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History General

Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith

Religion in American War and Diplomacy

by (author) Andrew Preston

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Nov 2012
General, Religion, Politics & State, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2012
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2012
    List Price

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A richly detailed, profoundly engrossing story of how religion has influenced American foreign relations, told through the stories of the men and women—from presidents to preachers—who have plotted the country’s course in the world.
Ever since John Winthrop argued that the Puritans’ new home would be “a city upon a hill,” Americans’ role in the world has been shaped by their belief that God has something special in mind for them. But this is a story that historians have mostly ignored. Now, in the first authoritative work on the subject, Andrew Preston explores the major strains of religious fervor—liberal and conservative, pacifist and militant, internationalist and isolationist—that framed American thinking on international issues. From George Washington to George W. Bush, from the Puritans to the present, from the colonial wars to the Cold War, religion has been one of America’s most powerful sources of ideas about the wider world. Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith is a bold synthesis of American history and also a remarkable work of balance and fair-mindedness about one of the most fraught subjects in America.

About the author


  • Winner, Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction

Contributor Notes

ANDREW PRESTON is a Senior Lecturer in History and Fellow of Clare College at Cambridge University. He has been a Fellow at the Cold War Studies Centre at the London School of Economics, and has previously held professorships in History and International Studies at Yale University, the University of Victoria, and The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. In addition to several journal articles and book chapters, Preston is the author of The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam (Harvard University Press, 2006) and co-editor, with Fredrik Logevall, of Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977 (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Editorial Reviews

“[A] monumental study. . . . Preston describes how America’s religion has been far more intimately intertwined with its statecraft and foreign policy than is generally understood. . . . This is not the new master narrative of America, but it is close enough.” —The Wilson Quarterly

“Neither pedantic nor superficial. [Preston] is the rare scholar who can educate a non-academic audience in the complexity of an important subject. Preston cuts through a confusion that often surrounds America foreign policy, by laying bare the unusual moral history behind it, a history that begins with the Puritans and proceeds in the grooves illuminated in this beautifully written book.” —The New Republic
“In his comprehensive exploration of the relationship between religion and American statecraft, Andrew Preston makes one point clear: there is no understanding the latter without giving careful attention to the former. . . . [A] masterful work of history. . . Preston writes crisply, has an eye for the pungent quotation, and does not shy away from bold judgments. The result is a feisty, engaging, and provocative text.” —Andrew Bacevich, Commonweal
“A unified field theory of American foreign relations capturing the play of personality and politics, passion and hypocrisy—all written with a style that further distinguishes [Preston] in a domain as deficient in literary grace as in candour. . . . Preston excels in portraits of the people at the heart of the matter, from the Puritans to Barack Obama. No governments here in faceless generality, no US in absolving abstract, but rather the frame and temper of human beings in all their force and frailty. History as biography, his work achieves the most elusive of biographical rendering—what did they really think about the nature of man and the universe, and how successfully, as Bierce would put it, did they adapt faith to the sins of policy. This is no simplistic case for religion as single cause. Preston’s genius is to find the blending with all the other, frequently contradictory strains.” —The Globe and Mail
“Fascinating. . . . As a comprehensive survey, the book opens up pathways for others to explore.” —The Columbus Dispatch

“Encyclopedic . . . [Preston] leaves no religious stone unturned . . . I hunger for more.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“A crisply written account hefty in both scope and intellect. . . . A work that will define the field for a generation to come. Nobody who writes about religion and American foreign policy will be able to do so without engaging [Preston]. And anybody who wants to understand American foreign policy—both then and now—would be wise to do so, too.”  —The Christian Science Monitor

“In Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith, Preston . . . provides an astute, judicious and sweeping survey of the themes that have animated this often-ignored relationship, documenting the links between religion, democracy, and individual liberty; America’s manifest destiny; the justification of force in an unjust world; the existence of evil as a test to the faithful; and the obligations—and temptations—that accompany wealth and power.” —Huffington Post

“What is most astonishing is not this or that episode but rather the ubiquity of religious influence on America’s international relations, an ubiquity that Preston complains has for far too long been hidden by the secularist bias of academic historians. A much-needed corrective to that bias.” —Booklist (starred review)

“A sharp, clear, deeply researched examination. . . .  Preston explores [a] fascinating paradox. . . . A frank, exhaustive, marvelously readable study.”  —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Reading this book is a thrilling intellectual adventure: it challenges received ideas at the same time as it throws light on buried, troubling perplexities and changes the way we view not only the United States but the rest of the world. Erudite, balanced and respectful, it could not be more timely and should be required reading for policy-makers, concerned citizens, atheists and religious alike.” —Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God
“There have been a number of good books on particular aspects of religion and American foreign policy. But no one before Andrew Preston has written such a thoroughly researched, consistently insightful, and ideologically balanced general history of this timely, important, but strangely under-studied subject. This splendid book makes a major contribution in its own right, but also opens up an entire field for much-needed further study.” —Mark Noll, author of America’s God
“In this landmark work, Andrew Preston sheds light on a critical element of the American experience: the role of religion in our relationship to the world. Faith is one of the most influential factors in our national life, and Preston’s excellent book gives religion its due as a force that shapes who we are, what wars we fight, and which causes we make our own.”  —Jon Meacham, author of American Lion

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