SOURCE: Editors of the NYT Bk Rev: "Up Front"
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Michael Kazin: Writes frontpage review of Beecher bio for the NYTHistorians in the News
Henry Ward Beecher, the subject of a new biography reviewed on this week's cover by Michael Kazin, had a lot in common with William Jennings Bryan, the subject of Kazin's own recent biography, "A Godly Hero." In an e-mail message Kazin points out that both were skilled orators deeply concerned with religious and political issues. As a college student, Bryan once attended a lecture by the aging Beecher, Kazin writes, and his own sentimental theology was influenced by Beecher's "gospel of love." The popular Christianity of the two men has long interested Kazin — he is also the author of "The Populist Persuasion," among other books — but it's hardly a topic that came naturally to him. In the 1960's, he says, he wanted to help make a world revolution. He was a campus leader of S.D.S., was arrested at the 1968 Democratic convention, and even cut sugar cane in Cuba as a protest against Washington's anti-Castro policies. But when the New Left collapsed, Kazin says, "I needed to understand why — and that question led me to write books about the kinds of Americans college radicals had neglected or disparaged: white construction workers, populist speakers on both left and right and evangelical Protestants." Kazin decided that "60's activists like me had suffered from an empathy gap," and in the 30 years that he has been teaching American history he has been doing what he can to close that gap.
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