Falwell Inc.: Inside a Religious, Political, Educational, and Business Empire

Dirk Smillie, Author
Dirk Smillie, Author . St. Martin’s $29.95 (246p) ISBN 978-0-312-37629-1
Reviewed on: 06/23/2008
Release date: 08/01/2008
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For a man who forswore vices of all kinds, Reverend Jerry Falwell was a man of huge appetites—not least for profit—and Smillie’s business biography examines how the son of Virginia bootleggers transformed himself from a smalltown preacher into a multimedia oracle. Armed with a siege mentality, dogged work ethic and surprising openness to the best idea, Falwell pioneered a direct-mail empire with a sophisticated electronic database and a fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity that appealed to Americans turned off by mainline Protestantism’s reforms in the 1960s. Smillie’s Falwell is an indomitable risk taker, constantly weathering cycles of prosperity and crushing debt as he raises up his empire, founds Liberty University with sweepstakes, starts a wildly lucrative online school, exploits his opponents (like Larry Flynt) and generally raises hell. The author’s access to the Falwell estate and family perhaps explains the paucity of more stringent critical (or political) analysis as Smillie focuses primarily upon the Gospel Hour ’s balance sheets. The book suffers when Falwell drops out of the book midway and it loses its controversial protagonist and most of its steam; unsurprisingly, the real heat is generated by the visionary huckster. (Aug.)

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