cover image God the Bestseller: How One Editor Transformed American Religion a Book at a Time

God the Bestseller: How One Editor Transformed American Religion a Book at a Time

Stephen Prothero. HarperOne, $29.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-246404-0

Boston University religion professor Prothero (Religious Literacy) chronicles the life of influential editor Eugene Exman in this edifying entry. Exman, who served as a religion editor at Harper & Row from 1928 to the mid-’60s, helped shape American cultural conversations about faith, shifting focus from “protestantism to pluralism, from dogma to feeling, and from organized religion to the religion of experience” by publishing books that targeted a middlebrow audience. Exman’s titles, which included Martin Luther King Jr.’s Stride Toward Freedom and Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness, offered insights from the “best and brightest” religious thinkers to lay readers, and he eventually brought writing on Hinduism and Buddhism to the mainstream. In 1947, Exman published Howard Thurman’s The Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death, initiating a focus on works about race, eventually leading to his working with Nobel Peace Prize winners King and Albert Schweitzer on books that investigated nuclear disarmament and civil rights. As well, Prothero charts Exman’s religious evolution and his lifelong search for spiritual meaning that led him to psychedelics and Hindu meditation. Though sometimes the pages can be distractingly overcrowded with accounts of the personalities surrounding Exman, Prothero delivers penetrating takes on the ways religion interacted with popular culture during a period of change, and the whole is fortified by deep research. This fascinates. (Mar.)