At a time when the separation of church and state is under attack as never before, Freethinkers offers a powerful defense of the secularist heritage that gave Americans the first government in the world founded not on the authority of religion but on the bedrock of human reason.
In impassioned, elegant prose, celebrated author Susan Jacoby paints a striking portrait of more than two hundred years of secularist activism, beginning with the fierce debate over the omission of God from the Constitution. Moving from nineteenth-century abolitionism and suffragism through the twentieth century's civil liberties, civil rights, and feminist movements, Freethinkers illuminates the neglected accomplishments of secularists who, allied with liberal and tolerant religious believers, have stood at the forefront of the battle for reforms opposed by reactionary forces in the past and today.
Rich with such iconic figures as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Clarence Darrow—as well as once-famous secularists such as Robert Green Ingersoll, "the Great Agnostic"—Freethinkers restores to history generations of dedicated humanists. It is they, Jacoby shows, who have led the struggle to uphold the combination of secular government and religious liberty that is the glory of the American system.
During the Gilded Age, which saw the dawn of America’s enduring culture wars, Robert Green Ingersoll was known as “the Great Agnostic.” The nation’s most famous orator, he raised his voice on behalf of Enlightenment reason, secularism, and the separation of church and state with a vigor unmatched since America’s revolutionary generation. When he died in 1899, even his religious enemies acknowledged that he might have aspired to the U.S. presidency had he been willing to mask his opposition to religion. To the question that retains its controversial power today—was the United States founded as a Christian nation?—Ingersoll answered an emphatic no.
In this provocative biography, Susan Jacoby, the author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, restores Ingersoll to his rightful place in an American intellectual tradition extending from Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine to the current generation of “new atheists.” Jacoby illuminates the ways in which America’s often-denigrated and forgotten secular history encompasses issues, ranging from women’s rights to evolution, as potent and divisive today as they were in Ingersoll’s time. Ingersoll emerges in this portrait as one of the indispensable public figures who keep an alternative version of history alive. He devoted his life to that greatest secular idea of all—liberty of conscience belonging to the religious and nonreligious alike./div
Never Say Die unmasks the fallacies promoted by twenty-first-century hucksters of longevity—including health gurus claiming that boomers can stay “forever young” if they only live right, self-promoting biomedical businessmen predicting that ninety may soon become the new fifty and that a “cure” for the “disease” of aging is just around the corner, and wishful thinkers asserting that older means wiser.
The author offers powerful evidence that America has always been a “youth culture” and that the plight of the neglected old dates from the early years of the republic. Today, as the oldest boomers turn sixty-five, it is imperative for them to distinguish between marketing hype and realistic hope about what lies ahead for the more than 70 million Americans who will be beyond the traditional retirement age by 2030. This wide-ranging reappraisal examines the explosion of Alzheimer’s cases, the uncertain economic future of aging boomers, the predicament of women who make up an overwhelming majority of the oldest—and poorest—old, and the illusion that we can control the way we age and die.
Jacoby raises the fundamental question of whether living longer is a good thing unless it means living better. Her book speaks to Americans, whatever their age, who draw courage and hope from facing reality instead of embracing that oldest of delusions, the fountain of youth.
From the Hardcover edition.
In Half-Jew, Jacoby grapples with the hidden identity cloaked by the persona of a successful accountant and member of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing, Michigan—and with the secrets and lies that had marked her family’s history for three generations on two continents.
Beginning in 1849 when her great-grandfather arrived in America as a political refugee, Jacoby traces her lineage through the lives of her great-uncle Harold, the distinguished astronomer whose map of the constellations is etched on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal; her uncle, the bridge champion Oswald Jacoby, her aunt Edith, also a Catholic convert and eventually a reformer within the church; and, of course her father himself. At the core of story is the psychic damage that accrues across generations when people conceal their true ethnic and religious origins.
Featuring a new afterword, Half-Jew is a meticulously researched, emotionally poignant examination of the dark legacy of European and American anti-Semitism as well as a tender-hearted account of a daughter coming to understand her father, herself, and her family’s true legacy.
How fabulous was life for men in the 1950s and early 1960s? How real is the world depicted by a television show like Mad Men: a world where visibly successful males, so long as they supported their families and contributed to their firms' profitability, could have midday liaisons, impregnate secretaries, and pimp for clients with impunity? In this engaging, witty, and insightful reappraisal, Susan Jacoby challenges both versions of the story--narratives that either romanticize or demonize men's lives back in the good or bad (you choose) old days. She suggests that there were hidden economic and psychological costs that made this "Rat Pack" reality a fantasy, and she also shows why this illusion still holds sway in the worldview of many (including Republicans and social conservatives such as Mitt Romney) who continue to cherish, long for, and advocate for the days when a family lived on the man's paycheck, and the woman stayed at home where she belonged.
Our most unsparing chronicler of unreason and an impassioned social provocateur who is always eager to skewer intellectual laziness and cultural myths, Jacoby comes to the unexpected rescue of the last generation of prefeminist men. An electronic dart of wit and insight.
Focusing on the long, tense convergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—each claiming possession of absolute truth—Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion (unto torture and death) and the more friendly persuasion of political advantage, economic opportunism, and interreligious marriage. Moving through time, continents, and cultures—the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition, John Calvin’s dour theocracy, Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters’ religion—the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane. The cast includes Augustine of Hippo; John Donne; the German Jew Edith Stein, whose conversion to Catholicism did not save her from Auschwitz; boxing champion Muhammad Ali; and former President George W. Bush. The story also encompasses conversions to rigid secular ideologies, notably Stalinist Communism, with their own truth claims.
Finally, Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment. In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West’s religious past, she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values, radical Islamists are persecuting Christians, many other Muslims, and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages.
(With 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations.)
From the Hardcover edition.
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