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The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil
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The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil

3.54  ·  Rating Details  ·  87 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
Through the writings of America's major figures, a professor at Columbia University traces the change in Americans' view of evil over the nation's history from a clear, religious understanding to a perplexed helplessness.
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux (first published May 1995)
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James Murphy
Apr 23, 2010 James Murphy rated it really liked it
This is the kind of book, whether fiction or nonfiction, I try to stock my tbr pond with, one that doesn't answer all my questions or claim to, but opens new doors enabling me to find my own answers and make conclusions. This is a book about how our perceptions of evil have changed over the course of our history. Delbanco begins by describing how the Satan of colonial times was a very real presence because he was close within the narrow world of our forefathers. Being a part of each individual, ...more
Bruce Morton
Sep 05, 2011 Bruce Morton rated it it was amazing
Andrew Delbanco's careful survey of American literature and society numbs. His research is telling and his command of English captivates. It is hard to break away from this book. If Delbanco has no answer for evil as mere social current in America, he has at least told us that there is a dangerous waterfall ahead. A must read for Christians.
Pat Burke
A disappointing book. His proposal is to find a root for "evil", as he studies the varied ways in which people have explained it through the ages.
His thesis seems to be that, belief in Satan (evil personified) having died, evil becomes inexplicable for people. For some it is fate, for others, chance, for others again simply other persons, classes, nations...
His philosophical basis for evaluating all of this seems very weak. He tends to see evil as the simple absence of good (what he describes
Feb 22, 2010 James rated it really liked it
IN our times it seems that Satan has disappeared, but in this fascinating work Delbanco discusses differing views Americans have held of Satan throughout history. The book is divided into two parts, "The Age of Belief" and "Modern Times". In part one he focuses on early America with analyses of the thoughts of religious leaders like Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards. He begins part two with aspects of evil in the Civil War Era and moves into the twentieth century with commentary on thinkers lik ...more
Nov 01, 2012 Mark rated it it was amazing
After a slow opening third that covers the early history of Puritanism in America, this book picks up speed, and I couldn't put it down for the last two-thirds. Delbanco makes a convincing case that the root of America's current anything-goes secular pop culture lies in our inability to find a moral yardstick as viscerally compelling as Satan vs. God. Though the vast majority of Americans still profess belief in God, we are clearly living in a post-Christian society, thus the outrage of so-calle ...more
Kate Davis
(Notes for my own reference:)

Throughout: sin and evil are used interchangeably (annoying).

Intro: p16: need to renew, not restore, our conceptions

Ch1: past Satan as pride and as center-less -- present tho undetectable

Ch2: evil changed to madness; psychological explanations

Ch3: we value "self," which we believe requires cost of others; limited good mentality

Ch4: superstition/chance/luck replace any order/providence

Ch5: fear of annihilation leads to panic and scapegoats. evil is whatever is foreign
Oct 02, 2012 Brad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant analysis and survey of the problem without a clue as to a final solution.

Full of illustrations and insights as he traces the rise and fall of Satan (evil) from the first century to ours. Really helpful and persuasive, but alas only descriptive.
Charlene Mathe
Jan 05, 2014 Charlene Mathe rated it really liked it
Andrew Delbanco is such a master of American Studies that he is able to thread a single topic, in this case the character (or caricature) of Satan the devil, through 400 years of history and literature, illustrating with events and authors drawn from his vast knowledge. All the while, his writing is so smooth and accessible that I want to stand and applaud what I think society intends in supporting institutions of higher education.
My response to his analysis of Satan and "the death of Satan," i
Sep 25, 2010 Dcboux rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting examination of the destructive effects of irony.
Jun 07, 2015 Miguel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This non-fiction piece of work doesn't aim to answer anything specific, but tells an existential history of how the western, modern man has come to label evil and Satan him/herself. A Jesuit had me read this years ago not to point out the existence of evil, but how western culture has misdirected the ideas of evil into humans (i.e. witches) and away from something supernatural. This is a great book if you want to further your understanding of how we place weight into ridiculous notions of what " ...more
Apr 02, 2013 Lobug rated it liked it
This was a hard book to read. It was very disgusting and disturbing in a lot of places- but I think in a way that was how it needed to be. Delbanco definitely makes his point well. I can only give it 3 stars b/c I really did not enjoy it at all- but I do think it was well written, and information that needs to get out there. The perspective is quite different from mine, as the book approaches the idea from a purely secular perspective. I appreciated the perspective difference. I think it is quit ...more
Another one of those books that isn't at all what it sounds like. It's neither conservative nor a screed, but a careful analysis of the way Americans have discussed Satan over the past three hundred years, embodying him variously in the English government, tax-collectors, Hitler, and pretty much everyone in between, though less so in the 90s when it was written than in the past (Delbanco finds this regrettable). I remember the chapters on the Puritans being particularly revealing.

It's a stealth
Mar 08, 2014 Nance rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
May 30, 2011 Rudolfo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
an introduction as to what evil is really all about...prejudice. Concocted evil: blackballing others.
Mar 03, 2012 Vera rated it liked it
Andrew Delbanco is one of my heroes, but this book is merely good.
Scott Korljan
Oct 16, 2015 Scott Korljan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not an easy read, but well worth it.
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Andrew H. Delbanco (born 1952) is Director of American Studies at Columbia University and has been Columbia's Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities since 1995. He writes extensively on American literary and religious history.
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