GOD'S SALESMAN by Carol V.R. George

GOD'S SALESMAN

Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A sympathetic biography of the controversial preacher that situates him in the mainstream of the American populist religious tradition. Although no longer a household word, Peale's name was synonymous not long ago with middle-class Protestantism. His most important book, The Power of Positive Thinking, towered over the bestseller lists in the early 1950's, while his magazine, Guideposts, still boasts a circulation of four million. His power base consisted mostly of middle-aged women, who flocked to his doctrine of ``Practical Christianity''--an upbeat, unorthodox teaching based on ancient folk beliefs that regard God as a ``Higher Consciousness'' whose divine energy is accessible to anyone who practices ``positive thinking'' (a gussied-up version, detractors might suggest, of Peter Pan's counsel for flying through happy thoughts). As George (History/Hobart and William Smith Colleges) shows, Peale's lessons had their roots in Emerson and William James, and led to today's human-potential movement. During his heyday, Peale was excoriated by intellectuals (a result, George suggests, of liberal intolerance for Peale's strident anti-Communism). George, however, grinds no axes, offering a balanced account of her subject's life--from his serene childhood through his meteoric ascension as a nondenominational preacher at N.Y.C.'s Marble Collegiate Church to his near-disgrace in 1960 when he injected anti-Catholic rhetoric into the Kennedy-Nixon campaign. Despite this gaffe, Peale comes off here as a vigorous, sincere, red-white-and-blue proselytizer for a Yankee Doodle brand of Protestantism. That his religion marketed God as a friend to all and won the hearts of housewives and salesmen (thus the book's double-edged title) is, for George, neither a plus nor a minus but simply an intriguing and well-told chapter in the history of the American socioreligious consciousness. Peels the layers off ``Pealeism'' (George's coinage) with intelligence and tact: first-rate. (Thirty halftones--not seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-507463-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1992




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