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An American Bible : A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880
Paul C. Gutjahr

0804743398 Retail Price: $23.95
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Format: Paperback, 256pp.
ISBN: 9780804743396
Publisher: Stanford Univ Press
Pub. Date: January 2001

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From The Publisher:

During the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century, American publishing experienced unprecedented, exponential growth. An emerging market economy, widespread religious revival, educational reforms, and innovations in print technology worked together to create a culture increasingly formed and framed by the power of print. At the center of this new culture was the Bible, the book that has been called “the best seller” in American publishing history. Yet it is important to realize that the Bible in America was not a simple, uniform entity. First printed in the United States during the American Revolution, the Bible underwent many revisions, translations, and changes in format as different editors and publishers appropriated it to meet a wide range of changing ideological and economic demands.

This book examines how many different constituencies (both secular and religious) fought to keep the Bible the preeminent text in the United States as the country’s print marketplace experienced explosive growth. The author shows how these heated battles had profound consequences for many American cultural practices and forms of printed material. By exploring how publishers, clergymen, politicians, educators, and lay persons met the threat that new printed material posed to the dominance of the Bible by changing both its form and its contents, the author reveals the causes and consequences of mutating God’s supposedly immutable Word.


Paul Gutjahr's AN AMERICAN BIBLE is a learned, judicious, and readable study of the production and marketing of the biggest all-time best-seller during the first century following American independence. As such, not only is this book by far the most authoritative study of its particular subject, but a valuable window onto the whole history of American publishing and marketing during the period.
—Lawrence Buell, Harvard University

A Fascinating journey through the history of the Bible in America -- unprecedented in its scope, erudition, and imagination.
—Jon Butler, Yale University

An extremely compelling piece of cultural history that succeeds in making rich rather than schematic sense of the major dramas that lay behind the production of over 1700 different American editions of the Bible in the century after the American Revolution. Describing its larger subject as 'the mutability of the immutable book,' Gutjahr offers accounts of the changing technologies of production, discussions of the relation of image to text, case studies of major printers and printings (and the cultural, economic, theological and textual issues that occasioned those editions), and a critical analysis of the battles of publishers in promoting the Bible as a distinct marketplace object. Gutjahr's book is especially powerful in demonstrating how 19th-century efforts to purge the Bible of textual and translational impurities in search of an 'authentic' text, led ironically to the emergence of entirely new gospels for the nineteenth century like the Book of Mormon and the massive fictionalized literature dealing with the life of Christ. AN AMERICAN BIBLE deserves the widest possible audience.
—Jay Fliegelman, Stanford University

Paul Gutjahr's pathbreaking study of the production of bibles in the early history of the United States is a splendid effort in every way. The great magnitude of the subject has frightened other scholars away. But Gutjahr, unitimidated by the many dimensions of his theme, has successfully illuminated a great deal about printing practices in early America, about the economics of the book trade, and about the vicissitudes of American taste, as well as about the religious meanings of the printed Scriptures.
—Mark Noll, Wheaton College


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About the Author

Paul Gutjahr is Assistant Professor of English and American Studies at Indiana University.

Table of Contents

App. 1An Overview of Bible Production in the United States, 1777-1880181
App. 2American Bible Society (ABS) Production and Distribution, 1818-1880187
App. 3Prices for the Cheapest Editions of American Bibles in the Nineteenth Century189
App. 4Survey of Bible Bindings from the American Bible Society (1,238-edition sample)191
App. 5New Translations of the English Bible in the United States, 1808-1880193
App. 6Production of Catholic Bibles in English in the United States, 1790-1880195

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