Countless books have been written about Billy Graham during the evangelist’s consequential decades before his death Feb. 21 at age 99. Publishers Weekly asked three noted historians to name a handful of books essential to understanding Graham’s religious, social and cultural impact.
The experts: sociologist William Martin, professor emeritus of religion and public policy at Rice University; Randall Balmer, historian and chairman of the department of religion at Dartmouth; Rev. Martin Marty, professor emeritus of the history of modern Christianity at University of Chicago.
Two books lead all three lists. Martin’s A Prophet with Honor (William Morrow, 1991) was cited as the go-to biography, grounded in “prodigious research,” said Balmer. Marty calls it “fair-minded and a bit witty, too.” Zondervan will release an updated and expanded edition this year.
Martin, in turn, lauds America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Belknap, 2014) by Grant Wacker, professor emeritus of Christian History at Duke Divinity School, who “provides an insightful account and interpretation of major facets of Billy Graham’s ministry and its enormous cultural influence, particularly on the United States.”
Martin also suggests:
- Billy Graham: American Pilgrim (Oxford, 2017) a collection edited by Andrew Finstuen, Anne Blue Wills and Grant Wacker, offers “fresh, solid essays on subjects ranging from Graham’s evangelistic crusades throughout the world, to his stances on social justice issues such as civil rights, to his ever-evolving adjustments to changing cultural developments.”
- The Preacher and The President: Billy Graham in the White House (Center Street, 2007) by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, two veteran Time reporters who “chronicle Graham’s associations, both fruitful and fateful, with U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush.”
- Life with Billy (Hodder and Stoughton, 1992) by Maurice Rowlandson, who gives an insider’s look at the crusader through a personal chronicle of his years as director of the London office of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
- In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart: Hope for the Hurting (Zondervan, 2004) by one of Billy’s daughters, Ruth Graham. “In this bravely honest account of having to deal with infidelity, regrettable decisions, and other major disappointments, Ruth Graham writes of how being “Billy Graham’s daughter” complicated her struggles but ultimately led her to form a valuable ministry to women in similar circumstances.”
Balmer, author of Evangelicalism in America (Baylor, 2016) also suggests:
- Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford, 1980) by George M. Marsden. “Any assessment of Graham must consider the religious context from which he emerged. George Marsden’s work remains the classic study of fundamentalism, which shaped Graham, his eschatology, and his social outlook.”
- Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Pennsylvania, 2009) by Steven P. Miller, “nicely places Graham within his Southern context, arguing that the evangelist was not merely a preacher, but also a force who wielded political and cultural influence in his native region.
- Nixon’s First Cover-up: The Religious Life of a Quaker President (Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 2015) by H. Larry Ingle who “reveals some of the religious complexity behind Richard Nixon, Graham’s most notorious political entanglement.”
Marty, author of 1970 National Book Award winner Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America (Harper, 1970) also suggests three books that, while not centered on Graham, examine the evangelist in a larger context.
- Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (Oxford, 1999) by Joel Carpenter, traces Graham’s early career as a turn-or-burn fundamentalist and his shift toward an evangelicalism more accommodating to modernity.
- After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History by (Princeton, 2013) by David Hollinger, a specialist in American intellectual history, who shows that while “Graham was huge in developing the consensus culture of the Eisenhower era, liberal Protestants critical of Graham won the overall battle to shape the larger culture.”