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The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (Early American Studies) Paperback – February 25, 2009
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"Many historians of Revolutionary America have plundered the diaries of Philip Vickers Fithian, but until now no one has satisfactorily told the life story of this great diarist. John Fea's insightful book does just that—and yet more. By showing how Fithian pursued the values of a cosmopolitan Enlightenment, in concert with the values of Presbyterian Christianity and American patriotism, his study reveals much about an enduring American tradition."—Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame
"A wonderfully teachable volume in undergraduate classrooms. However, it is also a book for specialists . . . for its simultaneously clear and complex explanation of the social an intellectual climate of middling participants in the American Revolution."—Journal of the Early Republic
"John Fea has given readers . . . a gift in this delightful biography of diarist Philip Fithian. . . . Fea has captured a multifaceted world that teachers of American history should rush to share with their students."—Dallett Hemphill, author of Bowing to Necessities: A History of Manners in America
"In this absorbing and elegantly written biography, John Fea . . . shows how seismic philosophical upheavals profoundly shaped the life of an ordinary man far from the epicenter. Perhaps Fea's signal contribution is his nuanced reading of the relationship between the Enlightenment and Christianity."—Books & Culture
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Perhaps the greatest lesson of Philip's life is the tension in which the Enlightenment ideas which he encounters at Princeton co-exists with his loyalty to his native land. Philip, after experiencing a call from God, plans to become a preacher under the tutelage of one of British America's greatest intellectuals, John Witherspoon. Philip comes to embody the Enlightenment in British America: a shift from narrowly-focused parochialism to a universal love of humanity, a conscientious effort to control one's emotions and "passions", and a desire to improve not only oneself but society at large.
Through the diaries left behind by Philip Vickers Fithian, John Fea has afforded his readers the opportunity to step back into the past and understand what it was like when Enlightenment thinking meshed with Protestant Christianity. I appreciate this book because of the lessons which it offers to those who seek self-improvement still today. Fea allows his readers to live with the tension. Philip, a man who wanted to control his passions, destroyed another couple's relationship because he could never let go of his love for Betsy (his childhood crush).Read more ›
While this is, in a broad sense, a study of how Americans lived the Enlightenment, it is also, in a narrower sense, a biography of Philip Vickers Fithian, Presbyterian minister and army chaplain. Fithian died before he reached his thirtieth birthday; his importance lies not so much in what he accomplished in his lifetime as in the intensity with which he chronicled it. Most students of early America are familiar primarily with Fithian's journal of the year he spent as a tutor on Robert Carter's Virginia estate; Fea demonstrates that Fithian's journals and letters from his college years and his early years in the ministry are equally rich. I found the chapters on Fithian's education at Green Hall and the College of New Jersey (Princeton) and on his preaching tours of the Pennsylvania and Virginia backcountry particularly illuminating.
Fea skims over some essential biographical details (I had a hard time locating the date of Fithian's birth, and his siblings are introduced rather late in the book).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In "The Way of Improvement Leads Home," Dr. John Fea does a spectacular job in chronicling the life of an interesting and overlooked figure in early American history. Read morePublished on June 22, 2010 by T. J. Carlson
When we first picked up "The Way of Improvement Leads Home" we expected a straight forward biography about Philip Vickers Fithian. However, in the introduction, Dr. Fea says "... Read morePublished on June 6, 2010 by Adina T. Johnson
Soon, I will be teaching a one year history class to a group of men. The class incorporates my reading, research, reflection, and writing from the past twenty years. Read morePublished on January 28, 2010 by David George Moore