cover image One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History

One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History

Peter Manseau. Little, Brown, $28 (480p) ISBN 978-0-316-10003-8

The last few decades have produced several magisterial tomes on American religious history, from such authors as Sydney Ahlstrom and Edwin Gaustad. None, however, matches the subversive and much-needed revisionism of Manseau's tour de force. Arguing that "we have learned history from the middle rather than the margins... from which so much of our culture has been formed," Manseau (Rag and Bone; Vows) undertakes a thorough reimagining of our nation's religions. Christopher Columbus, in this telling, is not nearly so interesting as contemporaneous Moorish and Jewish conquistadores, who were already accustomed to cultural pluralism; Mormon founder Joseph Smith was influenced not so much by the revivalist Protestantism of western New York as by the legacy of the Iroquois spiritual leader Handsome Lake; and the Salem witch trials are evidence of Puritans' inability to stamp out persistent folk beliefs and practices from the Old World. Indeed, Manseau suggests, "a spectrum of beliefs has shaped our common history since well before the first president." Engagingly written, with a historian's eye for detail and a novelist's sense of character and timing, this history from another perspective reexamines familiar tales and introduces fascinating counternarratives. Agent: Kathleen Anderson, Anderson Literary Management. (Jan.)