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Publisher's Summary

Audie Award, Literary Fiction, 2009

Elmer Gantry is the portrait of a silver-tongued evangelist who rises to power within his church, yet lives a life of hypocrisy, sensuality, and ruthless self-indulgence.  

The title character starts out as a greedy, shallow, philandering Baptist minister, turns to evangelism, and eventually becomes the leader of a large Methodist congregation. Throughout the novel, Gantry encounters fellow religious hypocrites. Although often exposed as a fraud, Gantry is never fully discredited.

Elmer Gantry is considered a landmark American novel and one of the most penetrating studies of hypocrisy in modern literature. It portrays the evangelistic activity that was common in 1920s America as well as attitudes toward it.

©1954 Michael Lewis (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What listeners say about Elmer Gantry

Average Customer Ratings
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

How a book SHOULD be written.

I wish all books could be written this well. The character development was absolutely amazing. Elmer Gantry was lovable and dreadful all at the same time. I want a sequel only to know him again. He was so well developed. So clear and real. The use of language was well thought out, intentional, meaningful, enticing and entertaining. Sinclair Lewis reminds me of John Steinbeck in his clarity. My only complaint -- and I fear this is because I am a child of TV/video games/movies, etc -- is the story was not captivating. Elmer WAS captivating and his character (and the voice of the reader) really carried me through the entire book. The story itself was plain. But it didn't seem to matter much as Elmer and the reader made up for that. I loved it. I would definitely recommend it. I wish all books were written with this much detail, clarity and care. This is a work of art. Not some silly "journal -entry-stream-of-consciousness" garbage that happened to sell a million copies because everyone reads while their on their treadmills and talking on their blackberry.

23 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Halleluja, Brother Lewis!

This book was the first one by Sinclair Lewis I had ever read, and from the synopsis I was half expecting something along the lines of Faulkner, whom I don't find too thrilling, to put it delicately. What a pleasant surprise! The book is extremely energetic, sarcastic, psychologically credible and just plain fun. A thrilling ride from start to finish. The narrator, Anthony Heald, also delivers an outstanding performance. He has a very pleasant voice and an impressive control of accents: apart from the many American voices, the occasional British accents are 100% convincing, and his German accent would almost convince a native speaker (but not quite).

In short: a wonderful audiobook. Both the author and the narrator are going on my list.

33 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

still too relevant!

As wonderful as Burt Lancaster was in the classic movie based on this novel, the film doesn't come close to capturing the social commentary and humour in Elmer Gantry.

I thought this would be dated, even corny, but Elmer could be journeying through some of today's megachurches, or peddling by turns the gospel of prosperity as a televangelist OR the laws of success as a new age guru. He could have been the architect of the ascendancy and co-opting of the religious right in recent U.S. history as they, like Elmer, proclaimed: "We shall yet make these United Sates a moral nation!"

The sly satire reminded me of Anthony Trollope but in prose that is less dense and formal than the late Victorians--so this is easy listening but delightful prose made more wonderful by excellent narration. And unfortunately the psychological insight into human condition and social commentary on how we spin religious experience are both still too relevant.

I disagree that the novel would have been better if shorter. There are so many elements to parody that Elmer's career needs its timespan and ups and downs.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

This book is fun

Elmer Gantry is a classic without the weighty mindnumbing prose that can accompany the label, "classic." The characters are well developed and interesting and the time listening went by quickly because I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. If you are like me and left this book off of your reading list, don't wait a minute more. Be careful, you may loose your religion!

26 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

An American Classic, Relevant to Today

Sinclair Lewis' ferocious 1927 satire, "Elmer Gantry", traces the career of a young man who is sent to a theological seminary by his pious mother but initially has no interest in becoming a minister. Indeed, his reputation for drinking and carousing with women is so notorious he earns the nickname "Hellcat". But from the book's opening scenes in 1905 to his ascension to the position of a famous moralizing evangelist 20 years later, Gantry never really repents of his ways (though he does stop drinking); he merely finds ways to ingratiate himself with the rich and powerful so that his misdeeds, many of them egregious, never become known. This book reminded me of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men", which is about an equally ruthless and ambitious man, but Penn Warren was writing about a politician rather than a preacher. "Elmer Gantry" is an excellent portrait of the unchecked rise of a glib sociopath to the position of moral leader of a nation despite his private hypocrisy. Sound familiar? The Blackstone Audio reading is excellent, but I found the novel itself to be a bit slow and meandering in its pace. Lewis misses an excellent opportunity to make the book a more dramatic portrait of Gantry alone by not ending the story around the time when Gantry's secret love affair with a famous female evangelist comes to a dramatic and fiery end. Had Lewis chosen to focus more exclusively on Gantry, instead of bringing in scenes of other more honest ministers wrestling with their faiths, and ended it at that climactic moment, this book could have been a character portrait as magnificent as F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby". But instead, it launches into a lengthy second section which recounts Gantry's career as a Methodist minister, and this is where some people may find the book becoming overlong and heavy-handed. Overall, though, this book is a classic of its kind.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A Pure Delight

I can't recall exactly what I expected when I ordered this audio book - probably something classic and venerable, ie. boring and covered in cobwebs. What a wonderful surprise! A smart and funny writer, a 70-year old but perfectly contemporary theme, and a brilliant narration. A lucky choice and my favorite audio book to date.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Great book. Great narration

Even though this was published in 1927, this book is an amazingly current satire of the religious puffery, false piety, and small mindedness of some that still exists today. The narration is pitch perfect.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

One of the greats

Sinclair Lewis' fantastic drama of an religious anti-hero is super relevant today. He's such a despicable and appealing character, brought to life by the fabulous narration. I loved every minute of it.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Best audiobook reader I've ever listened to

I very much enjoyed the book as well as the peerless reading by this audiobook narrator. Great voice work and very enjoyable book overall that explores the phenomenon of American religion in early 20th-centry America with great humor and relish.

8 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A masterpiece of self-deception

Reading a book like this makes you appreciate how little the world has changed in the last 100 years. And if people bought into the same weird fads 100 years ago, why not 200? Or 1000? Or all the way back to the beginning of civilization?

I thought I knew Elmer Gantry by reputation but I was mistaken. Whether Elmer does or doesn't believe in religion, he works really hard at it. And therein lies a deep and probing search into any of the professions like preaching, politics, activism, where success is measured by how much support and attention you can get. There is a kind of moral hazard created by that phenomenon.

Sinclair Lewis does a brilliant job of showing how Gantry gradually brainwashes himself, and how his hypocrisy arises, not from some deliberate choice on his own part, but from a lack of self-reflection and an absence of self-awareness. Gantry is terrifying, not because he is a hypocrit, but because he ultimately truly believes he is doing the right thing.

Lewis also paints a depressing picture of what happens to people in the ministry who are truly sincere and honest about their faith. It seems they will always lose out to people like Gantry who profess to harbor no doubts. Those who wrestle with their doubts--and even consider that struggle to be essential to their own faith--will never have the popular appeal of a charismatic personality like Gantry. What that says about the general public I leave to your imagination.

3 people found this helpful

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  • A. R. Daw
  • 04-11-21

Worth listening to.

I doubt that this book goes down well in the American bible belt, but it does pander to my own preconceptions about religion and evangelism.
I didn't feel that it aged much.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • shefflad
  • 03-26-19

Amazing use of description and dialogue

Written over 90 years ago, Elmer Gantry still manages to entertain and challenge. The main character is a buffoon who uses people up. Sinclair Lewis's dialogue, although firmly of its time is authentic and well written.

BTW, listen for the satirical self criticism toward the end of the novel.

1 person found this helpful