Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry.
New York: Viking, 2012. 464 pp. $35 (hardcover).

Though few know it today, Roger Williams preceded Thomas Jefferson in calling for a “wall of separation” between church and state, and he founded Rhode Island on freedom of conscience—even for atheists.

How could a devout Puritan minister in 17th-century New England have championed that radical political principle? In Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, author John M. Barry answers this question. Barry tells Williams’s story and identifies his fundamental philosophic ideas, tracing their religious and political impact on America. Though Barry’s analysis is not always convincing, the book sheds light on how Williams and a few other religious figures helped pave a road toward the nation’s founding. . . .

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