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Head and Heart: American Christianities
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Head and Heart: American Christianities

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  142 ratings  ·  34 reviews
A landmark examination of Christianity's place in American life across the broad sweep of this country's history, from the Puritans to the presidential administration of George W. Bush.

The struggle within American Christianity, Garry Wills argues, now and throughout our country's history, is between the head and the heart: between reason and emotion, Enlightenment and Ev
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published October 4th 2007 by Penguin Press HC, The
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(showing 1-30 of 338)
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This is a good book 3.5 about how history influenced America's character

Pre-enlightenment era:

Todays Evangelicals tell the truth at its foundation America has strong impulses as a Christian nation. The Puritans who were the dominant protestant force in early US because they were the most learned and thus could right their opinions done for posterity were obsessed with the Christian faith. In terms of government, it was basically a theocracy much like Iran who prosecuted people with impunity if t
I'm both a history nerd and fascinated by religious (and philosophical) thought and expression, so this was right up my alley. Entirely relevant insofar as religion/Christianity has been a big part of American history and politics from the colonial era to the present moment. I'm no kind of authority on the subject, but this certainly seemed well-researched, an academic (non-sectarian) work, Wills mostly concerned with the facts, respectful to history's players without entirely suppressing his ow ...more
I've read two other books by Wills - Nixon Agonisties and The Kennedy Imprisonment - but both of those were almost purely political. This one was certainly not. I liked where Wills started from. He takes on the oft-reported opinion that American is today a less religious nation, with the Establishment Clause being the thing that's slowly killing religion in America. Also, he addresses the evidence around whether or not the Founding Fathers were "Christian". All of these things he finds to be unt ...more
This was a sophisticated history of the Christian faith in the United States, and how it has influenced culture and politics. Wills' premise is that America has had two main strains of Christianity: Enlightment (head) and evangelical (heart). They reached synthesis at key points in our history, namely to oppose slavery and fight for civil rights for African Americans and other minorities.

The early chapters are a bit of a slog -- it's hard to keep track of all the Puritan offshoots and leaders,
Joel Wentz
This book was so close to five stars. Will's explanation of Puritan history and religious thought is enthralling, and his core thesis: that American religiosity is constantly tugged between Enlightened thought (head) and Evangelical zeal (heart) is compelling. I loved the way he highlighted important figures on both sides of the pole, and the bigger picture that is painted is extremely interesting. I walked away from this book with a much deeper, nuanced understanding of Puritan though, the Foun ...more
Chelsi Cassilly
Reading through this book is sometimes hard. I'm not typically a nonfiction reader, but I had this book from a class I took at Lipscomb. It goes pretty in depth into the history of the United States and the issues with religion therein. It's a neat point that Garry Willis makes: forcing one religion on people, or "establishing" one religion, is oppression for those who do not believe in that religion. As a Christian, this is an important thing to think about. Even though I believe that my religi ...more
the people who Should read this book probably won't ie conservative and fundementalist Christians. i didn't agree w/all of Wills' conclusions, he's a bit too cynical, but he makes his points solidly, fairly and factually
William Korn
A very well-written review of the history of Christianity in the U.S., both in its entirety and in the separate histories of the "intellectual" and "emotional" versions of Christianity. Willa is at his best when writing history, and he especially when he doesn't have a big personal stake in what he's writing about. (See my review of "Papal Sins".) However, Wills does drift into polemics a bit describing Christianity's role in modern times.

Wills gives us a bonus by including in the Appendices Jef
Wills does a thorough job showing the history of Christian expression from pre-revolution up to the present. The premise he uses to do so (the tension between cerebral and emotional thought) has merit but is a bit too simplistic it seems to me. However he makes strong arguments that Christianity did flourish the best during the Great Awakenings when being the least entangled with the state. The book regretfully takes an unfortunate turn at the end when the author's subtle bias turns into a full ...more
Dec 01, 2008 Heidi added it
An amazing survey of Christianity (mostly Protestantism) throughtout American history as it relates to politics. I wish every American Christian had time to read it before the upcoming election.

