God in the White House: A History—How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush

Randall Herbert Balmer, Author . HarperOne $24.95 (243p) ISBN 978-0-06-073405-3

How did personal faith go from something John F. Kennedy needed to distance himself from to something recent presidential candidates have been eager to embrace publicly? Balmer, an eminent historian and first-rate storyteller, recounts familiar material in a way that's fresh. He wisely suggests that genuine blame for misuse of religion in public rests with voters, not politicians. But a running quarrel with the “religious right”—unannounced in the title—seems the real raison d'être for this book, and many arguments and examples will be familiar to readers of the author's Thy Kingdom Come . Balmer marshals impressive evidence that the religious right arose in reaction to government interference with racist religious schools. But he often tends to overstate and sometimes omits key facts. Balmer traces the right's slow response to 1973's Roe v. Wade decision by quoting the Southern Baptist Convention's initial support of Roe, without noting that the takeover of that church by fundamentalists came later and largely over that issue. Most oddly, Balmer describes the war in Iraq as America's first aggressive military campaign “in history.” These eccentricities make the book feel agenda-driven, and render questionable even its many points of wisdom. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 12/24/2007
Release date: 02/01/2008
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