Featured Book: God the Bestseller

“His legacy”—author Stephen Prothero is referencing Eugene Exman, whom he brings to light in God the Bestseller—“was to refashion American religious and cultural life.” He did it by publishing hundreds of “guidebooks to the never-ending search for God.”

A spiritual seeker, Exman, for 37 years the publisher in the Harper religion book department, recruited authors “for a religious mission,” The Revealer observes: to hatch and champion a “religion of experience”. His books shaped the “movement away from formal religion,” Booklist reports, “and towards a looser form of ‘spirituality’”. (Regrettably, “he subordinated his [own] search for God to his search for the next bestseller,” adds Prothero, who is a named-chair professor of religion in America at Boston University.)

While God the Bestseller is, as Publishers Weekly affirms, “a deeply researched biography,” it’s also a talebearer that acquaints the reader with such luminaries as Harry Emerson Fosdick, Dorothy Day, Schweitzer, MLK; points up William James’ classic The Varieties of Religious Experience; digs up LSD, and traces the beginnings of Alcoholics Anonymous. As The Revealer puts it, Exman “published a who’s who…of seekers, mystics, and would-be saints,” and, by doing so, “offered paths of holy living that circumvented congregations and creeds.”

God the Bestseller
By Stephen Prothero
HarperCollins, 2023