Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Head and Heart: American Christianities” as Want to Read:
Head and Heart: American Christianities
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Head and Heart: American Christianities

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  162 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
Gary Wills has won significant acclaim for his bestselling works of religion and history. Here, for the first time, he combines both disciplines in a sweeping examination of Christianity in America throughout the last 400 years. Wills argues that the struggle now?as throughout our nation?s history?is between the head and the heart, reason and emotion, enlightenment and Eva ...more
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published October 4th 2007 by Penguin Press
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Head and Heart, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Head and Heart

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Elliot Ratzman
I love reading Wills and this long, yet truncated, history of Christianity in America is full of great stuff. Wills, however, suffers from the tendency to see History as something made by Elites and highlighted in Documents and Theology. Black religion makes a cameo appearance. Much is made of disestablishment—not the most exciting 10% of the book. Wills’ takedown of recent attempts to Christianize the Founding Fathers is satisfying and expert. While this was a nice refresher, a collage of fun-f ...more
Dec 18, 2009 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 24, 2014 Stephen rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 08, 2009 Jonathan rated it really liked it
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,
Jan 15, 2011 Jim rated it really liked it
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
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
Ash Ryan
"We remonstrate against the said Bill,...3. Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere ...more
Sep 25, 2016 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Very informative about the uniqueness of the original concept of disestablishment, separation of church and state in the American constitution. Madison, Jefferson, even Washington really did want a wall between church and state and would not even allow a congressional chaplain or military chaplains. Also put the to lie the idea that the "founding fathers" were Christians especially fundamentalist Christians.
Feb 17, 2014 Chelsi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Joel Wentz
Nov 24, 2014 Joel Wentz rated it really liked it
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
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
Aug 27, 2008 Judy rated it liked it
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
William Korn
Apr 04, 2014 William Korn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, religion
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
Jul 17, 2008 Paul rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 11, 2007 Cynthia rated it really liked it
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
Oct 30, 2012 Jason rated it really liked it
Shelves: garry-wills
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
Mikesawin Sawin
Jul 18, 2011 Mikesawin Sawin rated it it was ok
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.
Barb Nuttall Pramick
Jan 15, 2010 Barb Nuttall Pramick rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 13, 2008 Emily rated it liked 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.
Jun 19, 2010 Robin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 20, 2009 Starbubbles rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, religion
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.
Rich Merritt
Dec 22, 2010 Rich Merritt rated it it was amazing
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!
Andrea Engle
An very interesting approach to the history of religion in America ... however, towards the end it became rather shrill ... and the author has a tendency to name-drop, perhaps unavoidable in covering such a large swathe of material ...
Dec 16, 2010 Sherri rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 27, 2007 Edward rated it really liked it
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.
David Shank
May 27, 2011 David Shank rated it it was amazing
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.
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.
Crystal Hunter
Sep 11, 2015 Crystal Hunter rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone concerned with current trends in "religious freedom" issues
Brilliant assessment of the First Amendment issue of freedom of religion (separation of church and state)from the Puritan era of the 1600's through the second George W. Bush administration. A must read.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry
  • Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America
  • The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success
  • Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine
  • Love in Hard Places
  • The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America
  • The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations
  • When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today
  • A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada
  • Pia Desideria
  • Honest to God
  • Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God
  • I Was Just Wondering
  • American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation
  • Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction
  • American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon
  • The Christian Theology Reader
  • America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story
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...

Share This Book