“Understandable but not sympathetic”: The Latest Review of My Lindbergh Biography

I’m glad for any review of Charles Lindbergh: A Religious Biography of America’s Most Infamous Aviator, but I’m especially tickled to see the one published recently in Church History, the journal of the American Society for Church History.

“Ambiguity best characterizes both the life of Charles Lindbergh and the contemporary and historical interpretations of him,” begins Charles J. Shindo, a history professor at Louisiana State University. He continues: “Many have tried to reconcile the celebrated pilot with the outspoken racist, but few have done so as effectively as Christopher Gehrz in his religious biography of the famous, and infamous, aviator… the overall image of Lindbergh presented here less an enigma and more a flawed individual, understandable but not sympathetic.”

(I love that phrasing; “understandable but not sympathetic” is the circle I try to square in almost everything I do as a historian.)

Probably better than any reviewer I’ve read so far, Shindo understands what I was trying to accomplish with a book that he praises for its “rigorous research and insightful interpretation.” While he thinks that I succeeded in my overriding goal of using historical biography to tell a “spiritual but not religious story,” Shindo concludes that my work “also sheds light on current issues of racism, intolerance, white supremacy, and skepticism of social institutions.”

That a Europeanist like me was able to write a book that would satisfy an Americanist like Shindo — himself the author of a cultural history of 1927 that opens with Lindbergh’s most famous flight — speaks to the important role played in this project by my editor Heath Carter, who did so much in the rewriting stage to help me flesh out the historical context for — and contemporary significance of — Lindbergh’s racism, intolerance, and white supremacy.

Thanks to Dr. Shindo for taking the time to read and review Charles Lindbergh, and to the editors of Church History for publishing his evaluation!