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The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

by

The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher Cover

ISBN13: 9780385513975
ISBN10: 0385513976
Condition: Standard
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Awards

Winner 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

No one predicted success for Henry Ward Beecher at his birth in 1813. The blithe, boisterous son of the last great Puritan minister, he seemed destined to be overshadowed by his brilliant siblings — especially his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned the century's bestselling book Uncle Tom's Cabin. But when pushed into the ministry, the charismatic Beecher found international fame by shedding his father's Old Testament–style fire-and-brimstone theology and instead preaching a New Testament–based gospel of unconditional love and healing, becoming one of the founding fathers of modern American Christianity. By the 1850s, his spectacular sermons at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights had made him New York's number one tourist attraction, so wildly popular that the ferries from Manhattan to Brooklyn were dubbed "Beecher Boats."

Beecher inserted himself into nearly every important drama of the era — among them the antislavery and women's suffrage movements, the rise of the entertainment industry and tabloid press, and controversies ranging from Darwinian evolution to presidential politics. He was notorious for his irreverent humor and melodramatic gestures, such as auctioning slaves to freedom in his pulpit and shipping rifles — nicknamed "Beecher's Bibles" — to the antislavery resistance fighters in Kansas. Thinkers such as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Twain befriended — and sometimes parodied — him.

And then it all fell apart. In 1872 Beecher was accused by feminist firebrand Victoria Woodhull of adultery with one of his most pious parishioners. Suddenly the "Gospel of Love" seemed to rationalize a life of lust. The cuckolded husband brought charges of "criminal conversation" in a salacious trial that became the most widely covered event of the century, garnering more newspaper headlines than the entire Civil War. Beecher survived, but his reputation and his causes — from women's rights to progressive evangelicalism — suffered devastating setbacks that echo to this day.

Featuring the page-turning suspense of a novel and dramatic new historical evidence, Debby Applegate has written the definitive biography of this captivating, mercurial, and sometimes infuriating figure. In our own time, when religion and politics are again colliding and adultery in high places still commands headlines, Beecher's story sheds new light on the culture and conflicts of contemporary America.

Review:

"Now nearly forgotten, Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887) was an immensely famous minister, abolitionist and public intellectual whose career was rocked by allegations of adultery that made nationwide headlines. In this engaging biography, American studies scholar Applegate situates this curiously modern 19th-century figure at the focus of epochal developments in American culture. Beecher's mesmerizing oratory and fiery newspaper columns made him one of the first celebrities of the nascent mass media. His antislavery politics, though often tepid and vacillating, Applegate argues, injected a note of emotionalism into the debate that — with his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin — galvanized Northern public opinion. And by preaching a loving God instead of a wrathful one, the author contends, Beecher repudiated the dour Calvinism of his youth and made happiness and self-fulfillment, rather than sin and guilt, the centerpiece of modern Christian ideology. (The implicit moral anarchy of his creed, critics charged, evinced itself in his sexual indiscretions.) Although marred by occasionally facile psychoanalysis (Applegate describes Beecher, the seventh of 12 siblings, as a classic 'middle child' personality), this assessment of Beecher is judicious and critical. Applegate gives an insightful account of a contradictory, fascinating, rather Clintonesque figure who, in many ways, was America's first liberal. (June 27)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright © Reed Business Information)

Review:

"A wonderful portrait of a charismatic preacher with a deeply flawed private life, this biography vividly conveys the color and contradictions of nineteenth-century America. With a sure grasp of history, penetrating insights into religion, and many marvelous turns of phrase, Applegate brings to life a time that uncannily prefigures our own." William Taubman, author of Khrushchev

Review:

"At last, Henry Beecher receives the comprehensive treatment he is due, in this perceptive, engaging, and balanced study." James MacGregor Burns

Review:

"Debby Applegate brings to life nineteenth-century America's most influential preacher, who emerges in this full-blooded portrait as a fascinating tangle of all-too-human traits. Drawing off an impressive body of research, the author expertly weaves together biography and history in a riveting narrative that reads like a page-turning novel." David S. Reynolds, author of John Brown, Abolitionist and Walt Whitman's America.

