Stewart (The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting it Wrong, 2009, etc.) delivers a penetrating history of an American Revolution not yet finished and a stirring reassertion of the power of ideas unbound by the shackles of superstition.
Meticulously annotated and informed by imposing erudition, the book is a lively chronicle of the years leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, especially noteworthy for detailing the unsung contributions (in word and deed) of such revolutionary figures as Ethan Allen and Thomas Young. It is also an admirably lucid survey of radical philosophical thought on the nature of man and the cosmos, a guiding principle grounded in reason and transmitted from Epicurus via the poet Lucretius, further developed by the great philosophical minds of the 17th century and embraced by the Founding Fathers. Stewart's capacity to render undiluted the complex deliberations of these thinkers glows on the page, notwithstanding the occasional Mobius strip of esoterica. The author locates these ideas in the heterodox, deist origins of the Republic, with a focus on corporeal reality, not spiritual mysteries. In doing so, he reveals the true and enduring significance of the American experiment: not merely as a revolt against an imperial monarch, but against the global reach and oppressive artifice of supernatural religion. Stewart gives the simplistic “common religious consciousness” and much presumed wisdom a fair hearing, then demolishes them utterly, though not dismissing what is useful in faith. By closely analyzing the writings of Jefferson, Young, Franklin, Paine et al., he quashes the delusion that America was established as a “Christian” nation.
In affording a fresh perspective on the difficult but exhilarating birth of this country, Stewart shows that the often superficially misunderstood words of the Declaration of Independence are even more profound than they appear.