The Most Famous Man in America: a Biography of Henry Ward Beecher - by Debby Applegate
Debby Applegate





Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography


Finalist Los Angeles Times Book Prize & the National Book Critics Circle Award. 

Named one of the Best Books of 2006 by the New York Times Book Review, NPR's Fresh Air, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, & American Heritage Magazine


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Praise for The Most Famous Man in America

“The Most Famous Man In America is one of those rare books that delivers a great deal more than it promises.  Claiming only to be a biography of …Henry Ward Beecher, it is also a beautifully written history of 19th Century America.”—Chicago Tribune



“Applegate…rescues Beecher from popular obscurity in this illuminating and thorough book….For readers seeking the roots of the popular religion and popular culture of our own time, Applegate’s resurrection of … Beecher is an excellent place to begin.”—John Meacham, Washington Post



“Applegate…tells this grand story with aplomb, intelligence and a sure feel for historical context….By illuminating Beecher’s position in history, Applegate has produced a biography worthy of its subject.”— Michael Kazin, New York Times Book Review



“A wonderful portrait of a charismatic preacher with a deeply flawed private life, this biography vividly conveys the color and contradictions of 19th century America.  With a sure grasp of history, penetrating insights into religion, and many marvelous turns of phrase, Applegate brings to life a time that uncannily prefigures our own.”
– William Taubman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Khrushchev



“At last, Henry Ward Beecher receives the comprehensive treatment he is due, in this perceptive, engaging and balanced study.”
– James MacGregor Burns, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for history and biography


“Historian Debby Applegate’s The Most Famous Man in America is a brilliantly written, judicious, monumental biography of Henry Ward Beecher. The amount of new research material she unearthed is stunning. Chalk it up as a classic.”
— Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian and author of The Great Deluge



 “Henry Ward Beecher was a phenomenon: the scion of an amazing family, the most renowned American preacher of his day, an anti-slavery stalwart—and the main protagonist in one of the most sensational sex scandals of the Victorian era. If you thought that the personalities and machinations surrounding the Clinton impeachment scandal were interesting, you will find the Beecher exposé riveting. More important, Debby Applegate has vividly brought Beecher and his entire era to life, in all of their piety, idealism, pomposity, and pride.”
—Sean Wilentz, winner of the Bancroft Prize  for The Rise of American Democracy



“The title is not misleading.  Thoroughly researched, passionately written, and richly detailed, this book is the biography of America’s greatest nineteenth-century preacher, Henry Ward Beecher.  Through Applegate’s discerning eye, the moral strengths and sexual vulnerabilities of the ‘most famous man in America’ come clearly into view.  In the process, Applegate tells the larger story of nineteenth-century America’s religious transition from a Puritan and theocratic past to a ‘modern’ liberal orthodoxy premised on happiness, love, and the banishment of original sin.  Applegate’s biography is must reading for serious nonfiction readers of American religion, politics, and culture in Victorian America.”

– Harry S. Stout, Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History, Yale University, author of Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War