajectories by means of their religious convictions that the book is in fact far more than this."
--Journal of American Studies
"At a time when presses (and readers) groan under the weight of panicky punditry on religion and the presidency, it is a welcome relief to possess Smith's well-researched, balanced and fair-minded study of a perennially interesting topic."
About the Author
Gary Scott Smith chairs the History Department and coordinates the Humanities Core at Grove City College where he has taught since 1978. He is the author or editor of six books, including God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government (1989) and The Search for Social Salvation: Social Christianity and America, 1880-1925 (2000).
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Top Customer Reviews
On the other hand, Smith is so careful to present all the major viewpoints (with ample quotations) concerning his eleven subjects that he scarcely leaves time for his own analysis. The reader, moreover, may feel that he is being offered a sumptuous buffet, but that ultimately the choice of which food to accept and which to reject is up to him. On G.W., for example, Smith writes: "Washington's religious views were shaped by parents, his half-brother Lawrence, the teachings and practices of the Episcopal Church, the ideas of the Enlightenment, the tenets of Freemasonry, his wife, Martha, and his military and political experiences" (p. 26). This explains everything and nothing. The author needs to guide, not merely report.
Similarly, with respect to Jefferson, Smith recreates the third president's social and intellectual milieu, but leaves many choices for the reader. "Examining Jefferson's religious socialization," Smith writes, "pattern of church attendance, approach toward worship and prayer, the thinkers who shaped his worldview, and his views of God, Jesus, human nature, morality, education, life after death, and the Bible provides insight into his life and his presidency" (p. 55). Now, admittedly, these all-inclusive generalities are followed by much more specific data -- in Jefferson's case, e.g., by a reference to the "metaphysical insanities" of Athanasius (p. 59) or to the "unlettered and ignorant men" who had turned the simple teachings of Jesus into unintelligible mishmash (p. 65). In these and other instances, however, concerning Smith's exposition, less would have been more.
In the 20th century, Smith elaborates the religious views of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Dwight D. Eisenhower, JFK, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. At this point, George W. Bush has the the 21st century all to himself. Many gems are offered along the way: for example, Eisenhower's first name owes something to the popularity when he was born of the revivalist Dwight L. Moody. Kennedy, having fought off Protestant attacks and slanders, only to be put through the wringer by fellow Catholics, observed that he now understood why Henry VIII decided to create his own church. (Incidentally, Kennedy appears to have been motivated less by a personal faith than the others, but as the first Catholic president of a heretofore "Protestant nation," he could hardly be left out.) Carter's piety was rejected because it called for "sacrifice and self-denial"; Reagan's piety, on the other hand, was embraced because of its sunny optimism -- Reagan (in Garry Wills's words) offering a"more marketable God" (p. 361).
Smith has given us much to ponder and much to be grateful for. In the future, historians of America will not be able to tackle the subject of "faith and the presidency" without first tackling this imposing and informative volume.
The author, Gary Smith has done his homework. His research is very thorough and his style of writing is clear and free of technical jargon.
I thought the book presented a balanced view of democrat and republican presidents; and the author covers each president's religious affiliation without bias. After reading this book I finally understand why religion is such a hot topic during every presidential election.
Reading about Abraham Lincoln and how his faith helped him address the crises of the civil war is the best I have read to date.
Students, teachers of history, religious leaders and those with a love of presidential history need this book to complete their library. A must read for 2007!
presidency. I happen to know the most about Lincoln's faith, and I thought the author did a great job with the elusive subject of Lincoln's religious beliefs.
Also, in an era in which many books are overpriced--$150 for a hardcover from some presses--it is good to find a book with so much valuable material offered at such a low price.
This book is thorough, well balanced, and reliable. Many books go into the making of one book, as Samuel Johnson said, and Gary Smith has clearly read virtually everything on these various presidents (regarding faith). I especially liked the chapters on TR, FDR, and Eisenhower.
The author demonstrates good sense throughout. Sound judgment is so
important for a historian. This book is an excellent contribution to the fields of history, religious studies, and government. Highly recommended.
I was particularly persuaded by the book's observation that the foreign policy of presidents more readily reveals their philosophical commitments because the U.S. presidency has greater latitude abroad than at home.
This is a book worth reading from cover to cover. Smith hits a home run with this exceptional book. A tour de force!