For whatever reason, Amazon is now selling the paperback version of The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, pb 2009) for $9.96. That is a 60% discount. As many of you know, this was my first book. Of the five books I have written or edited, it remains my favorite.
In this absorbing and elegantly written biography, John Fea explores the conflict between Fithian’s deep connections to Cohansey and the Enlightenment principles of cosmopolitanism he learned in school. How did Fithian reconcile his obligations to and love of home, a specific place and specific people, with the universalizing claims of the Enlightenment, whose prophets taught that enlightened people privileged a loyalty to international community above parochial ties? “The need to reconcile the pursuit of Enlightenment ambition with a passion for home or a desire for God,” Fea suggests, “was perhaps the greatest moral problem facing the newly educated sons of British American farmers…”
…Though firmly embedded in the particulars of the 18th century, the story Fea tells has resonance today. That is one of the many reasons I so love this book—Fithian’s problem is no less acute today for men and women whose education takes them geographically and imaginatively beyond their local communities. It is a problem I felt keenly in college, when I agonized about whether I could or would in some sense “go home again,” or whether what I was learning in college—both the book-learning and a kind of cosmopolitan aspiration—would somehow finally remove me from the place in which I grew up. (The admittedly sophomoric melodrama of my angst was only heightened by the fact that “home” was Asheville, North Carolina, home too of Thomas Wolfe, author of You Can’t Go Home Again.) I see the same problem today in some of my divinity school students, who wonder if what they are learning will somehow take them, geographically and intellectually, irreparably far from the congregations that named their call to ordained ministry. Here in the early 21st-century we may flatter our postmodern selves by imagining that we have moved beyond the Enlightenment, now ironically criticized for its parochialism. But the tensions between cosmopolitan aspirations and local commitments are with us still.
I tweeted the Amazon price drop yesterday and got some great responses:
Well worth the price! I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned so much about the intersection of religion and Enlightenment thought https://t.co/FCaAoQ8wif
— Dan Butcher (@danbutcher) April 9, 2017
— Julia Guthrie (@cupcake_savant) April 9, 2017
Impulse buy ✅ https://t.co/pIrVe6O7n2
— Matthew Wilder (@coachwilder) April 9, 2017
That’s all the man had to say for me to finally snag this one for my library. https://t.co/ogG2Fu7XxA
— Joey Cochran (@joeycochran) April 9, 2017
— Cynthia A. Morales (@javelinawriter) April 9, 2017
Thanks! Needless to say I am thrilled the book is getting attention again. (And no, I am not related to any of these people). 🙂