By David Aikman, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 339 pages.
Billy Graham's immense influence and success as an evangelist came from his deep yet simple piety and his need to be liked, David Aikman argues convincingly in his biography of "America's Pastor."
Rather than a fawning account of the evangelist's life, Aikman never shies away from the weaknesses. Graham was perhaps too close to certain presidents, including Johnson and Nixon. The author shows how the preacher's straightforward approach to people crossed into naivete. Graham was, perhaps, used by Nixon, giving to this president a spiritual aura and religiosity that Nixon never developed on his own.
Graham was hurt personally and in the public view, at least for a while, by Watergate.
The biography portrays well Billy Graham's gifts as a preacher. Readers get a sense of the great successes of the 1950s crusades, when Graham became a much-loved national celebrity. The book also covers the evolution in the pastor's theology, from the fire-and-brimstone fundamentalism of the 1950s to a more ecumenical, sometimes peace-oriented dignified world Christian leader of the later decades.
By this time, Graham had long been working with mainstream Protestant ministers and even the Catholic Church, much to the dismay of the fundamentalists, who remained suspicious of both groups of Christians.
Aikman doesn't seem to grind any axes in this well-balanced biography, making the book a good introduction to a central figure.