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Sergeant York (Christian Encounters Series) Paperback – October 11, 2010
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About the Author
John Perry graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University, with additional studies at University College, Oxford, England. Before beginning his career as an author in 1997, he was an award-winning advertising copywriter and radio producer. John has published 21 books as an author, collaborator, or ghostwriter. He is the biographer of Sgt. Alvin York, Mary Custis Lee (wife of Robert E. Lee and great granddaughter of Martha Washington), and George Washington Carver. Among other books, he has also written about the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial (Monkey Business, with Marvin Olasky, B&H Publishing, 2005) and contemporary prison reform (God Behind Bars, Thomas Nelson, 2006). He is a two-time Gold Medallion finalist and Lincoln Prize nominee. He lives in Nashville.
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Top Customer Reviews
Thanks to Howard Hawks's outstanding film, many are familiar with the broad outlines of York's life up through World War I. Growing up in backwoods Tennessee, York was a drunkard who experienced a profound conversion thanks to his devout mother. To the astonishment of all, the drinking, swearing, fighting York became the Sunday school teaching, Bible-reading, pacifist York. He settled down, turned inward, and fervently studied his Bible. Then the US entered World War I.
John Perry's biography of York is a great read, not only because it tells an important story well but also because it fills in details in a familiar--but somewhat fictionalized--story. This holds especially true for York's conversion and crisis of conscience as a soldier. When all efforts to obtain conscientious objector status failed, sympathetic officers in York's company helped him through his doubts about fighting, trading Bible verses with him until York arrived at what was essentially a Just War position--"I don't approve of taking human life unless it is necessary," he said after the war, "but I considered it necessary."
As I mentioned, the film, made in 1941 as another war edged toward an isolationist America, covers only those events that made York famous. These events take up barely a third of Perry's biography. The rest is a less familiar tale.
The film depicts York returning a hero and settling down. In reality, following York's departure for France he never really stopped fighting--though, as in his wartime experiences, love and peace were foremost in his mind. During the 1920s York campaigned nationwide for the cause of rural education, citing himself--with barely a third grade education--as an example. When his project was derailed by politics and finances, he used his rapidly sharpening skill with the public to force it through. Similar problems plagued the York Agricultural Institute for years to come.
As savvy as York eventually became in the arts of public speaking and opinion making, he remained, at his core, a simple country man, devoutly religious and generous to a fault. His generosity got him in trouble as he donated virtually all his income to religious and educational projects, especially following the release of the film Sergeant York in 1941. He gave away nearly all of his considerable royalties from the film to start the York Bible School, which he saw as fulfilling the (mostly) failed mission of the York Agricultural Institute to impart both religious and vocational instruction. Passing his royalties directly to these projects without deigning to inform the IRS landed York in a legal wrangle that ended only after Ed Sullivan plead for charitable contributions on his TV show in the 1960s.
"York's faith transformed his life," Perry concludes, "and that transformation in turn had a ripple effect that eventually touched millions." The lesson of York's life, Perry argues in closing, is that simple faith and humility are more powerful weapons than any hunting rifle. This is a quick, powerful read and a good introduction to an important hero--not a war hero, but a hero of the faith. In York's words: "I do not care to be remembered as a warrior but as one who helped others to Christ."
I got a little lost in all the political wrangling between himself and some of the local political powers, I had to re-read some sections to get a better understanding of all that.
This book really highlights the unknown part of SGT York's life, that he could have gotten rich off his combat heroics, but instead choose to do "good works" for his community instead. This part of SGT York's life is just as honorable, maybe even more so, than what he did on the battlefield.
If you're looking for "combat history" here, get a different book. His actions in WWI that earned him the Medal of Honor is covered briefly at the beginning of the book and the rest of it is about his struggles to build a school. Which is actually fitting, since SGT York himself, saw his works at home, after the war, to be more important than what he did in France.