Elmer Gantry
Sinclair Lewis
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Elmer Gantry

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  2,386 ratings  ·  219 reviews
Universally recognized as a landmark in American literature, Elmer Gantry scandalized readers when it was first published, causing Sinclair Lewis to be "invited" to a jail cell in New Hampshire and to his own lynching in Virginia. His portrait of a golden-tongued evangelist who rises to power within his church--a saver of souls who lives a life of duplicity, sensuality, an...more
432 pages
Published June 1970 by Howard Baker (first published 1927)
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Jason Koivu
Brothers and sisters! I say, brothers and sisters lend me your ear! I have read the words of Mr. Sinclair Lewis as set down in the good book Elmer Gantry in which this author of the early 20th century condemns organized religion, most notably the Baptist Church. His main character, a one Mr. Elmer Gantry, as the title suggests, is an most insincere and hypocritical preacher of the faith. Insincere and hypocritical! Yes sah, that is the crux, the very essence of the text. A text of greater length...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
BkC 56

Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Today universally recognized as a landmark in American literature, Elmer Gantry scandalized readers when it was first published, causing Sinclair Lewis to be "invited" to a jail cell in New Hampshire and to his own lynching in Virginia. His portrait of a golden-tongued evangelist who rises to power within his church - a saver of souls who lives a life of hypocrisy, sensuality, and ruthless self-indulgence - is also the record of a period, a reign of...more
J Cravens
Dec 05, 2008 J Cravens rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: to anyone who loves great literature
Shelves: fiction
Just before the 4th of July, I finished Elmer Gantry. It turned out to be one of the greatest novels I have ever read. Elmer Gantry, published in 1927, was so much more complex, so much more biting and chilling in its description of the worst parts of the American psyche, so much more timeless, than I ever imagined it would be. I expected a comic-book story and dated prose -- I got, instead, vivid characters and lines of text I found myself re-reading per their beautiful structure and perfect de...more
On the surface, this is a story of a bad guy, made all the more evil by his using the name of God to hoodwink people and lift himself up for public admiration. He is the living embodiment of a wolf in sheep's clothing. Unfortunately, this is not a book that can be read on the surface and be done with. Elmer Gantry isn't a cut-and-dried villain. On the contrary, it is his very humanness that makes his story equal parts repulsive and irresistible. We see in Gantry's hypocrisy our own inclination t...more
Sinclair Lewis' writing always sticks with me. Perhaps it is because he so wonderfully savaged American culture, laying out all its ills, prejudices, and hypocrisies as a feast for the reader. The characters he presented to us--Elmer Gantry, George Babbitt, Samuel Dodsworth, and Will Kennicott-- were bright smiling neighbors that revealed the grotesque in American values.

Of these Elmer Gantry, the title character of Lewis' 11th novel, still rings the most true, if for no other reason than that t...more
Elmer Gantry is a womanizing troublemaker who manages to become a successful preacher despite his frequent questionable conduct, and often destroying the lives of those around him along the way.
This is really a fantastic book and one that, although it was written 80 years ago, is still quite fresh and thought-provoking. It explores religion and the lives of those who deliver it to us in a way few authors would dare.
This book, I think, was written to reflect the frustration a person might feel when listening to a sermon of epic proportion or perhaps a person proselytizing: weary.

Lewis is condemning not only ministers (the people that are the vessels of God), but religion itself. He paints Gantry as a man that is uncertain of his belief in God, but confident of his ability as a charismatic speaker and so Gantry becomes an ordained Baptist minister. When that religion doesn't work out for him, he finds a hom...more
I have never despised a literary character as much as Elmer Gantry, and that is exactly what Sinclair Lewis wanted.

Elmer Gantry will rise up and give you that old time religion, even if he doesn't have it himself.

Elmer Gantry will be at the head of the pack to find and condemn vice, and when he's not with the pack he'll still be out finding vice.

Elmer Gantry will be a Baptist, an evangelical, a New Thoughter, a Methodist, and is wondering about those Episcopalians. Because he's heard their congr...more
Mike (the Paladin)
I've read that this novel caused quite a furor when it was released, even being denounced by Billy Sunday. Well, I wouldn't know, I wasn't there, but it wouldn't surprise me as I remember when some Christians got very "excited" about the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ". All they accomplished in my opinion was drawing more attention to the movie than it would otherwise have garnered.

