Radiant Truths Essential Dispatches, Reports, Confessions, and Other Essays on American Belief Jeff Sharlet

Publication date:
29 Apr 2014
Yale University Press
424 pages: 210 x 140 x 29mm
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A startling and immensely pleasurable collection of American writings on belief, from the Civil War to Occupy Wall Street

Beginning with Walt Whitman singing hymns at a wounded soldier’s bedside during the Civil War, this surprising and vivid anthology ranges straight through to the twenty-first century to end with Francine Prose crying tears of complicated joy at the sight of Whitman’s words in Zuccotti Park during the brief days of the Occupy movement. The first anthology of its kind, Radiant Truths gathers an exquisite selection of writings by both well-known and forgotten American authors and thinkers, each engaged in the challenges of writing about religion, of documenting “things unseen.” Their contributions to the genre of literary journalism—the telling of factual stories using the techniques of fiction and poetry—make this volume one of the most exciting anthologies of creative nonfiction to have emerged in years.
Jeff Sharlet presents an evocative selection of writings that illuminate the evolution of the American genre of documentary prose. Each entry may be savored separately, but together the works enrich one another, engaging in an implicit and continuing conversation that reaches across time and generations.

Including works by:
Walt Whitman  •  Henry David Thoreau  •  Mark Twain  •  Meridel Le Sueur  •  Zora Neale Hurston  •  Mary McCarthy  •  James Baldwin  •  Norman Mailer  •  Ellen Willis  •  Anne Fadiman  •  John Jeremiah Sullivan  •  Francine Prose  •  Garry Wills  •  and many others


Jeff Sharlet is associate professor of English at Dartmouth College and New York Times bestselling author of The Family,C Street, and Sweet Heaven When I Die. He lives in Norwich, VT.

“Rare is the collection of other people’s writing that coheres into something new and original; and rarer still is the one that takes on meaning because we read it through the eyes of the collector. Radiant Truths is exactly that rarity.”—Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Review of Books

"The book belongs to the tradition of long-form, narrative journalism best exemplified by writers such as Joan Didion, John McPhee, Norman Mailer and Sharlet's contemporary David Samuels. Sharlet deserves a place alongside such masters, for he has emerged as a master investigative stylist and one of the shrewdest commentators on religion's underexplored realms."óMichael Washburn,†Washington Post

"For Sharlet, the story of American religion is not a polarized one of fundamentalists vs. secularists. It's a vast landscape, and each essay in his remarkable new collection of literary journalism explores a different crag or cranny of it. . . . taken together, these essays begin to give shape to a multifaceted America that is so much more than east and west, left and right, religious and secular. And there's no better guide to this 'country in between.'"óBrook Wilensky-Lanford,†Boston Globe

“A highly literate potpourri . . . readers will find plenty here to sustain questions—and perhaps even a few answers—of their own.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Eclectic, in the best sense . . . Sharlet’s important and thought-provoking book is highly recommended for readers who are interested in our country’s culture (both religious and political), creative and literary nonfiction, and well-written, well-argued writing.”—Pam Kingsbury, Library Journal (starred review)

“Eminently readable . . . an important book . . . a launchpad, sending the reader out in a thousand different directions . . . Radiant Truths features some of America’s best writers, well known and not, at the top of their game, attempting to explain the unexplainable. And Sharlet is an excellent guide.”—Jonathan D. Fitzgerald, Daily Beast

“The best writing on American religion you'll read this year."—Patton Dodd, On Faith / Faithstreet.com

“Brilliant . . . Radiant Truths shines largely because it is something far more personal than a simple ‘anthology'.”—Ted Scheinman, Pacific Standard

“A valuable trove of the best of [a] genre . . . literary journalism, and, specifically, reporting on American religion . . .  with work that covers a stylistic range from the clinical to the barn-burning . . . accompanied by Sharlet's incisive introductions.”—Alissa Wilkinson, Books and Culture

“Sharlet dives into 150 years’ worth of literary journalism at the intersection of religion, culture, and politics . . . [and] offers his knowledgeable explanations along with thorough and thoughtful curation.”—Brittany Shoot, Sojourners

“It is hard to think of a writer better suited to editing an anthology on American religion than Jeff Sharlet. . . . [he] has produced a nonfiction collection that’s broader than what one might expect to find in a book about faith. . . . [with] literary nonfiction that is more interested in understanding and illumination than ego and intellectual conquest.”—Vanessa Gregory, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly