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The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  3,223 ratings  ·  462 reviews
A journalist's penetrating look at the untold story of christian fundamentalism's most elite organization, a self-described invisible network dedicated to a religion of power for the powerful.

They are the Family—fundamentalism's avant-garde, waging spiritual war in the halls of American power and around the globe. They consider themselves the new chosen—congressmen, genera
Hardcover, 454 pages
Published May 20th 2008 by Harper (first published June 1st 2007)
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Will Byrnes
This is a must read. In the same way that Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine mapped out a process that has been going on in plain sight for a long time, Jeff Sharlet shows us a process that has been going on stealthily for many, many years. As the Shock Doctrine sheds light on an appalling abuse of power, so The Family sheds light on some very creepy goings on, primarily at home.

The notion one might have in approaching The Family is that it is primarily a tell-all about the people who live at C S
Chris Coffman
Jan 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
This book was given to me by my father-in-law, a retired Church of England minister who had numerous clashes in his career with narrow-minded Christians in and out of the Church hierarchy. He has understandable concerns about what he reads about the "Religious Right" in the US, and given the book's uniformly excellent reviews in Australia, he gave me Sharlet's THE FAMILY.

I was riveted from the first chapter: Sharlet was welcomed into the core of an organisation devoted to extending the influenc
Richard Bartholomew
As Jeff Sharlet has been at pains to stress since The Family was published, the "Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power" is not a conspiracy. Rather, it is secret because it is discrete, and because it has been overlooked by journalists and the secular writers of American history. Abraham Vereide's name is familiar enough if you know modern evangelical history or read Christian books – Billy Graham describes him as "a remarkable man", Corrie Ten Boom sought out his endorsement when ...more
Scott Rhee
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was read in March-April 2013. It is a fascinating book, chockfull of grand conspiracy theories that sound almost ridiculous, unless one watches the news or reads up on what is actually happening in the world.

Jeff Sharlet is a better man than me. As testament to either his objectivity as a journalist or his more-evolved sense of non-judgmentalism, Sharlet never once refers to the people he is writing about as “fanatics”, “lunatics”, “nutjobs”, “whackos”, “Jesus freaks”, or “insane”. Nor
Julie Christine
Nov 24, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Julie Christine by: Fresh Air/NPR
3 for readability; 5+ for relevance.

The Family is known to most Beltway politicos and in the corridors of political powerhouses throughout the world. Known well, but little understood. This is an areligious, ultra-conservative, tightly-knit network of American political and economic power that operates on the basis of a single premise: its members are directly chosen by Jesus Christ as special emissaries of his mission. Of course, this mission is defined by the Family itself: namely the expansi
Books Ring Mah Bell
Jul 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-politics
The family. a bunch of guys that build prayer cells around powerful politicians. big deal. who cares? Let them do what they want to do!

The fact that they want to have their own little group and meet and pray is no big deal. But it becomes a big deal when their belief system begins infringing on politics, not only in our country, but internationally. For example, they influenced policy makers in Africa (Uganda? Shit, I forget) to not teach "safe sex". That's right. To hell with rubbers! They don'
Jun 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: political junkies, freethinkers
The book is heavy going at times, and I felt as if I should have had a highlighter in hand to aid myself in remembering all the names and dates. The overall result is a powerful journalistic exposé that is an eye-opening glimpse into backroom dealings of Washington and beyond. I have always found myself on the left in the political spectrum — more to the left than mainstream Democrats — so I am not surprised to read about America’s manipulation of foreign governments, but I was surprised to lear ...more
Erik Graff
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: US citizens/Christians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
This is the product of years of journalistic research about and involvement in American fundamentalism as it pertains to U.S. politics and the 'culture wars' of today. The author's thesis is that Christianity, founded as it is on notions of special, as opposed to natural, revelation, on the bible rather than on scientific investigation, has been an enduring feature of American history since early colonial days. While perdurant, its character has been multifaceted and ever-changing, some currents ...more
Jul 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'd been looking for some light reading -- something quick -- and thought this was an expansion of Sharlet's 2003 article on Ivanwald ( As I indicated, I had a personal interest in the topic, and had been putting off reading the book (which I'd never seen). Instead, I ended up with this long, sprawling book on the whole structure of "elite fundamentalism" going back to the 17th cen.

