I’ve read Charles Lindbergh: A Religious Biography of America’s Most Infamous Pilot several times now. Each pass through the manuscript leaves me with two, deeply Midwestern thoughts: “I think this turned out okay,” and “I wonder if anyone will like it.”
So it’s always a relief and a terror to hear back from the first readers of the book who weren’t involved in its writing and editing: the people who were asked to consider providing an endorsement (or “blurb”). Relief because the reason you write a book is to have other people read it, and waiting for that moment can be exhausting. Terror because the whole point of blurbs is to seek the good opinion of people whose name means something to other prospective readers — which means that you need to show the book to the people most likely to pick up on its shortcomings.
But earlier this week I got to see the first round of endorsements and… well, they’re very kind.
You can find the initial list (with any that arrive later) at my Books page, along with the publisher’s link and description for the book. I’ll just quote a few of the initial blurbs:
Christopher Gehrz’s tough-minded yet open curiosity about Charles Lindbergh’s perturbing spirituality—an amorphous Jesus and nebulous Christianity melded with pantheistic religiosities, eugenics, antisemitism, White supremacy, and American nationalism—brings forth a religious biography as compelling as it is fascinating. An absorbing, necessary American read.Jon Butler
After reading this beautifully written and rigorously researched work, what is clear is that Christopher Gehrz is as intrepid a scholar as Charles Lindbergh was a pilot. Taking up the work of writing a spiritual biography of Charles Lindbergh is not for the faint-hearted. Through a clear-eyed account of Lindbergh’s life, Gehrz holds out a stark illustration of the aviator’s involvement in eugenics, racist understandings of hierarchies of human life, and the evil efficiency of American white supremacy as a model for cruelty at home and abroad. These themes make this book a strikingly contemporary story of determined blindness to systemic racism and the dangers of isolationism under the mantle of America First. At the same time, the author brings to life the story of a man who is captivated by the possibility of flight, and who, through friendships and marriage to the introspective Anne Morrow, is caught up himself in the search for a spiritual, but not religious, path. Gehrz has skillfully crafted a thorough and fair account of the spirituality of Charles Lindbergh, providing an intimate glimpse into the life of this intriguing but difficult man.Amy Collier Artman
Gehrz’s Lindbergh is splendidly complex. The famed pilot emerges as a spiritual explorer who in the end made God in his own image and refused to see God’s image in those who didn’t look like him. Observers of the “new” religious movements should read this exhaustively researched, expertly narrated, and humane book first.David R. Swartz
Let’s be honest: most of us with some familiarity of Charles Lindbergh haven’t known quite what to do with his story. Gehrz not only explores the complexities and contradictions of this restless spirit and one-time hero, he reveals the relevance of this story and leaves the reader with a challenge that reminds us of the power of history. You won’t want to miss this journey.Kent Whitworth
Comments like this would be humbling coming from anyone, but they’re especially meaningful from so distinguished a group of endorsers. For example, having already endorsed a couple of my books on Pietism, I couldn’t blame John Fea for taking a pass on this one — but in the midst of writing his own books and launching a new online magazine, he found time to read and recommend another work by the Pietist Schoolman. Kent Whitworth is the director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society, not only the largest society of its type but the operator of the Lindbergh House and Museum in Little Falls. And Jon Butler is simply one of the most esteemed religious historians in the United States: a former president of the Organization of American Historians who chaired the Yale history department when I was there. (Though because I was studying diplomatic, not religious, history, I didn’t get to know him until years later.)
Jon also just published his own fascinating book on an unexpected site of religion in American history, God in Gotham: The Miracle of Religion in Modern Manhattan. (New York happens to be the main setting for my chapter on Christian responses to Lindbergh in 1927.) And other endorsers have authored other cutting-edge studies. If I were still teaching our class on the international history of human rights, I would assign Lauren Turek’s To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelical Influence on Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Relations. And I was thrilled to see that David Swartz followed up the Latin American chapter in his history of politically progressive evangelicalism with an even more ambitious global history project, Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity.
Most encouraging of all are the positive comments from fellow historians who have also written biographies, and so know how challenging that kind of project can be. Amy Artman is a fellow contributor to Eerdmans’ Library of Religious Biography (The Miracle Lady: Kathryn Kuhlman and the Transformation of Charismatic Christianity), as is Paul Harvey, whose religious biography of Howard Thurman I talked about with our Intro to History students just a few weeks ago. In Oxford’s Spiritual Lives series, Elesha Coffman just published a biography of another 20th century American: Margaret Mead. And John Turner is not only the author of acclaimed books on everything from Campus Crusade to the Pilgrims, but the author of my favorite religious biography. If someone who successfully told the story of Brigham Young calls your Lindbergh biography “both soaring and sober,” you know you’re on the right path.
So while you’ve got a few months to wait for my Lindbergh biography to come out, take the time to read some of its early endorsers’ brilliant work!