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About John M. Barry
John M. Barry is a prize-winning and New York Times best-selling author whose books have won several dozen awards. In 2005 the National Academies of Science named The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history, a study of the 1918 pandemic, the year's outstanding book on science or medicine. In 1998 Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, won the Francis Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians for the year's best book of American history. His latest book is Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, which has been named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, to be awarded late spring 2013. ( Scroll down for more about this book, including a syndicated op ed based on it.)
His writing has received not only formal awards but less formal recognition as well. In 2004 GQ named Rising Tide one of nine pieces of writing essential to understanding America; that list also included Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail." His first book, The Ambition and the Power: A true story of Washington, was cited by The New York Times as one of the eleven best books ever written about Washington and the Congress. His second book The Transformed Cell: Unlocking the Mysteries of Cancer, coauthored with Dr. Steven Rosenberg, was published in twelve languages. And a story about football he wrote was selected for inclusion in an anthology of the best football writing of all time published in 2006 by Sports Illustrated.
He has had considerable influence on both pandemic policy and flood protection. Both the Bush and Obama administrations sought his advice on influenza preparedness and response, and he was a member of the original team which developed plans for non-pharmaceutical interventions to mitigate a pandemic. The National Academies of Science asked him to give the keynote speech at its first international scientific meeting on pandemic influenza, and he was the only non-scientist on a federal government Infectious Disease Board of Experts.
In the area of water resources, he has been equally active. In 2006 he became the only non-scientist ever to give the National Academies annual Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecture, a lecture which focuses on some aspect of water. After Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana congressional delegation asked him to chair a bipartisan working group on flood protection, and he now serves on the board overseeing levee districts in metropolitan New Orleans and on the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is responsible for the state's hurricane protection. Barry has worked with state, federal, United Nations, and World Health Organization officials on influenza, water-related disasters, and risk communication.
Barry sits on advisory boards at M.I.T's Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as well as on the board of the Society of American Historians and American Heritage Rivers.
He has also been keynote speaker at such varied events as a White House Conference on the Mississippi Delta and an International Congress on Respiratory Viruses, and he has given talks in such venues as the National War College, the Council on Foreign Relations, Harvard Business School, and elsewhere. He is co-originator of Riversphere, a $100 million center being developed by Tulane University; it will be the first facility in the world dedicated to comprehensive river research.
His articles have appeared in such scientific journals as Nature and Journal of Infectious Disease as well as in lay publications ranging from Sports Illustrated to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fortune, Time, Newsweek, and Esquire. A frequent guest on every broadcast network in the US, he has appeared on such shows as NBC's Meet the Press, ABC's World News, and NPR's All Things Considered, and on such foreign media as the BBC and Al Jazeera. He has also served as a consultant for Sony Pictures and contributed to award-winning television documentaries.
Before becoming a writer, Barry coached football at the high school, small college, and major college levels. Currently Distinguished Scholar at the Center for Bioenvironmental Research of Tulane and Xavier Universities, he lives in New Orleans.
Barry's latest book focuses on the development of both the idea of separation of church and state and the first expression of individualism in the modern sense. These two issues-- how we define the relationship between church and state and between the individual and the state-- have opened fault lines which have divided America throughout our history up to today. Here is an op ed syndicated by The Los Angeles Times February 5, 2012 :
A Puritan's `War Against Religion.'
In January, while conservative Christians and GOP presidential candidates were charging that "elites" have launched "a war against religion," a federal court in Rhode Island ordered a public school to remove a prayer mounted on a wall because it imposed a belief on 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist. The ruling seems particularly fitting because it was consistent not only with the 1st Amendment but with the intent of Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island expressly to provide religious liberty and who called such forced exposure to prayer "spiritual rape."
As Williams' nearly 400-year-old comment demonstrates, the conflict over the proper relationship between church and state is the oldest in American history. The 1st Amendment now defines this relationship, but understanding the full meaning of the amendment requires understanding its history, for the amendment was a specific response to specific historical events and was written with the recognition that freedom of religion was inextricably linked to freedom itself.
The church-state conflict began when Puritans, envisioning a Christian nation, founded what John Winthrop called "a citty upon a hill" in Massachusetts, and Williams rejected that vision for another: freedom. He insisted that the state refrain from intervening in the relationship between humans and God, stating that even people advocating "the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or Antichristian consciences and worships" be allowed to pray -- or not pray -- freely, and that "forced worship stinks in God's nostrils."
Yet Williams was no atheist. He was a devout Puritan minister who, like other Massachusetts Puritans, fled religious persecution in England. Upon his arrival in 1631 he was considered so godly that Boston Puritans had asked him to lead their church. He declined -- because he considered their church insufficiently pure.
Reverence for both Scripture and freedom led Williams to his position. His mentor was Edward Coke, the great English jurist who ruled, "The house of every one is as his castle," extending the liberties of great lords -- and an inviolate refuge where one was free -- to the lowest English commoners. Coke pioneered the use of habeas corpus to prevent arbitrary imprisonment. And when Chancellor of England Thomas Egerton said, "Rex est lex loquens; the king is the law speaking," and agreed that the monarch could "suspend any particular law" for "reason of state," Coke decreed instead that the law bound the king. Coke was imprisoned -- without charge -- for his view of liberty, but that same view ran in Williams' veins.
