Russell Menard, in his review of The Way of Improvement Leads Home, makes a point worth repeating for those of you thinking about reading assignments for your early American history courses.
If the press brings out a moderately priced paperback edition of this book, I will assign it in my early American history classes, where, paired with Franklin’s Autobiography, it will provide students with some insight into the origins of American culture.
Well, the University of Pennsylvania Press has delivered. The Way of Improvement Leads Home in paperback should be out any day now. I hope you might consider it for course adoption. Menard is right. It will work very well with Franklin’s Autobiography. While Fithian does not wholeheartedly reject a Franklinesque view of American culture and opportunity, he balances this optimistic view with a healthy dose of skepticism about where the “way of improvement” might lead him.
As I write in the final chapter of the book:
Similarly, ambition–the inner drive and passion that motivated him to move beyond the agrarian life of limits that his father offered him–was understood by Philip in the context of the Christian doctrine of vocation. Enlightened ambition and the spiritual discipline of obeying a call from God were not incompatible to him. A properly fashioned life of self-betterment did not necessarily have to result in a rejection of Christianity, either in the way that Thomas Jefferson had argued when he predicted the end of organized religion, or in the way that Benjamin Franklin exemplified in his move from Puritan Boston to Enlightenment Philadelphia. Philip’s call to an educated and Enlightened life and his call to serve God were often one and the same.
And as long as we are talking about teaching The Way of Improvement Leads Home, here are snippets from a few more reviews:
Fea has captured a multi-faceted world that teachers of American history should rush to share with their students.–Dallett Hemphill
With its clear thesis and chapter ending summaries, it will be accessible for undergraduates and a more general audience as well.–Maxine Lurie
Fea is right about the potential utility of his book; it should be a wonderfully teachable volume in undergraduate classrooms… Will Mackintosh