2014 National Book Award Longlist, Nonfiction
The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House
ABOUT THE BOOK
Near the start of the nineteenth century, as the newly established United States looked outward toward the wider world, a group of eminent Protestant ministers formed a grand scheme for gathering the rest of mankind into the redemptive fold of Christianity and “civilization.” Its core element was a special school for “heathen youth” drawn from all parts of the earth, including the Pacific Islands, China, India, and, increasingly, the native nations of North America. If all went well, graduates would return to join similar projects in their respective homelands. For some years, the school prospered, indeed became quite famous. However, when two Cherokee students courted and married local women, public resolve—and fundamental ideals—were put to a severe test.
The Heathen School follows the progress, and the demise, of this first true melting pot through the lives of individual students. From its birth as a beacon of hope for universal “salvation,” the heathen school descends into bitter controversy, as American racial attitudes harden and intensify. Instead of encouraging reconciliation, the school exposes the limits of tolerance and sets off a chain of events that will culminate tragically in the Trail of Tears.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Demos is the Samuel Knight Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University. His previous books include The Unredeemed Captive, which won the Francis Parkman Prize and was a Finalist for the National Book Award, and Entertaining Satan, which won the Bancroft Prize. He lives in Tyringham, Massachusetts.