There is very little on Ivanwald here -- and Sharlet seems to think of hi
Jan 20, 2010 rated it it was ok
I would have given this 3 stars if only it were titled slightly differently. This book is less about The Family--a seemingly innocuous organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington that actually has deep political influence within the Republican party and even among some Democrats--as much as it is an analysis of Christian fundamentalism as an integral part of America's past, present and future. My previous sentence as well as this one--which are interrupted almost as soon as they beg ...more
Doug Thayer
May 13, 2010 rated it did not like it
This book needed an editor. The long, breathless essays were tiresome. Early in the book, he waxes poetic about the mobius strip calling it an Escher creation. What? He is always dropping names of politicians and their associations with "the family". Who would have guessed that some politicians are fundamentalist christians? He acts so suprised that fundamentalist christians get together to influence government. He seems to see a conspiracy behind ever tree. It would be like saying the jews cont ...more
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reading this, I felt as though the scales were falling away from my eyes and I finally understood more about our current political reality. It also gave me a different picture if the candidate I supported....and made me realize that I just haven't been paying full attention.

This is a really important book - highly recommend. I do feel that it could have been better edited - SO much information that several sections were really a slog.
Jeff Sharlet
May 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Shelves: my-writing
I'm the author. You decide whether it's any good. As you can see from the cover, Goodreads' title information is incorrect -- a rejected title.
Mary Gail O'Dea
Aug 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Jeff Sharlet lived within The Family for a year. This is the secretive prosperity Christian cult to which Mark Sanford, Tom Coburn, Jm DeMint, John Ensign, and other right wing politicians belong. It has been in existence for over 80 years -- who knew? -- and has powerful connections, often with right wing dictatorships, throughout the world. The Family runs the annual National Prayer Breakfast behind which lurks a much more sinister centralization of power. It is a book each American should rea ...more
Jennifer Abdo
Feb 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer by: NPR, Democracy Now
Move over Birthers! This is not only crazy, but it’s true, too. I have been reading Sharlet’s book, The Family. Coincidentally, the recent Congressional sex scandals have brought this Family into the limelight again, so Democracy Now talked to Jeff Sharlet the other day. He distills his book into a summary better than I can possibly do it and adds more recent facts as well. He starts to go into the reach into the military after discussing the book and its hold on Congress. See the links below.

Sep 16, 2011 rated it did not like it
With all the buzz surrounding this book I expected something better.

Here's my main complaint: Sharlet has, for the most part (aside from his magazine articles, perhaps), sacrificed--not to say deliberately, though it is possible if you consider the fact that the author, a journalist, may have felt free to fill as much space as he pleased since it wouldn't be in a magazine--coherence for cleverness.

That last meandering sentence of mine is an imitation of his style. The whole book is like that,
Mark Cheathem
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it
I would have given the book 2.5/5 if possible. I learned some things I didn't know, but the weaknesses of the book detracted from the more important points about the mix of religion and politics that Sharlet made.

My comments:

1. Sharlet doesn't understand the difference between Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Fundamentalism is John R. Rice, the Bob Joneses, Jack Schaap, etc. It isn't Ted Haggard, James Dobson, or Jerry Falwell. There is some crossover appeal and gray area, but Sharle
Jul 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Jeff Sharlet wrote an uncannily seductive piece for Harper's years ago, "Jesus Plus Nothing," that described the Family, a mysterious group of elite right-wing fundamentalists, a group that includes many American politicians. Now Sharlet is back with a full-length book on the subject. His superb writing style and knack for bold, discomforting insights are back as well. The book's primary weakness is its flitting tone: While you never get the sense that Sharlet is giving a topic short shrift, the ...more
Jul 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book terrifies me. I knew that conservative Christians WANTED to seize control of the country, but this convinces me that they already have. We who value our freedom must fight back. Unfortunately, this book is too balanced to be the battle cry that we need, but it does give plenty of evidence that secularism in America is at risk. Be very afraid.
Mary H.
Very relevant in the current political discourse.
Joan Colby
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well-researched and brilliantly written, Sharlet’s book infiltrates the most influential movement that few Americans have heard of. An expose of a secret group whose membership, both past and present, includes prominent politicians, captains of industry and international figures such as heads of state and diplomats. Not an organized religion, The Family claims adherents to the laws of Jesus as they perceive him. Obedience and power network the members to influence the country’s decisions on majo ...more
Vannessa Anderson
Aug 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The Family is about Religious Fundamentalism here in America.

The author takes us on a journey through the mindset of “men” who follow a movement in the service of an imperial ambition—a seventy-year old self-described invisible network of followers of Christ in government, business, and the military who call themselves The Family, or The Fellowship, and who consider themselves a core of men responsible for changing the world.

