Joining the Family

I’m the black sheep of an academic family — my father is a retired Sovietologist, my sister a scholar of Arabic literature, my brother-in-law an Ottomanist, my wife an American historian, and my mother was an editor for the State University of New York Press. I, alone, lack a higher degree, and the diploma I do possess, from Hampshire College, is round. Literally. My diploma is round, and it came from a college without grades.

So I’m especially pleased that my book, The Family, just out in paperback, is reviewed in the June issue of The Journal of American History, the preeminent journal of the discipline, and by a scholar, Jason C. Bivins, whose books occupy a prominent place on my shelves. At family vacations, I’m the only person over six-years-old without a Ph.D. But now at least I have a scholarly review of my book! And a good one, too:

Recent decades have produced considerable scholarship on evangelicalism, much of which laudably reminds audiences that the tradition is not a monoculture. Yet Jeff Sharlet’s prodigiously researched text reminds us of conservatism’s abiding power. The book does for conservative Christianity what Greil Marcus did for punk in Lipstick Traces (1989): it establishes connections between disparate phenomena, thereby enabling fresh thinking about religious conservatism.

My father doesn’t know from Lipstick Traces, but “prodigously”? He actually wrote me an email congratulating me on the adverb. “Prodigously” makes me better in his eyes than a prodigal son.

Sharlet touches on some of the “spectacles” that attract bloggers, but he contextualizes and analyzes them much more perceptively than is customary. Though one would like to see further explication of important categories like gender, this work contributes vividly to our understanding of Christian conservatism. While the tone is different from that of an average monograph, this work is original in its conception and articulation and is a fine contribution to the literature.

“A fine contribution,” declares The Journal of American History, a publication the cost of which my wife deducts from our taxes. It’s like I’m a made man. I can’t wait for our family vacation. Thanks, Jason Bivins!

(Buy The Family. The publisher paid me too much for it and got taken to the cleaners, so I’ll never see another cent, but it’d be a shame to let all that wood pulp go to waste.)

Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).