Review:

"Thoroughly researched, passionately written, and richly detailed, this book is the biography of America's greatest nineteenth-century preacher...must reading for serious nonfiction readers of American religion, politics and culture in Victorian America." Harry S. Stout, Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History, Yale University

Review:

"A lively narrative of nineteenth-century religion, power, passion, and politics, as well as a perceptive study of the elusive preacher who rode them to the top." Joan D. Hedrick, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Harriet Beecher Stowe

Review:

"Henry Ward Beecher was a phenomenon: the scion of an amazing family, the most renowned American preacher of his day, an anti-slavery stalwart — and the main protagonist in one of the most sensational sex scandals of the Victorian era. If you thought that the personalities and machinations surrounding the Clinton impeachment scandal were interesting, you will find the Beecher exposé riveting. More important, Debby Applegate has vividly brought Beecher and his entire era to life, in all of their piety, idealism, pomposity, and pride." Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy

Review:

"An exceptionally thorough and thoughtful account of a spectacular career that helped shape and reflect national preoccupations before, during and after the Civil War." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Applegate sympathetically portrays this larger-than-life figure as appealingly human." Booklist

Review:

" For readers seeking the roots of the popular religion and popular culture of our own time, Applegate's resurrection of Henry Ward Beecher is an excellent place to begin." The Washington Post

Review:

"...Applegate has produced a biography worthy of its subject." The New York Times

Synopsis:

Applegate brings the fascinating, flawed figure of Henry Ward Beecher to deserved new life and places him at the center of the key dramas of the American 19th century — including the advent of the pulp novel and tabloid press.

Synopsis:

US

Synopsis:

No one predicted success for Henry Ward Beecher at his birth in 1813. The blithe, boisterous son of the last great Puritan minister, he seemed destined to be overshadowed by his brilliant siblings--especially his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned the century's bestselling book Uncle Tom's Cabin. But when pushed into the ministry, the charismatic Beecher found international fame by shedding his father's Old Testament-style fire-and-brimstone theology and instead preaching a New Testament-based gospel of unconditional love and healing, becoming one of the founding fathers of modern American Christianity. By the 1850s, his spectacular sermons at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights had made him New York's number one tourist attraction, so wildly popular that the ferries from Manhattan to Brooklyn were dubbed Beecher Boats.

Beecher inserted himself into nearly every important drama of the era--among them the antislavery and women's suffrage movements, the rise of the entertainment industry and tabloid press, and controversies ranging from Darwinian evolution to presidential politics. He was notorious for his irreverent humor and melodramatic gestures, such as auctioning slaves to freedom in his pulpit and shipping rifles--nicknamed Beecher's Bibles--to the antislavery resistance fighters in Kansas. Thinkers such as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Twain befriended--and sometimes parodied--him.

And then it all fell apart. In 1872 Beecher was accused by feminist firebrand Victoria Woodhull of adultery with one of his most pious parishioners. Suddenly the Gospel of Love seemed to rationalize a life of lust. The cuckolded husband brought charges of criminal conversation in a salacious trial that became the most widely covered event of the century, garnering more newspaper headlines than the entire Civil War. Beecher survived, but his reputation and his causes--from women's rights to progressive evangelicalism--suffered devastating setbacks that echo to this day.

Featuring the page-turning suspense of a novel and dramatic new historical evidence, Debby Applegate has written the definitive biography of this captivating, mercurial, and sometimes infuriating figure. In our own time, when religion and politics are again colliding and adultery in high places still commands headlines, Beecher's story sheds new light on the culture and conflicts of contemporary America.

About the Author

Debby Applegate is a graduate summa cum laude of Amherst College and was a Sterling Fellow at Yale University, where she received her Ph.D. in American Studies. She has written for publications ranging from the Journal of American History to the New York Times, and has taught at Yale and Wesleyan Universities.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Kirk, July 16, 2007 (view all comments by Kirk)
A highly readable biography of a man who changed the way we practice and view Christianity in America. His orations and preachings throughout the country made him a 19th century superstar. The scandal late in his life is reminiscent of Jim Bakker. Applegate won the Pulitzer Prize for this biography.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(3 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780385513975
Subtitle:
The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
Author:
Applegate, Debby
Publisher:
Image
Subject:
Religious
Subject:
Historical - U.S.
Subject:
Clergy
Subject:
Clergy -- United States.
Subject:
Beecher, Henry Ward
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Biography-Historical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20070417
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
16 PAGES OF BandW ILLUSTRATIONS
Pages:
560
Dimensions:
9.20x6.14x1.28 in. 1.32 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » History and Social Science
History and Social Science » US History » 1800 to 1945
History and Social Science » US History » 1800 to Civil War
History and Social Science » US History » 19th Century
History and Social Science » US History » Early American Biographies