You’ll want to hold on to your seats while reading The Family because
I had an unsettling feeling as I began reading this book. The author describes the beliefs of The Family, a fraternity of what the author calls American fundamentalists. This group follows Christ outside of the norms of organized Christianity. They fuse American nationalism/imperialism, capitalism, and their faith in Christ. They cultivate national and international contacts, hoping to influence the powerful and one day conquer all in Christ. Much of what he initially described wasn't all that o ...more
Todd Martin
Stop the presses! There are a bunch of religious zealots running the country! Oh … I guess that hadn’t occurred to me despite the whole gay marriage debate, and the Terry Shiavo fiasco, and ban against stem cell research, and national prayer day, and the debate over school prayer, and whether to post the 10-commandments in public places, and abstinance only sex education, and “Fath-Based Initiatives”, and the fight over a woman’s right to choose, or the phrase “In God We Trust” on our money, or ...more
Why all the worry ? ... fraudulent crypto-religious anonymity-craving 'obedience' cells pledging loyalty to nothing but the authoritarian power structure of the right wing ... secretive, coded rationales wrapped in paper-thin guises to resemble christianity ... fundamentalisms elite & populist, country-club and speaking-in-tongues, both at the service of a reactionary vision for the U.S. ... clandestine rearrangements of foreign policy, quasi-faith groups false-fronting crude laissez-faire moral ...more
Aug 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is nothing short of an amazing (over-used adjective, but in this case, VERY apropos) eye-opener! Zealots of ANY persuasion make me nervous, and private citizens at the heart of international relations feels just plain wrong...illegal even? (Ever heard of the Logan Act of 1799?) We "seculars", much like the "out of touch" intelligentsia that failed to react in Germany in the '20s and '30s, need to wake up, pay attention and push back! I simply cannot believe that Jesus intended to be mi ...more
Sep 04, 2009 added it
The Family - Jeff Sharlet
The book comes with a thick armor of recomendations. I won't need to add mine.

What i had heard of this book and expected was the sort of conspiracy you might find in a Dan Brown novel. Not here. That's not to say it doesn't exist, it's just not described in the book. Certainly this book scores, but it's not a 'bomb-shell'.

You may find the historical side (250 years) of this book of interest. You may find the personal relationships and interviews of value. You may find th
Larry Zieminski
Oct 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first heard about this book during the various C-street scandals that hit some Republican senators over the last year or so. I got the book, mistakenly assuming it would be about the C-Street house and how it is used by various Congressman (I was wrong, but that book is coming out this Fall). Instead I found a book that covers the history of Christian Fundamentalism. Rather than just covering The Family (a particular group of fundamentalists), Sharlet goes back and starts with the Revival mome ...more
Jun 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nf-history
I begrudgingly gave THE FAMILY a "3" because of its important and fascinating topic, but it gets a "1" on its cohesiveness and desperate need for more disciplined editing.

The true story of fundamentalism in America and its manifestation in the halls of power today is well researched and frightening in its implications for the way things get done in certain spheres of influence. The author finds himself in a position to become an insider with a group of people whose ultimate goal is nothing shor
Tom Walsh
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this very important book, Jeff Sharlet recounts his infiltration of a secretive cabal of powerful American Leaders injecting their Theism into just about every facet of American Governmental and Industrial Domestic and Foreign Policy.

He not only explains how The Family operates, identifying a dizzying assortment of Members at every level of Society, but delves into its motives, failures and successes. He traces the Roots of this peculiar brand of Christianity back to the founding of the Coun
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I'm a contributing editor for Harper's and Rolling Stone and I also write about music for Oxford American, politics for The Nation, and media for The Revealer, a review of religion and the press published by the New York University Center for Religion and Media, where I'm an associate research scholar.
I'm the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper,

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“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Theodor Geisel said...
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“What did “good government” really mean? Langlie and his brotherhood promised an end to political corruption. (There’s no evidence that Langlie ever even took a drink, much less a bribe.) The days of “honest graft” were over, at least for a while. But seen from another perspective—that of ordinary citizens without access to Langlie and Abram’s elite network—Langlie didn’t so much end corruption as legalize it. Langlie wasn’t opposed to a government organized around the interests of the greedy; he just didn’t want to have to break the law to serve them.” 2 likes
“American fundamentalism’s original sentiments were as radically democratic in theory as they have become repressive in practice, its dream not that of Christian theocracy but of a return to the first century of Christ worship, before there was a thing called Christianity. The “age of miracles,” when church was no more than a word for the great fellowship—the profound friendship—of believers, when Christ’s testament really was new, revelation was unburdened by history, and believers were martyrs or martyrs-to-be, pure and beautiful.” 2 likes
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