American Historical Review
In this interesting book Erin Smith analyzes popular religious books since the late nineteenth century with an eye toward understanding why – despite the scorn heaped on them by intellectuals -- they have been so beloved by their readers. Rather than being a comprehensive survey, What Would Jesus Read? consists of five case studies: the Social Gospel novels (1880s-1910s), Bruce Barton’s The Man Nobody Knows (1925), post-World War II religious self-help books, Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), and books for “the seeker” from the past twenty-five years. Smith’s focus is on white Protestant readers; working against the overworked liberal-conservative binary, she argues that these readers, who are “believed to be at opposite ends of the religious and political spectrum,” actually “share a culture of religious reading” (302) in which what really matters is “if these texts worked – that is, made them better people, managed their fears and anxieties, and made them feel as if their lives mattered” (7).
Copyright © 2016, William Vance Trollinger Jr. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association. All rights reserved.
Oxford University Press
Trollinger, William Vance, "Review: 'What Would Jesus Read? Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century America'" (2016). History Faculty Publications. 123.