As for Elmer Gantry, I am a Christian and this book does arguably, take a pretty dim view of some or possibly...more
Aug 11, 2008 Keely rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Keely by: Ama's father
This send up of religious institutions was so devestating that many religious leaders called for Lewis to be stoned to death for writing it. His biting, insightful, and humorous look at religious hypocrisy is as pertinant today as it was when it was first written.

The pure strength of Lewis's prose is refreshing after reading more recent authors. His control and understanding of syntax, grammar, and words maintains a strength and clarity of voice throughout the work. However, he does not sacrific...more
Mikey B.
A truly delightful novel. Lewis takes obvious pleasure from poking fun at religion – and he takes on the various church denominations and destroys them with attacks from multiple positions. He exposes hypocrisy through Elmer Gantry – who supposedly is a protector of morality while enhancing his career by vapid publicity, name-calling and disdaining the women who fall in love with him. He also ignores his family while pursuing his goals.

This book exposes the lust for power behind the evangelical...more
The really extraordinary thing about this novel is how dead-on Lewis's portrayal of religious hypocrisy is. In many of his books, he delves deeply into a specific aspect of American life by creating a particularly vivid character that represents the unique qualities he happens to be investigating. However, sometimes the portraits he paints tend to verge on caricature - more parodies than accurate representations of believably realistic persons. While one may convincingly argue that in real life...more
If you've ever laughed at (or been disgusted by) the antics of televangelist charlatans like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, Sinclair Lewis had their number 80 years ago. The fictional Elmer Gantry rises to prominence before the era of radio and TV evangalism, but his greed, self-serving political ambitions, and sexual indiscretions are just like those of his real-life counterparts.

I actually listened to part of this audiobook while mistakenly thinking the author was Upton Sinclair. Duoh! How emb...more
Marcus Johnson
Less than ten pages into this novel, I was hooked. I honestly felt as though Sinclair Lewis was capable of time travel, transported himself forward in time so he could sit next to me during worship services at multiple churches, then transported himself back to the 1920s so he could write about it. Seriously, it feels as though little has changed in the world of American Evangelicalism. This movement still has its rising celebrities with more ambition than humility, and more demonstrated passion...more
I would have given this book a four star rating if I didn't abhor Elmer Gantry as much as I do. He is the master manipulator, the king of scum, the glib tongued devil who sees the world only as it can serve him.

A little synopsis of the story: Elmer Gantry is a handsome rogue, a sports hero, son of a religious woman whose dreams for him consist totally of his becoming a man of the cloth. He delights in whiskey and women even as he attends theology classes. Unfortunately for everyone, especially...more
The character Elmer Gantry is righteous, strident, repetitive, hypocritical and a lot of other things none of which are complementary, and for me, that was the problem with the book. The flat and one dimensional characters that inhibit Sinclair Lewis novels and especially the constant hammering of his message.

I read Babbitt a couple of weeks ago and I enjoyed it. My mistake was returning to Lewis too soon. Rather than a new novel this felt like the sequel. Like watching Woody Allen films, enter...more
Vicki Jacobs
One impression I got from this book is how similar the evangelist Gantry and his coherts are to the Taliban. The evangelists in Lewis' book would do exactly what the Taliban has done or are currently doing in the middle east, imposing their interpretation of god's rules upon everyone, believer or not. They both endorse morality police and have ambitions to rule the world as they see fit.
3.5 stars. Let me preface this review by stating that I really wanted to love this work. It has sat on my to-read shelf a little too long, but when I finally decided to read it I did not find anything particularly fantastic about the work. While I have other Sinclair Lewis books on my to-read shelf (among them Babbitt, Arrowsmith and Main Street, I'm not sure that my first encounter with Lewis' writing style makes me particularly eager to read any of those other classics. Much like when I read H...more
I really enjoyed the first 150 pages of this one, but struggled through the last 346. The title character is compelling, and Lewis' scathing indictment of organized religion is intriguing. However, the novel is too repetitive and boring to recommend.
Bob Behlen
Wonderfully entertaining. Fits perfectly between "Main Street" and "Babbitt," and adds a sort of exclamation point to his reasons for once refusing the Pulitzer Prize. In declining the award in 1926 (for "Arrowsmith" -- one of his other great novels), Lewis observed that, according to the Pulitzer Committee, the prize was supposed be given "for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American man...more
Paul Kelly
Wow! This book paints an ugly face on a preacher who is trying to do the job without any real commitment to Christ or any real calling. It is set in the early part of the 20th Century and offers an interesting indictment on pioneering religion. I suppose Lewis intends to paint preachers with a rather black brush because he offers us no characters that are truly remarkable men of God. While the book could serve to anger those of us who are in ministry, perhaps it is a important look at how "human...more
The prose could be better and some chapters are a little long, but on the whole this book makes an interesting read. What is amazing to me is that this satire on evangelic fervor remains so timely. Elmer Gantry provides insight to the American culture that remains fresh even to this day. The 1920s are long gone and yet this book points out that some things have not changed, including the hypocrisy of the charismatic pulpit. Although a few people may find the writing to be a bit "old timey," the...more
A truly classic satirical novel that documents the American evangelical movement of the 1920's. The book skewers the relationship of Big Money and Organized Religion, and one can easily see why the novel created such a public furor. Sinclair Lewis added to the controversy when he defied God from the pulpit, giving God 15 minutes to strike him dead.

