Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Feb 28 2012
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WINNER 2012 – Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
FINALIST 2012 – Cundill Prize in History at McGill
LONGLISTED 2012 – BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
LONGLISTED 2013 – Lionel Gelber Prize
“Masterful…. All written with a style that further distinguishes Preston in a domain as deficient in literary grace as in candour. Preston excels in portraits of the people at the heart of the matter…. Brilliant.”
—The Globe and Mail
“A crisply written account hefty in both scope and intellect…. A work that will define the field for a generation to come. Nobody who writes about religion and American foreign policy will be able to do so without engaging [Preston]. And anybody who wants to understand American foreign policy—both then and now—would be wise to do so, too.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“A sharp, clear, deeply researched examination.... Preston explores [a] fascinating paradox.... A frank, exhaustive, marvelously readable study.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Reading this book is a thrilling intellectual adventure: it challenges received ideas at the same time as it throws light on buried, troubling perplexities and changes the way we view not only the United States but the rest of the world. Erudite, balanced and respectful, it could not be more timely and should be required reading for policy-makers, concerned citizens, atheists and religious alike.”
—Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God
“There have been a number of good books on particular aspects of religion and American foreign policy. But no one before Andrew Preston has written such a thoroughly researched, consistently insightful, and ideologically balanced general history of this timely, important, but strangely under-studied subject. This splendid book makes a major contribution in its own right, but also opens up an entire field for much-needed further study.”
—Mark Noll, author of America’s God
“In this landmark work, Andrew Preston sheds light on a critical element of the American experience: the role of religion in our relationship to the world. Faith is one of the most influential factors in our national life, and Preston’s excellent book gives religion its due as a force that shapes who we are, what wars we fight, and which causes we make our own.”
—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion
About the Author
Andrew Preston teaches American history and international relations history at Cambridge University, where he is a fellow of Clare College. Before Cambridge, he taught history and international studies at Yale University. Born in Ontario, he has also taught at universities in Canada and Switzerland, and has been a fellow at the Cold War Studies Program at the London School of Economics. He is the author of The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, The NSC, and Vietnam.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Preston begins with the Puritans and gives a broader introductory overview for the first 200 pages or so. The remaining 400 pages deal with the twentieth century primarily, a little more in depth. The focus, as the title states, is on war and diplomacy. We look at presidents and preachers and the religious beliefs of other significant figures throughout. The pervasiveness of religious influence is startling, even though I was expecting it.
Undoubtedly many of these eras could use more detailed study. Preston shows that George W Bush may have been more blatant in his religious appeals, but he was simply one in a long tradition. A fascinating achievement that should be foundational for more to come.
Freedom of Religion, however, did not mean Freedom From Religion, but rather allowed religions to flourish and have their effect, both moral and practical, upon decisions and actions - the puzzle has always been to act according to one's chosen religion without stepping on the rights of those of other faiths.
This volume is detailed and thorough to a fault. The contrast between liberal and modernist faiths and conservative fundamentalist faiths is made through the centuries. An even-handed approach between these two branches means however that there is a lack of analysis of the positive and negative effects these two streams have on society.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
However Preston's work does suffer from being unevenly written. The first 200 pages of the book cover from the first European settlement until the Spanish American War (roughly 1607-1898). This section simply lacks detail and it is unclear that Preston has a firm command of the religious history of this period. He spends considerable time comparing the Puritans and Jamestown but ignores the importance of other colonists, both Catholic and Quaker. When he deals with the lead up to the Civil War Preston doesn't seem to realize how important denominational identity is and even sometimes drops names without clearly identifying what group they belong to. I feel the book could have just picked up 200 pages later and been better off for it.
This minor overreach however should not detract from the pioneering work of scholarship that Preston has completed here. If you have an interest in American history, diplomacy or religion you should have a copy of this book.
As I read the book, I found myself largely agreeing with what the author has to say on his subject matter except for the three points below:
1. American Exceptionalism
The beliefs that Preston alleges as support for American Exceptionalism are by no means unique to America. These beliefs may in fact be the basis on which some Americans consider themselves to be exceptional, but Preston should at least have mentioned that Americans are not in fact exceptional in virtue of believing that they are God's chosen people. More than one war has been fought between nations who have declared themselves exceptional on such grounds.
2. The Role of Religious Conviction in American Foreign Policy Decision Making
In his discussion of how religious beliefs affect American foreign policy decisions, I think Preston needed to make a distinction between the religious beliefs which motivated American leaders to make their foreign policy decisions in a certain way and the religious beliefs which they may have used to sell those decisions to their fellow Americans. It is not enough to say, as Preston does, that these leaders are part of the same culture as the people to whom they must justify their decisions. To judge from the popular sermons of the day, some Founding Fathers appear to have been better educated and more in tune with "the Age of the Enlightenment" than many of their fellow Americans and in consequence were often much more sceptical of the claims of traditional religion than many of their fellow Americans. Some, or even all, of the religious imagery contained in America's founding documents may have been put there to secure popular support and may not shed any light on the thought behind the documents or even the intended meaning of the documents.
3. The Declaration of Independence
Preston's discussion of the Declaration of Independence appears (to me) to explain the document in the cultural context of modern thought rather than the cultural context of the times. Missing from his discussion is an analysis of how, for example, Enlightenment views on the social contract and the divine right of kings might have conditioned the meaning of certain key points in the Declaration of Independence as those points would have been understood by Enlightened Americans at the time.
My three points are, of course, debatable. Suffice it to say that this book, read as an exposition of American religious/political thought over the centuries, is exceptional in the breath of its coverage and its engaging style.
Preston shows both the plus and down sides of these views and gives voice to the constant theme of dissension to our foreign policy that runs through US history as well.
This book would inspire thought in many Christians, unfortunately, most Christians will never plow through a book so deep and long. This is too bad, because we're being used.