Somehow my education in American religious history missed this tome. I believe that it came out well before my undergraduate days and after the greater share of my graduate school days. At any rate, the threat of comprehensive exams forced me to leave off my reading in the primary sources for this kind of book and actually read someone’s summary of the information within which I had been working.
To be honest, this is an undergraduate book at best. Noll manages to refrain from forcing almost anyone with a high school education from consulting a dictionary. Most of the books I read usually have a few. This book is accessible to the masses. It is a reasonably good summary of American religion, but it engages in a social history methodology. Noll remains forever interested in social/spiritual vitality of American religious denominations and sects. He describes them as creative, vibrant, open, etc. Noll seems bent on portraying American religion as a sort of class warfare between predominate WASP culture and Catholics, blacks, and immigrants. In his narrative, the Civil War play a crucial part in breaking the back of a failed Protestant culture. He may be right, but he fails to demonstrate how ideas may have led to this. It seems religious implacability in the face of burgeoning diversity was the culprit, according to Noll. In short, the facts are all there; but the narrative seems a little off. It as if Noll is offering his own evangelical mea culpa.
Nevertheless, Noll tends to educate his readers that the idea of a christian America does drift a little to the mythical side, while still admitting the greater christian influence within America. He also provides a good sketch of Canadian Christianity opposite its American representative. These are some of redeeming features for this volume, but in addition, it also contains a plethora of information which can be found in very few places in one piece.