Century Marks

Century Marks

Best books on the Puritans

  • Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. Miller, an atheist and heavy drinker who is widely regarded as the greatest historian of American Puritanism, admired the Puritans as serious intellectuals who lived out their beliefs.
  • Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family. Morgan, Miller’s student, gives a sympathetic treatment of the warmth and passion of Puritan family life that belies the stereotype of Puritans as legalistic killjoys.
  • Charles Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety. Hambrick-Stowe brilliantly explicates the Puritans’ devotional practices and their fervent love of God.
  • Harry Stout, The New England Soul. While Miller emphasized the changing nature of Puritanism in America, Stout finds that Puritan theology, focused on the doctrine of covenant, remained quite stable throughout the colonial era.
  • Jill Lepore, The Name of War. Lepore compellingly recounts the tragic, brutal history of the Puritan war with Native Ameri­cans in the 1670s, which in terms of the percentage of people killed remains one of the deadliest wars in American history (Thomas Kidd, Patheos, July 17).

Bedside manners

When Dr. Jerome Groopman realized there was nothing he could do to treat a patient’s cancer, he went to her hospital room. “Barbara,” he said to her as he grasped her hand, “we’ve been honest with each other every step of the way. I know of no medicines that I can give at this point to help you.” After a long and heavy silence, she said to him, “No, Jerry. You do have something to give. You have the medicine of friendship” (New York Review of Books, September 27).

Denominational decline

Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism, the two most liberal Jewish groups in the United States, are losing about 1 percent of their members each year, according Steven Cohen, sociologist at Hebrew Union College. Interreligious marriage is a significant cause: only 15 to 20 percent of interfaith families join a synagogue, and those who do are less active or leave the synagogue after the bar mitzvah of their last child. Jews tend to live in blue states where the rate of religious affiliation is the lowest. The largest “denomination” declared by American Jews is “none” (Economist, July 28).

Target audience

Despite the fact that President Obama has done virtually nothing to restrict firearms, the National Rifle Association and the firearms industry warn that Obama will take guns away from law-abiding citizens. The message is good for business. Last year the firearms industry had an overall economic impact of $31.8 billion. Employment is up in the industry 31 percent since 2008. Remington alone sold more than 1 million guns and 2 billion rounds of ammunition in 2011, its third most profitable year in the last two decades—outdone only by the two previous years. The NRA has said that a second term for Obama would result in an all-out war on Second Amendment rights. However, the Brady Center, which lobbies for gun control, has given Obama an F on efforts to control guns (Nation Institute, September 2).

Price to pay

Last month the doors to a Trappist monastery near Jerusalem were set ablaze and inflammatory phrases—including “Jesus is a monkey”—were painted on the monastery walls. A Jewish extremist group, unhappy because two Jewish settlements had been dismantled by the Israeli government, was blamed for the vandalism. It’s seen as part of the settlers’ “price tag” retaliation campaign—making others pay for the loss of settlements. Rabbi Dov Lipman led a group of Jews to the monastery, bearing flowers and a message of peace. The group stayed long enough to help remove the graffiti (ncronline.org and Haaretz, September 5).