When Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop used the phrase "a city on a hill" in a 1630 sermon, few listeners would have guessed that the biblically-inspired image would come to mean so many things to so many people. In this illuminating book, Abram Van Engen traces the history of Winthrop's speech, which librarians, archivists, and historians have used to craft a foundation myth out of the Pilgrims. Van Engen also notes its use in modern politics, as the phrase became the cornerstone of American exceptionalism.
"An elegant piece of historical detective work…. [A] wonderful archaeology of an American idea."—Atlantic