The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.50 In Stock
Product details 560 pages Three Leaves Publishing - English 9780385513975 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Now nearly forgotten, Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887) was an immensely famous minister, abolitionist and public intellectual whose career was rocked by allegations of adultery that made nationwide headlines. In this engaging biography, American studies scholar Applegate situates this curiously modern 19th-century figure at the focus of epochal developments in American culture. Beecher's mesmerizing oratory and fiery newspaper columns made him one of the first celebrities of the nascent mass media. His antislavery politics, though often tepid and vacillating, Applegate argues, injected a note of emotionalism into the debate that — with his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin — galvanized Northern public opinion. And by preaching a loving God instead of a wrathful one, the author contends, Beecher repudiated the dour Calvinism of his youth and made happiness and self-fulfillment, rather than sin and guilt, the centerpiece of modern Christian ideology. (The implicit moral anarchy of his creed, critics charged, evinced itself in his sexual indiscretions.) Although marred by occasionally facile psychoanalysis (Applegate describes Beecher, the seventh of 12 siblings, as a classic 'middle child' personality), this assessment of Beecher is judicious and critical. Applegate gives an insightful account of a contradictory, fascinating, rather Clintonesque figure who, in many ways, was America's first liberal. (June 27)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright © Reed Business Information)
"Review" by , "A wonderful portrait of a charismatic preacher with a deeply flawed private life, this biography vividly conveys the color and contradictions of nineteenth-century America. With a sure grasp of history, penetrating insights into religion, and many marvelous turns of phrase, Applegate brings to life a time that uncannily prefigures our own."
"Review" by , "At last, Henry Beecher receives the comprehensive treatment he is due, in this perceptive, engaging, and balanced study."
"Review" by , "Debby Applegate brings to life nineteenth-century America's most influential preacher, who emerges in this full-blooded portrait as a fascinating tangle of all-too-human traits. Drawing off an impressive body of research, the author expertly weaves together biography and history in a riveting narrative that reads like a page-turning novel."
"Review" by , "Thoroughly researched, passionately written, and richly detailed, this book is the biography of America's greatest nineteenth-century preacher...must reading for serious nonfiction readers of American religion, politics and culture in Victorian America."
"Review" by , "A lively narrative of nineteenth-century religion, power, passion, and politics, as well as a perceptive study of the elusive preacher who rode them to the top."
"Review" by , "Henry Ward Beecher was a phenomenon: the scion of an amazing family, the most renowned American preacher of his day, an anti-slavery stalwart — and the main protagonist in one of the most sensational sex scandals of the Victorian era. If you thought that the personalities and machinations surrounding the Clinton impeachment scandal were interesting, you will find the Beecher exposé riveting. More important, Debby Applegate has vividly brought Beecher and his entire era to life, in all of their piety, idealism, pomposity, and pride."
"Review" by , "An exceptionally thorough and thoughtful account of a spectacular career that helped shape and reflect national preoccupations before, during and after the Civil War."
"Review" by , "Applegate sympathetically portrays this larger-than-life figure as appealingly human."
"Review" by , " For readers seeking the roots of the popular religion and popular culture of our own time, Applegate's resurrection of Henry Ward Beecher is an excellent place to begin."
"Review" by , "...Applegate has produced a biography worthy of its subject."
"Synopsis" by , Applegate brings the fascinating, flawed figure of Henry Ward Beecher to deserved new life and places him at the center of the key dramas of the American 19th century — including the advent of the pulp novel and tabloid press.
"Synopsis" by , US
"Synopsis" by , No one predicted success for Henry Ward Beecher at his birth in 1813. The blithe, boisterous son of the last great Puritan minister, he seemed destined to be overshadowed by his brilliant siblings--especially his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned the century's bestselling book Uncle Tom's Cabin. But when pushed into the ministry, the charismatic Beecher found international fame by shedding his father's Old Testament-style fire-and-brimstone theology and instead preaching a New Testament-based gospel of unconditional love and healing, becoming one of the founding fathers of modern American Christianity. By the 1850s, his spectacular sermons at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights had made him New York's number one tourist attraction, so wildly popular that the ferries from Manhattan to Brooklyn were dubbed Beecher Boats.

Beecher inserted himself into nearly every important drama of the era--among them the antislavery and women's suffrage movements, the rise of the entertainment industry and tabloid press, and controversies ranging from Darwinian evolution to presidential politics. He was notorious for his irreverent humor and melodramatic gestures, such as auctioning slaves to freedom in his pulpit and shipping rifles--nicknamed Beecher's Bibles--to the antislavery resistance fighters in Kansas. Thinkers such as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Twain befriended--and sometimes parodied--him.

And then it all fell apart. In 1872 Beecher was accused by feminist firebrand Victoria Woodhull of adultery with one of his most pious parishioners. Suddenly the Gospel of Love seemed to rationalize a life of lust. The cuckolded husband brought charges of criminal conversation in a salacious trial that became the most widely covered event of the century, garnering more newspaper headlines than the entire Civil War. Beecher survived, but his reputation and his causes--from women's rights to progressive evangelicalism--suffered devastating setbacks that echo to this day.

Featuring the page-turning suspense of a novel and dramatic new historical evidence, Debby Applegate has written the definitive biography of this captivating, mercurial, and sometimes infuriating figure. In our own time, when religion and politics are again colliding and adultery in high places still commands headlines, Beecher's story sheds new light on the culture and conflicts of contemporary America.

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