Review by New York Times Review
NOTHING about the founders seems as interesting or as timely to us, 200 years and more farther on, as their religious views - who, if Anyone, they worshiped, how they marked the boundaries of church and state. As a Washington biographer, I have been assured, during the Q. and A. periods after talks, that George Washington saw the Virgin Mary at Valley Forge and converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed (why wait, if he had seen the Virgin 21 years earlier?). I was also once asked if he was an "illuminated Freemason"; I sped away from that question as fast as possible. Whether in legal briefs or op-ed articles, we are as passionate about religion as the founders were. Unfortunately, our passions make for a lot of sloppy and willful historical thinking and writing. In "Founding Faith," Steven Waldman, a veteran journalist and co-founder of Beliefnet.com, a religious Web site, surveys the convictions and legacy of the founders clearly and fairly, with a light touch but a careful eye. Waldman wants to make two large points, rebuking by turns both sides in the contemporary culture wars. One common myth, he writes, holds that "the founding fathers wanted religious freedom because they were deists." The First Amendment, in this view, is a conjurer's trick designed to hold the rubes' attention while gentlemen professed polite unbelief over their after-dinner port. In fact, Waldman writes, "few" of the founders "were true deists - people who believed that God had created the universe and then receded from action." Many were orthodox Christians - Waldman lists Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, John Witherspoon (a Presbyterian minister) and Roger Sherman. The founders whose biographies fill our best-seller lists are a more heterodox lot. John Adams, a scrappy Unitarian, scolded Catholics, Anglicans and skeptical French philosophers as each passed under his eye. Benjamin Franklin flirted with polytheism in his youth but ended believing in "one God, creator of the universe," who "governs the world by his providence." Thomas Jefferson railed against the Christian church, past and present, as corrupting the teachings of Jesus, and made his own digest of Gospel sayings he considered accurate. "It was the work of two or three nights only, at Washington," Waldman quotes him, "after getting thro' the evening task of reading the letters and papers of the day." Yet even these founders, Waldman says, "believed in God and that he shaped their lives and fortunes." According to an equal and opposite myth, America's national origins were Christian. The 13 colonies, Waldman says, were indeed Christian polities, most of them indulging in persecution to uphold their ideals. But the independent United States "was not established as a 'Christian nation.'" When George Washington was Revolutionary commander in chief, he mandated that his soldiers have chaplains and strongly encouraged them to attend divine service, but his own writings typically employed nondenominational language, appealing to providence rather than Christ. The First Amendment, which, along with its siblings second through Tenth, was among the first business of Congress under the new Constitution, rejected a national religious establishment. States were allowed to maintain their own establishments, and some did so for decades, although James Madison had hoped to dismantle even these. Perhaps the strongest supporters of the separation of church and state in the founding era were the communicants of a new, vigorous church, the Baptists. From 1760 to 1778 there were 56 jailings of Baptist preachers in Anglican Virginia. When the Rev. James Ireland continued to preach through the window of his cell, two supporters of the 39 Articles put a bench to the wall, stood on it and urinated in his face. No Barsetshire atmosphere in the New World. At least 14 jailings of Baptists happened in Madison's home county. "Though much scholarship has gone into assessing which Enlightenment philosophers shaped Madison's mind," Waldman says, "what likely influenced him most was not ideas from Europe but persecutions in Virginia." Waldman's conclusion is that "the Founding Faith ... was not Christianity, and it was not secularism. It was religious liberty - a revolutionary formula for promoting faith by leaving it alone." There is a certain amount of modern sales pitch in Waldman's revolutionary formula: Religious right! Nouvelle atheists! A pox on both their houses! But he adduces a mass of evidence to support it. One of the pleasures of this book is seeing the important people or points that are sometimes neglected in general histories get their due. There is a short chapter on George Whitefield (1714-70), the charismatic cross-eyed English evangelist who made seven tours of colonial America and who is