Equally important to Williams was Scripture. Going beyond the "render unto Caesar" verse in the New Testament, he recognized the difficulty in reconciling contradictory scriptural passages as well as different Bible translations. He even had before him an example of a new translation that served a political purpose. King James had disliked the existing English Bible because in his view it insufficiently taught obedience to authority; the King James Bible would correct that.
Given these complexities, Williams judged it impossible for any human to interpret all Scripture without error. Therefore he considered it "monstrous" for one person to impose any religious belief on another. He also realized that any government-sponsored prayer required a public official to pass judgment on something to do with God, a sacrilegious presumption. He also knew that when one mixes religion and politics, one gets politics. So to protect the purity of the church, he demanded -- 150 years before Jefferson -- a "wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world."
Massachusetts had no such wall, compelled religious conformity and banished Williams for opposing it. Seeking "soul liberty," he founded Providence Plantations and established an entirely secular government that granted absolute freedom of religion. The governing compact of every other colony in the Americas, whether English, French, Spanish or Portuguese, claimed the colony was being founded to advance Christianity. Providence's governing compact did not mention God. It did not even ask God's blessing.
Williams next linked religious and political freedom. It was then universally believed that governments derived their authority from God. Even Winthrop, after being elected governor in Massachusetts, told voters, "Though chosen by you, our authority comes from God."
Williams disputed this. Considering the state secular, he declared governments mere "agents" deriving their authority from citizens and having "no more power, nor for longer time, than the people ... shall betrust them with." This statement sounds self-evident now. It was revolutionary then.
The U.S. Constitution, like Providence's compact, does not mention God. It does request a blessing, but not from God; it sought "the blessings of liberty," Williams' "soul liberty." As Justice Robert Jackson wrote, "This freedom was first in the Bill of Rights because it was first in the forefathers' minds; it was set forth in absolute terms, and its strength is its rigidity."
Eight years after the Constitution's adoption, the Senate confirmed this view in unanimously approving a treaty. It stated: "[T]he government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."
Yet the argument continues. Presidential candidates and evangelicals ignore American history and insist on injecting religion into politics. They proclaim their belief in freedom -- even while they violate it.
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“Barry will teach you almost everything you need to know about one of the deadliest outbreaks in human history.”—Bill Gates, GatesNotes.com
"Monumental... an authoritative and disturbing morality tale."—Chicago Tribune
The strongest weapon against pandemic is the truth. Read why in the definitive account of the 1918 Flu Epidemic.
Magisterial in its breadth of perspective and depth of research, The Great Influenza provides us with a precise and sobering model as we confront the epidemics looming on our own horizon. As Barry concludes, "The final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that...those in authority must retain the public's trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first, and best. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart."
At the height of World War I, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease.
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award and the Lillian Smith Award.
For four hundred years, Americans have wrestled with and fought over two concepts that define the nature of the nation: the proper relation between church and state and between a free individual and the state. These debates began with the extraordinary thought and struggles of Roger Williams, who had an unparalleled understanding of the conflict between a government that justified itself by "reason of state"-i.e. national security-and its perceived "will of God" and the "ancient rights and liberties" of individuals.
This is a story of power, set against Puritan America and the English Civil War. Williams's interactions with King James, Francis Bacon, Oliver Cromwell, and his mentor Edward Coke set his course, but his fundamental ideas came to fruition in America, as Williams, though a Puritan, collided with John Winthrop's vision of his "City upon a Hill."
Acclaimed historian John M. Barry explores the development of these fundamental ideas through the story of the man who was the first to link religious freedom to individual liberty, and who created in America the first government and society on earth informed by those beliefs. The story is essential to the continuing debate over how we define the role of religion and political power in modern American life.
The pursuit and wielding of power may be America's most intoxicating and sometimes revolting pastime. John M. Barry, award-winning author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America (1997), purveys American uses and abuses of might in the media, in Washington, in Olympians, and in college football.
With Power Plays: Politics, Football, and Other Blood Sports Barry draws together essays that examine the causes and effects of power. He shows how much politics and powerful agendas affect our lives. Barry draws from personal experience to probe deep into all aspects of gaining and expending personal clout.
Reflecting on life as a major college football coach, on politicians such as Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and Jim Wright, or on such American athletes as world record-holding hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah, Barry pushes past the glamour and glitz to tackle the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty stratagems that create and destroy America's most powerful figures.
Barry's witty and well-informed narrative voice keeps the discussion from becoming purely abstract. His numerous examples, including candid moments from his own life, focus on people and specific events that remain--and should remain--in the public eye and imagination.
Revealing the ethos, skills, and brinksmanship inherent in both sports and politics, Barry draws parallels between the two, often presenting sports as a metaphor for understanding the American political scene. His poignant memoirs of coaching football, and his highly opinionated voice within the other essays, make Barry as much a character and example in the book as any of the people he profiles.
Drawing on his 1989 book on the rise of Newt Gingrich and the fall of Jim Wright, The Ambition and the Power: A True Story of Washington, Barry re-envisions a book-length argument as a series of profiles and shorter articles. Barry creates in Power Plays: Politics, Football, and Other Blood Sports an engrossing and disturbing primer on American politics, helping readers to understand how might is made, manipulated, and lost.