December 7, 2009

The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

The Unlikely Disciple is the tale of Kevin Roose's semester at Liberty University, the largest evangelical college in America. The subtitle, "A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University," sums it up well. Kevin Roose, a liberal Brown student with Quaker roots goes to find out what exactly it would be like to be a Liberty student. To do so, he becomes one of them, fully participating in every aspect of Liberty life, hiding his identity as a non-believing journalist.

I heartily enjoyed this memoir. Roose's style is similar to A. J. Jacobs's, but with less bitter sarcasm and more brute honesty. What I love about this book is that Roose really does attempt (and I do believe he succeeded) in giving Liberty a fair shake. His desire was not to go in and expose the evil underbelly of the university, his goal was to get an accurate picture of the student body and what being a student at Liberty University was like.

This book is full of characters. They may be real people, but they are as well-written as in any Dickens novel, and at times, as quirky. Though this is to be the story of the people he meets along the way, it's as much his story, the story of a young man struggling through what he believes and why. Being confronted with views so dissimilar to your own can be incredibly stretching, and being 19-years-old when he does it magnifies the affect.

I'll admit that at several times I cringed while reading this book. Some of the things Kevin finds are less than glamorous, which is to be expected. There's the unabomber-esque, homophobic roommate and the ridiculous rules on length of men's hair that are poor representations of religious views that are so similar to mine. But he's only being fair, and these things are fairly represented with the good and the interesting.

I recommend this book to anyone, regardless of your current views on Liberty University, the Religious Right, and the late Jerry Falwell. This is an eye-opening and engaging read, fully deserving it's 5 stars.


  1. Wow... this sounds very interesting! I didn't know what to think of it but reading your review makes me wanna read it rightaway! I love reading about this kind of experiences. Must have been quite a special semester for him.
    I'm absolutely going to put it on my TBR list. Thanks!

  2. This has been on my TBR list for a while. The premise sounds fascinating to me so I'm hoping to read it soon!

  3. Very interesting! I had read about this book in magazines, but wasn't sure how the book would be. I have several friends who have gone to Liberty, and one is now attending it, and it is interesting to hear how the college is through them. According to them, there is bad things and good things about it. It would be interesting to read about it from a non-Christian perspective.

  4. Three years later . . .
    While doing a Google image search for something unrelated, my curiosity was peaked by the book cover image you used. I checked out the rest of your blog and am rebukefully encouraged by your goal setting. It takes great nerve to set such high standards for yourself but immeasurable courage to post them for all the world to see. That kind of accountability can be difficult. Thanks for setting the example! I have been taught the importance of surrounding myself with people that will spur me on. Consider yourself added to my RSS feed; I'll be back often.

    Oh, and thanks to you, this book is now on my list for 2013. Jacob's, Year of Living Biblically, was great and this looks like another good opportunity to catch an outsider's perspective of my faith.


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