Literate and learned revelations about how American society has painted a smiley face on the once-grim visage of old-time...




Evaluation of the myriad ways American religion and culture affect each other.

Wolfe (Religion/Boston College; Moral Freedom, 2001, etc.) traveled around the country attending a wide variety of religious services, interviewing religious professionals and lay persons, and reading as much as he could about American religion by historians, sociologists, psychologists, priests, puritans, and preachers. Beginning with some lines from Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” the author argues that despite such fierce words, even American religions that profess to be fundamentalist or fire-and-brimstone have been forced for survival’s sake to integrate into their services and theology some of the very aspects of the secular culture they profess to disdain. Thus so-called “megachurches” feature feel-good rather than fiery sermons, rock ’n’ roll (with Christian lyrics, of course) pumped through high-tech sound systems, comfortable seats that resemble those found at your local multiplex, and soccer and aerobics integrated with Jesus and the Gospel. Wolfe does not focus entirely on Christian churches, though his analysis of the decline of so-called “mainline” denominations like the Methodists and Disciples of Christ is most penetrating. He also demonstrates, for example, how Jews and Buddhists and Muslims have modified their religious practices to accommodate Americans and their fondness for personal freedom and for feeling good rather than thinking hard. Although Wolfe attempts to maintain a dispassionate disinterest, he cannot resist preaching himself from time to time, taking a swipe at The Prayer of Jabez (“so narcissistic that it makes prosperity theology look demanding by contrast”) and repeating the datum that ten percent of Americans think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. He urges political liberals and religious conservatives to reconcile, seeing the latter as no real threat to American democracy.

Literate and learned revelations about how American society has painted a smiley face on the once-grim visage of old-time religion.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-2839-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2003

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.


Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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