Born Bad: Original Sin and the Making of the Western World

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Original sin is the Western world’s creation story.

According to the doctrine of original sin, humans are born bad and only God’s grace can bring salvation. In this captivating book, acclaimed historian James Boyce shows how these ideas have shaped the Western view of human nature right up to the present. The legacy of original sin takes many forms, including the distinctive discontent of Western people – the feelings of guilt and inadequacy associated not with doing wrong, but with being wrong.

As well as an innovative history of Christianity, Boyce offers new insights into the making of the West. Born Bad traces a fascinating journey from Adam and Eve all the way to Adam Smith and Richard Dawkins in this sweeping story of a controversial idea and its remarkable influence.

“What is wrong with me? This question has haunted the West for fifteen hundred years, but until recently it came with an answer – which was called original sin. Western people believed they were “born bad” because they had inherited the sin of the first humans.” —James Boyce

‘This highly original, readable book shows how the Christian idea that we are all somehow fundamentally warped has helped to shape democratic politics, free markets, sexual anxieties and even debates about whether dead babies go to heaven.’ —Marion Maddox, author of God Under Howard and Taking God to School

‘An imaginative and utterly unpredictable book. Alleluia.’ —Australian

‘Boyce finds fascinating marks of the idea of original sin in the big liberal ideas of free-market economics, Darwinian evolution and psychological analysis, but no compensating marks equivalent to the Christian idea of sanctifying grace.’ —Monthly

‘James Boyce is the best kind of historian of ideas. He does not reduce the complexity of his subject to a few easy lessons. He opens up the history of the idea of original sin rather than narrowing it down… [Here] is an unblinking regard for the efforts the human race has made to understand itself.’ —Age

‘It is a treat for the reader that a subject as bold, intricate and dense as original sin has been examined by the eloquent James Boyce. In his hands, what may seem a terrifying subject is thoroughly examined and put through its historical, theological and psychological paces.’ —Mercury

‘This is a fascinating revisionist account of modernity... The book is clear, elegantly written, beautifully paced and encourages rich reflection.’ —Andrew Hamilton, Eureka Street

‘This is an exceptional, highly recommended work, innovative and creative in surprising ways.’ —Publishers Weekly, starred review

‘James Boyce has.... written a brilliant and exhilarating work of people scholarship. I pencil vertical lines in the margins of the books I read whenever a sentence or paragraph seems especially striking. My copy of Born Bad carries such scribbles of every other page.’ —Michael Dirda, Washington Post

James Boyce is the multiple award-winning author of Born Bad, 1835 and Van Diemen’s Land. He has a PhD from the University of Tasmania, where he is an honorary research associate of the School of Geography and Environmental Studies.