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VILLAGE ATHEISTS

HOW AMERICA'S UNBELIEVERS MADE THEIR WAY IN A GODLY NATION

A felicitous, informative story from a highly knowledgeabe author.

A study of four unconventional crusaders against America’s obligatory godliness.

The late 19th-century brought out a variety of fascinating, vociferous characters challenging the official, mostly Protestant “moral order,” all of them branded as blasphemers. In his scholarly yet elegantly composed narrative, Schmidt (Religion and Politics/Washington Univ., St. Louis; Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman, 2010, etc.) calls this lonely seeker of truth the village atheist (or, variously, freethinker, infidel, rationalist, agnostic, liberal, secularist, humanist), who had usually broken with his or her early religious upbringing and separated from the perceived hypocritical strictures of the organized church. Despite the country’s founding on religious tolerance, writes the author, America was still very much a Christian nation, where unbelievers were ostracized as “wicked godless creatures” and frequently persecuted, as each of these infidels learned keenly. The itinerant secularist Samuel Porter Putnam, born into New England’s old Congregationalist order, re-created his spiritual journey as an “antihero” to the model Puritan saint of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. “Leaping off ‘the treadmill of conformity,’ ” (his adulterous philandering did not help matters), he wrote several seminal volumes, including My Religious Experience (1891) and 400 Years of Freethought (1894). Watson Heston was an influential cartoonist in Missouri, writing for the journal Truth Seeker; Schmidt smartly includes many of his wonderfully barbed illustrations championing civil liberties, tolerance, and free expression. Charles B. Reynolds, a disgruntled Seventh-day Adventist, was hounded for his irreverent lectures in New Jersey and convicted in a notorious 1887 trial for blasphemy. Most outrageous of all is the “obscenity” case of Elmina Drake Slenker, the freethinking activist from Virginia who was nabbed in New York vice czar Anthony Comstock’s sting operation for sending advice on marital sex through the mail. Schmidt emphasizes that it was not until the 1961 Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins that atheists were fully protected.

A felicitous, informative story from a highly knowledgeabe author.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-16864-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Awards & Accolades

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017


  • New York Times Bestseller


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  • National Book Award Finalist

Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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