buried in Newburyport, Mass. Whitefield was as media savvy as any television evangelist, "tapping into a burgeoning network of newspapers that had sprung up in the colonies." Franklin, who knew good copy when he saw it, covered Whitefield extensively in his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and published a serialized set of his talks. Whitefield, Waldman says, paved the way for political revolution by assuring his audiences "they had the insight, and right, to connect directly and interpret God's will." Though his "first target was the Miter, the Scepter was not far behind." Waldman also discusses 18th-century American Freemasonry - a topic that is almost always consigned to Masonic boasting or anti-Masonic raving, when it is noticed at all. Part fad, part aspirational fraternity, Masonry clothed Enlightenment ideals of the brotherhood of man in pomp and circumstance. The most famous Mason in founding America was George Washington, who laid the cornerstone of the Capitol in 1793 in a Masonic ceremony. Waldman acknowledges that "there is no direct evidence that Masonry influenced Washington's approach to tolerance - perhaps Washington developed the sensibility on his own and was attracted to the Masons because they shared his views - but at a minimum it reinforced Washington's desire for nonsectarianism." "Founding Faith" has a few shortcomings. Waldman gives the most ink, as do we all, to the founding all-stars - Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison. Why not spend a little more time, in a book on founding religion, on the most pious and most radical of the founders, Samuel Adams? As a young man, Adams heard Whitefield preach; as an old one, he criticized the anti-Christian polemics of his friend Thomas Paine. Waldman's favorite among the Big Five is Madison, a wise choice if constitutional interpretation is the core of the story (certainly courts are the venue where church/state issues are hashed out these days). But this is not an unassailable choice. The laws tell us what we may do. Leaders must decide what they themselves should do. If leadership is the focus, then pride of place must go to Washington, who, unlike Madison, ran a successful war and a successful presidency, attributing his success to providence all the while. Waldman ends by encouraging us to be like the founders. We should understand their principles, learn from their experience, then have at it ourselves. "We must pick up the argument that they began and do as they instructed - use our reason to determine our views." A good place to start is this entertaining, provocative book. 'The Founding Faith ... was not Christianity, and it was not secularism. It was religious liberty.' Richard Brookhiser is the author of "What Would the Founders Do? Our Questions, Their Answers."
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009]
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* As he did in Lyra's Oxford (2004), Pullman returns to the world of His Dark Materials trilogy in this story of how aeronaut Lee Scoresby meets and befriends bear Iorke Byrnison. Pullman is as fine a writer as there is for young people, and this book is a small gem literally it's 112 pages and the size of a paperback. The story begins as Lee's cargo balloon drifts into the Arctic, landing in the icy environs of Novy Odense. The town is about to elect a new mayor, Ivan Poliakov, who wants to rid the place of bears, and Lee (along with daemon rabbit Hester) finds himself embroiled in local controversies. When Lee learns one of Poliakov's allies is a vicious criminal with whom he once had a run-in, he knows he must choose sides. Beautifully crafted and spilling over with action, the novel has the feel of an old western (one can almost see Gary Cooper as Lee). Matching Pullman's carefully calibrated prose is the book's thoughtful design. Everything works together from the sturdy, blue cloth cover to the the back matter, which features a miniature board game. Lawrence's stamp-sized ink engravings set the tale somewhere between fantasy and history.--Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2008 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Fans of the His Dark Materials trilogy will get a kick from this wisp of a novel, which immediately introduces "a lean young man with a large hat, a laconic disposition, and a thin mustache": Pullman offers up the backstory about that legendary Texan, the aeronaut Lee Scoresby, his jackrabbit daemon, Hester, and their first encounter with that other series favorite, the armored bear Iorek Byrnison. But this story reads as a stand alone, too, accessible to those unfamiliar with The Golden Compass and the rest. Bringing in his signature talents for rich scenic description and dramatic action, the story begins as Lee arrives on the island of Novy Odense, looking for work, and instead finds adventure. Notably, Pullman tells the story from Lee's perspective, trading in trilogy heroine Lyra's point of view for that of an adult man. Lee and Iorek team up to help a sea captain save his ship's cargo-unfairly embargoed by a corrupt local politician (he harbors a deep prejudice against armored bears)-and square off against the politician's bodyguard, a hired killer. Readers will appreciate this story's larger-than-life tenor, so fitting for the heroic Lee Scoresby. Kids will enjoy the extras, such as the pull-out board game Peril of the Pole ("for four to six players and their daemons") and "newspaper" clippings. Illustrated throughout with small engravings; final art not seen by PW. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review
Gr 7 Up-This novella (Knopf, 2008) is partly a prequel to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and in part a shoot-em-up Western-style adventure with a little political commentary included. Arriving in Svalbard at the beginning of his career as an aeronaut, Lee Scoresby soon learns that Ivan Poliakov, a corrupt politician, is running for office claiming that bears are a major problem and he will get rid of them. In reality, Poliakov is using fear politics to pave the way for private corporations to seize power and resources from the people. Scoresby pits himself against Poliakov and his henchmen. With the help of the bear Iorek Byrnison, he fights Poliakov's men to enable a Dutch Captain to liberate his boat and cargo which Poliakov is holding hostage. Ephemera appended feature Lyra Silvertongue submitting a University thesis apparently based on these adventures, but listeners unfamiliar with the trilogy will have no idea who she is or how she relates to the story. While entertaining, the tale lacks many of the elements that made the trilogy so gripping. Except for the presence of daemons and talking bears, there is no supernatural element. Although the story takes place before the trilogy, it doesn't shed much light on characters and events that are to come. Pullman narrates the story perfectly in an expressive, somewhat gravelly voice, and a full cast of actors voice the characters. While listeners will enjoy the non-stop action, it is not an essential purchase and would be most suited to large collections with many Pullman fans.-Louise L. Sherman, formerly Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review
(Middle School, High School) Long before the events of Pullman's acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy, twenty-four-year-old Lee Scoresby is wandering the northern skies in a balloon he won in a poker game. Upon crash-landing on the island of Novy Odense, Lee is sucked into a local political struggle involving the takeover of Novy Odense by a corrupt mining company. Bears, their armor outlawed, work as laborers, and fear of them fuels the political discourse -- but it is among them that Lee finds an ally, the fearsome, inscrutable Iorek Byrnison. A shifty journalist, a cheated captain, an assassin with an old grudge against Lee, and a deceptively starchy librarian also play their parts in an adventure that, despite its frigid setting, exudes all the breezy charm of an old-fashioned Western, mostly thanks to its fast-talking, straight-shooting, rashly honorable hero. The precise narrative prose is spiced up with Lee's flights of "oratorical flamboyancy," and the sardonic banter between Lee and his daemon Hester is as amusing as ever. Engraved spot illustrations and "reproduced" documents add to the sense that this is only a single panel in the much larger tapestry of Pullman's fully realized alternate world. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
In his characteristic compactly rewarding prose, Pullman offers another glimpse into the world of His Dark Materials, less heady than Lyra's Oxford (2003) but somberly satisfying. It's 35 years before the trilogy, and young aeronaut Lee Scoresby has put down on Novy Odense in the North, looking for work and adventure. He finds the latter in spades. A corrupt corporation and a sleazy politician are obstructing a schooner's Captain from claiming his own cargo. Lee throws himself recklessly onto the side of good, operating on instinct and fearlessness. A bear--whom Lee thinks is named York Burningson--joins the deadly skirmish, shoving an enemy tanker-gun into the harbor while Lee engages in a gunfight in a warehouse. Scrawny, sardonic Hester--Lee's dmon--plays a key role in defeating a vicious hired gun. This small, neat volume won't hook newcomers, but its delving into beloved characters' backstories will please trilogy fans of all ages. Elegantly decorated with Lawrence's engravings and faux-realia, it is both understated and lovely. (foldout game) (Fantasy. 12+) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.