American Heretic

Theodore Parker and Transcendentalism

By Dean Grodzins

656 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 23 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2294-1
    Published: September 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6204-9
    Published: October 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7229-6
    Published: October 2003

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Awards & distinctions

A 2003 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Theodore Parker (1810-1860) was a powerful preacher who rejected the authority of the Bible and of Jesus, a brilliant scholar who became a popular agitator for the abolition of slavery and for women's rights, and a political theorist who defined democracy as "government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people"--words that inspired Abraham Lincoln. Parker had more influence than anyone except Ralph Waldo Emerson in shaping Transcendentalism in America.

In American Heretic, Dean Grodzins offers a compelling account of the remarkable first phase of Parker's career, when this complex man--charismatic yet awkward, brave yet insecure--rose from poverty and obscurity to fame and notoriety as a Transcendentalist prophet. Grodzins reveals hitherto hidden facets of Parker's life, including his love for a woman who was not his wife, and presents fresh perspectives on Transcendentalism. Grodzins explores Transcendentalism's religious roots, shows the profound religious and political issues at stake in the "Transcendentalist controversy," and offers new insights into Parker's Transcendentalist colleagues, including Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Bronson Alcott. He traces, too, the intellectual origins of Parker's epochal definition of democracy as government of, by, and for the people.

The manuscript of this book was awarded the Allan Nevins Prize by the Society of American Historians.

About the Author

Dean Grodzins is a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
For more information about Dean Grodzins, visit the Author Page.


"Skillfully traces Parker's intellectual evolution. . . . A masterful treatment of Parker's life and times. . . . A fresh look at an important figure in American religious history."--Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Scholars of American religious history owe a debt to Grodzins for a masterful treatment of Parker's life and times. . . . A fresh look at an important figure in American religious history."--Journal of American Academy for Religion

"Grodzins brilliantly brings Parker to life. . . . [his] rich and textured portrait is buttressed by meticulous scholarship: He has left no available book or journal unopened. . . . Great fun: an elegant, deeply scholarly work that by turns reads like a coming-of-age novel, a conversion narrative, a tragic historical romance, and an intellectual odyssey. . . . A dazzling--and essential--read."--UU World

"Grodzins provides an intricately remastered portrait of a highly controversial yet profoundly influential scholar and pastor. . . . Far more than an impressive account of a religious figure, American Heretic provides a noteworthy contribution to American intellectual history. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

"Grodzins has written what is without a doubt the definitive treatment of the early life of Theodore Parker. . . . For its sheer scale, depth of research, level of clarity, and more, it stands as quite an achievement."--H-SHEAR

"This book uncovers so much new evidence and produces so many gems of original insight into Parker's brilliant yet complex personality that any reader interested in the social or intellectual aspects of the period should profit greatly."--American Historical Review