The Most Famous Man in America

The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
Book Review by A. G. Moore   May 23, 2012
I can’t believe this book hasn’t been made into a movie. To her credit, Debbie Applegate resists the temptation to cast her subject, Henry Ward Beecher, in a soap opera: his life had every element worthy of that genre.Henry Beecher was the son of an overbearing father whose fame as a religious zealot cast a shadow not only over New England but also over the lives of his children. Each of these offspring struggled to find their own light; two of them committed suicide. Not Henry, though. Henry forged a place of prominence that eventually astonished his siblings and his father.Against a backdrop of slavery, abolition, religious revival, Western adventure, sexual infidelity and political intrigue, Applegate limns a personality that defies definition. If you never heard of Henry Ward Beecher, you surely heard of his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe. She is just one of the historical figures that populate this book. Emerson and Twain, Greeley and Stanton, Lincoln and Johnson–all had the acquaintance and felt the influence of this transformative, 19th century character.Debbie Applegate doesn’t merely deal with details and historical trivia–though she has complete mastery of those. She analyzes the intellectual, social and political currents of Beecher’s mileau. As I read this book I gained insight into how profoundly contentious contemporary issues have their foundation in Beecher’s tumultuous century.The book is a great read and an invaluable guide to a critical period in U. S. historyHenry Ward Beecher and Plymouth Church:

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