Update: This was a very thought-provoking book. The "conventional wisdom" that America was a holy bastion, dedicated to a Christian God from its inception, and that has since lost its way as part of a steady, unidirectional moral decline was absolutely disproven. It effectively debunked Providentialism, r
By the author of What Jesus Meant. Wills traces the two fundamental styles of Protestant Christianity through American history. I loved his examination of the Enlightenment religious culture that was prevelant during the writing of the Constitution and led to the disestablishment of churches in the United States. Wills sees the Protestant tradition as a tug of war between the head and the heart throughout our history. I think the book loses its way in his discussion of the last several decades o ...more
Wills does a fine job exploring the history of religion in the U.S. in this book. The theme (that religion in the U.S. has been characterized by a tension and vacillation between "The Head," or the rational religion of the Enlightenment , and "The Heart," or the more emotionally based religion of Evangelism) is understated, but pretty well explored. I felt that too much attention may have been placed on the current connection between conservative Christianity and the Bush administration. I agree ...more
Great historical overview of the role of religion in US politics and government during our long history. The key point he makes is that there has always been a tension between a US consciousness that we are 'special to god and have a special role to play in his history and need to do that through our government' and another trend that absolutely feared a government linked to religion. That second trend is less often the ruling trend...but it happened to be during the critical years just before a ...more
Jean Doolittle
Fascinating--the big picture of religion in America--the ongoing dance of reason and fundamentalism in American life.
As a whole, the meat of this book is extremely thorough, heavily referenced, and nearing a textbook-ish quality. Which is not necessarily a negative, but as other reviewers have mentioned, it is sometimes tedious. Besides those minor qualms, the vast knowledge Wills offers the reader regarding "head" and "heart" religious positions and how they correlate to our U.S. government is impressive. The authors commentary is mainly withheld until the final chapters. I would have enjoyed more throughout ...more
Nov 11, 2007 Cynthia rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in American Religious History
Shelves: religion
I learned that, despite what the Religious Right might want us to think, America was not founded as a Christian nation but rather by masons as an Enlightened nation. This is an excellent book and a real eye opener. Some of the things that the Puritans and colonists did to people who weren't the same sect of Protestant as they were were just barbaric. Yes, I am a religious person, but not a religious "nut". I believe that people should have respect for each other and not harm each other over diff ...more
Mikesawin Sawin
I really loved this author's two books What Jesus Meant and What Paul Meant, and I was prepared to like this one as well.

But wowzers...dry as my mother's meatloaf, this was. It's an examination of the history of American Christendom, and witht the right writer could have full of interesting folks doing interesting things.

However, it reads like a book written as a contractual obligation or something. I almost didn't finish it.
I like the idea of this book-- the history of Christianity in America and how the religious-political groups we have today evolved (or devolved, depending on your leanings) from seventeenth-century Puritan and Quaker Americans. It was a little drier than I'd expected, so it was difficult to stay interested. So a lot of skipping and skimming was done here.
Barb Nuttall Pramick
Excellent breakdown of how we got to where we are today. Wills discusses the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, Deists, Emersonian thought, and the destruction Karl Rove has wreaked. I was surprised at the vehemence with which Wills blasts George W. Bush, and relieved to see how well he expects the country to recover and survive that devastation.
Good read for anyone interested in the separation of church and state in America. Well documented and thorough, but probably a little too thorough for me--too textbookish. I would recommend the first couple of chapters on the founding fathers and the last couple chapters on comtemporary church and state issues.
I read the early chapters about the Puritans, the Great Awakening, Deism and Unitarianism. The book explains the historical origins of American Christianity, and Garry Wills offers excellent insight on the basis for current trends in American Christianity.
Rich Merritt
If you can handle the truth about the Puritans, the founding fathers, the Great Awakening and the birth of pre-millennialist fundamentalism read this book. If, however, you want to cling to your guns and religion run away!
Wonderful premise, but poor execution. I just can't finish. The intro discussing the Puritans and stuff was interesting, but I haven't made it past Thomas Jefferson, et. al., and won't. Entirely too dry for "pleasure reading".
Jan 30, 2008 Meave added it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
The beginning of the book was pretty interesting, but then I started nodding off after every paragraph, and I had to take it back to the library because it turned out to be just too dull. Too bad; it had potential.
the book still focuses on
"great white men," but at least wills picked different men to follow. there were founding fathers in here, and people who opposed religious revivals. it made for a fun read.
David Shank
Excellent history of religion in america. This book should be required reading before anyone spouts off about whether this is a christina nation or what the religious beliefs of our founding fathers was.
Excellent overview of the various intersections and separations of Church and State in America, from the Puritans to George W. Bush. Particularly strong on the origins of modern day evangelical Christianity.
This book covers the influence of Christianity on politics and culture from the days of the Puritans to the present administration. The reader will find it worthwhile.
I read several chapters of this for my American literature class. The topic was not exciting by any means, but the author conveyed what he thought very well.
Interesting, but a little slow starting. The last third was the most interesting. Much of the beginning goes into more detail than I need.
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Garry Wills is an author and historian, and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. In 1993, he won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, which describes the background and effect of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

More about Garry Wills...
Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America What Jesus Meant James Madison (American Presidents, #4) What Paul Meant Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man

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