Powerhouse biography of perhaps the most charismatic and controversial woman in modern religious history. Although now less than a household name, Aimee Semple McPherson dominated the American spiritual landscape of six or seven decades ago. Her Pentecostal meetings, held first in tents and then in the gigantic Angelus Temple she built in Los Angeles, attracted millions of admirers. The media lionized her. The denomination she founded, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, today boasts 17,000 churches worldwide. Epstein (Love's Compass, 1990, etc.) seems half in love with his subject, and understandably so. He emphasizes her ``angelic and foxlike'' beauty, her erotic magnetism as a preacher; he takes her side in the great controversy of her life—her mysterious month-long disappearance in 1927, which she ascribed to a foiled kidnapping and her detractors to a romantic fling with her radio operator. Most notably, Epstein is able to write about ``miracles'' like glossolalia and faith healing (at McPherson's services, the deaf heard and the blind walked, or so eyewitnesses reported) without sneering—or, for that matter, without fawning. He presents the evidence, offers nonreligious (mostly psychoanalytical) explanations, and points out their shortcomings. The author seems to have gathered every scrap of material on McPherson, including such odd items as her surreptitious friendship with atheist Charlie Chaplin and her kind words to a teenaged Anthony Quinn, who played saxophone at her Temple. Epstein never skimps on details, whether limning McPherson's triumphs or her many falls—into depression, nervous breakdowns, loneliness, bad marriages, lawsuits. But this is anything but a lifeless patchwork: The author's admiration and his subject's breathtaking story give the narrative abundant energy. Holy-roller religion at its best, told with fire.
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