Edwin Gaustad, who has been called the father of American church history, has brought together a fascinating collection of 26 American spiritual autobiographies, including excerpts from the writings of Black Elk, Dorothy Day, Frederick Douglass, Billy Graham, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Thomas Merton. Special treats include excerpts from Jimmy Carter's exceptional "Living Faith" and Peter Cartwright's earthy description of life as a Methodist circuit-rider in the 19th century.

The collection is filled with contrasts; William F. Buckley's reflections on his upper-crust Catholic childhood, for example, are immediately followed by Maya Angelou's memories of a Depression-era African-American revival meeting in the rural Arkansas of her girlhood. Gaustad's collection seeks, as he says, "to give the bright tapestry that is American religion a fair (though it can never be full) representation." In the diversity of Gaustad's choices and the eloquence of his subjects, "Memoirs of the Spirit" succeeds admirably in suggesting the rich texture of America's religious worlds.

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