I echo the other favorable reviews. A couple of things really struck me as I read this remarkable book about Edwards. One, this book deals not only with Edwards, but with the early 1700's in America, one of the most important turning points in world history. During Edwards' lifetime, rapid changes were taking place in the way people (Christians and non-Christians) thought about God and the world. This transition laid the groundwork for the American and French revolutions, and for the modernism and post-modernism of today. Although this book focuses on Edwards, it explains that remarkable period of time better than any I know of. George Marsden has an incredible ability to bring in huge amounts of information about the people, events, way of life, and worldviews of the early 1700's, and yet tell the story in a way that (as others have said) reads like a novel.
Two, Marsden understands Reformed/Calvinistic theology very well. This is vital to an understanding of Edwards because his life was first and foremost about his love for and understanding (logos) of God (theo). It is clear that Marsden, an historian, has spent a lot of time studying theology in general and the writings of Edwards in particular.
Particularly masterful is Marsden's discussion about the underlying theological assumptions held by both sides in the Lord's Supper controversy that eventually resulted in Edwards' removal from the pastorate at Northampton. He convincingly argues that the dominant theological view in the 1700's -- and which had begun to change during Edwards' lifetime -- was the result of a framework that saw little difference between the church and the community. To Solomon Stoddard (Edwards' grandfather and predecessor), the church and the community as a whole were virtually the same thing, much like OT Israel. The town of Northamptom was a "covenant community" where everyone had been baptized, and they all attended the one and only church in town. Thus, reasoned Stoddard, you must allow them to take communion unless there was a radical renouncement of the faith. To Edwards, on the other hand, the church was a group of people who were "holy" or "called out" from the world. And because of this view, just like Augustine's as expressed in the City of Man/the City of God, Edwards could not allow clearly unregenerate people to partake of the Lord's body and blood. This is just one example of the way that Marsden displays his deep grasp of Reformed theology.
The book was a pleasure to read. It shows Edwards for who he truly was: an intensely devout follower of Jesus Christ, a prolific writer, an orthodox theologian, a loving husband and father, an incredibly principled man, and probably (as some encyclopedias have called him) the greatest mind America has ever produced. And yet, he was a sinner who struggled with depression, pride, biases, and cultural assumptions of his day, and who made many, many mistakes and miscalculations.