The novel is chock full of dozens of well-written fictional characters and 'Sharon Falconer' character is based on elements of the Canadian born evang...more
"His possessions were not very consistent. He had a beautiful new morning coat, three excellent lounge suits, patent leather shoes, a noble derby, a flourishing top hat, but he had only two suits of underclothes, both ragged. His socks were of black silk, out at the toes. For breast-pocket display, he had silk handkerchiefs; but for use, only cotton rags torn at the hem. He owned perfume, hair-oil, talcum powder; his cuff links were of solid gold; but for dressing-gown he used his overcoat; his...more
Jeri Massi
This book is an astonishing read of modern Christian Fundamentalism. Just replace the trains with planes, and you will have a survey of the universe of John R Rice, SWORD OF THE LORD, Bob Jones University, Liberty, etc. Lewis did remark at several points that he had visited J Frank Norris' church to comprehend the preaching and thinking of the man. And Gantry in many ways reflects Norris (as well as Billy Sunday), particularly the sections on his ability to control large crowds and his methods o...more
After reading Babbitt a few weeks ago, I was compelled to go on to Elmer Gantry. At first I had some Thoreau-like hesitation: haven’t we all experienced those totally dishonest men in high, even sacred, places? But the novel is more than a condemnation of that too-common type, the narcissistic or psychopathic conman who succeeds in fooling most of the people all of the time. By writing a thorough, wide-ranging examination of Gantry’s life, Lewis was able to condemn most aspects of 1920s mid-west...more

There's something thin about Lewis's writing, at times -- his inclination towards the blunt means he tells the reader more about a character than he shows. Elmer's an oaf, certainly; he's a womanizer and a power-grabber; but there's not much more to him, and in a book as long as this, the reader begins to weary when Elmer repeats the same mistakes, only self-reflecting enough to find a way to become worse. What can be said about Elmer was said in the first quarter of the book. The rest, though m...more
Faye Heath
To anyone who has seen the movie but not read the book I'll tell you this: Burt Lancaster is to Elmer Gantry as Clark Gable is to Rhett Butler...perfect. It's as if the authors had those actors in the backs of their minds while writing.

There is much more to Elmer Gantry than made the silver screen. His foray into the traveling, evangelical world is a small, but significant part of the story but the story neither starts nor ends there.

The story follows Elmer from his student days to his ordinatio...more
Hank Pharis
It's been a long time since I saw the movie but the character always intrigued me. Burt Lancaster won the Academy Award for best actor and his performance was one of the best ever. Thus I wanted to hear the book. The movie only covers about the middle third of the story. There is a lot more in the novel. But as I remember it in the movie Elmer Gantry was kind of a mysterious character that was hard to figure out. He moved back
and forth between seeming to be sincere and being blatantly hypocriti...more
Carrie Schindele Cupples
Elmer finds his meaning in life by standing at a pulpit and speaking to a crowd. He will manipulate any person or situation to maintain the glory he finds as a man preaching for the Lord, whether or not he believes what he speaks. With Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis created an observant, and at times hilarious, account of evangelist culture and hipocrisy. Lewis uses many characters to explore the conflict of an individual's internal yearning vs. societal pressure to be something else.
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Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930 "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." His works are known for their insightful and critical views of American capitalism and materialism between the wars. He is also respected for his strong characterizations of modern working women. H.L. Mencken wrote of him, "[If] the...more
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“The Maker of the universe with stars a hundred thousand light-years apart was interested, furious, and very personal about it if a small boy played baseball on Sunday afternoon.” 28 likes
“He had, in fact, got everything from the church and Sunday School, except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason” 2 likes
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