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Moses and the American Story

by Bruce Feiler

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-057488-8
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A breezy look at the story of Moses and its role in the making of America.

During his studies and travels, writes popular religion commentator Feiler (Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion, 2005, etc.), he stumbled on a “little-known storyline” of American history—the influence of Moses in the making of the nation. The author claims that Moses’ imprint can be seen on many major figures, including the Pilgrims, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and, most recently, Barack Obama, who used the Exodus story throughout his presidential campaign. “One person has inspired more Americans than any other. One man is America’s true founding father,” writes Feiler in his typically bombastic style. “His name is Moses.” In the introduction, the author twists himself into knots—“Could the persistence of his story serve as a reminder of our shared national values? Could he serve as a unifying force in a disunifying time? If Moses could split the Red Sea, could he unsplit America?”—to justify a narrative that settles into a predictable pattern: first-person reporting at a historic landmark, an interview with a historian and fairly standard textbook history. Feiler indulges a few tangents but always dutifully returns to Moses. Like a conspiracy theorist, the author often mistakes coincidence for portent. “Just because some of our ideas correlate with the Revolution doesn't mean there’s causality,” says one of Feiler’s interviewees. Though his subject is discussing the history of the Freemasons, it could easily apply to the author’s Moses thesis. However, even though the author stretches his thesis too far, he does provide an interesting greatest-hits digest of American history from the point of view of revolutionaries.

A facile retracing of American history on a Mosaic theme—which is not to say Feiler fans won’t love it.