Scholar, diplomat, and Cold War policymaker George Kennan turns a historian's eye on his own family in this slim volume, part genealogy and part socio-cultural reconstruction. He follows three generations of ancestors, from their journey from Scotland to Massachusetts in the 18th century to the eve of the Civil War. As hardscrabble farmers develop into prosperous middle-class burghers, Kennan evokes the rootlessness of a frontier America where almost perpetual westward migrations were the norm.

Several of Kennan's forebears were ministers, including patriarch Thomas Kennan, a Presbyterian-Congregationalist pastor in the early 19th century. Kennan explores the tensions between conservative and liberal Presbyterian tendencies in the context of the Great Awakening, and the revivalist waves that swept frontier areas. He shows the importance of churches in knitting together the transitory settlements of early America and the central role of ministers and religious denominations in organizing education from the grammar schools through college. "An American Family" offers an absorbing study of the role of religion in New England society, a legacy that still constitutes the bedrock of American identity.

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