America’s Book

America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794-1911
by Mark A. Noll 2022

About the Author
Mark A. Noll is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame. His recent publications include In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 (2016); America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (2002) and, as co-editor, Protestantism after 500 Years (2016).

About the Book
America’s Book shows how the Bible decisively shaped American national history even as that history influenced the use of Scripture. It explores the rise of a strongly Protestant Bible civilization in the early United States that was then fractured by debates over slavery, contested by growing numbers of non-Protestant Americans (Catholics, Jews, agnostics), and torn apart by the Civil War.

This first comprehensive history of the Bible in America explains why Tom Paine’s anti-biblical tract The Age of Reason (1794) precipitated such dramatic effects, how innovations in printing by the American Bible Society created the nation’s publishing industry, why Nat Turner’s slave rebellion of 1831 and the bitter election of 1844 marked turning points in the nation’s engagement with Scripture, and why Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were so eager to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible.

Noll’s magisterial work highlights not only the centrality of the Bible for the nation’s most influential religious figures (Methodist Francis Asbury, Richard Allen of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Catholic Bishop Francis Kenrick, Jewish scholar Solomon Schechter, agnostic Robert Ingersoll), but also why it was important for presidents like Abraham Lincoln; notable American women like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Frances Willard; dedicated campaigners for civil rights like Frederick Douglass and Francis Grimké; lesser-known figures like Black authors Maria Stewart and Harriet Jacobs; and a host of others of high estate and low. The book also illustrates how the more religiously plural period from Reconstruction to the early twentieth century saw Scripture become a much more fragmented, though still significant, force in American culture, particularly as a source of hope and moral authority for Americans on both sides of the battle over white
supremacy-both for those hoping to fight it, and for others seeking to justify it.

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“America’s Book documents the extent of the Bible’s reach — from the printing and distribution of Bibles and the creation of Sunday schools to the intellectual dead ends into which unwise handlers of the Bible were led. The book’s breadth is a tribute to Mr. Noll’s career as an interpreter of Protestantism in North America” — D.G. Hart, The Wall Street Journal

“No one knows more about the Bible in American public life than Mark Noll. In this landmark volume, he shows how the Protestant dream of a Bible civilization collapsed in the exegetical impasse over slavery. He also brings his subtle insight and unflinching honesty to bear on other plot lines, producing an epic history worthy of Scripture itself. Everyone interested in American religion must reckon with this book.” — Peter J. Thuesen, author of Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather

“Mark Noll’s America’s Book recounts the public role of the Bible in the United States from the beginning of the republic through the early twentieth century. Noll tells a complex and fascinating story with measured judgments and penetrating insights. Filled with fascinating details, this book is a work of both original research and impressive synthesis. Noll is attuned to ironies and silences but is also deeply respectful of the human struggle with both the scriptures and the culture. Reviewers may run out of superlatives.” — George C. Rable, author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War

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