An uncomplicated, evenhanded work. From hymns to architecture to personalities, American Christianity is simply...

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AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY

THE CONTINUING REVOLUTION

An optimistic, nonpolemical snapshot of the plethora of Christian denominations in America.

“Something strange always happens” in American churches, Cox (Literature and Humanities/Univ. of California, San Diego; Changing and Remaining: A History of All Saints' Church, San Diego, 2011, etc.) writes in this broad yet colloquial study. Churches want to harken back to the past, in tradition or orthodoxy, but continually strain toward revolution and renewal—hence the vitality of both the still-unfinished largest cathedral in the world, St. John the Divine in New York City, and one of most humble structures, the Taylor Prayer Chapel, in Farmersburg, Ind., a tiny church that is also modeled after a medieval cathedral. Both churches marvelously offer “a place where Christian experience can happen.” This is the spirit that Cox traces throughout his work, as messy and disorganized as it may be: Since the breakdown of the state church system in the 18th century, adherence to a church has grown from 17 percent in 1776 to 62 percent in 1980, with the gains going less to mainline Protestant denominations (Episcopal, Methodist) and more to smaller, evangelical sects like Pentecostals, Southern Baptists and “born-again believers.” Socioeconomic factors can only go so deep, writes the author—e.g., explaining the huge growth of black churches after the Civil War or the devastating effects of the Depression. Cox sees the religious landscape of America inhabited by a rich history of eccentrics, inspired by the revolutionary words of Scripture, who “found oil” among legions of believers. “The wall of separation” between church and state as identified by Thomas Jefferson did not, however, keep churches from assuming a political mantle, as evidenced in their important lobbying for abolition, women’s equality and prohibition.

An uncomplicated, evenhanded work. From hymns to architecture to personalities, American Christianity is simply “unpredictable.”

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-292-72910-0

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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

NIGHT

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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