This was a fun, fascinating little book to read. Although it may be short, this little book whets the appetite and leaves the reader wanting more. Mark Noll is one of the most well-known and well-respected scholars of Evangelicalism in the United States and handles his little project here quite well.
Noll breaks up the book into time periods, beginning with a bit about the Protestant Reformation before continuing with pre-1776 American Protestantism; he discusses the Civil War, the rise of so-called Fundamentalism, and ends with discussing secularization and other recent developments. The book is easy reading - one can read it in a few hours - and well worth taking the time to do so, especially in light of the continued presence of religion in American public life.
What I found most fascinating in this book was how American Protestantism groups so quickly divided into more groups because of a lack of government involvement. Whereas in Europe different churches came to be allied with the government of their region, this did not happen in the United States. Instead, a type of individualistic turn took place when Protestantism/s reached America's shores: if you didn't like how your church did it, you simply went off and started another one. Hence, in America there are tens of thousands of Protestant denominations that never existed in Europe.
If you have read Noll's work _The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind_, you will hear echoes of it in his analysis of what exactly Evangelicalism is (and, for that matter, isn't). He writes that Evangelicals have, for most of their history, been fairly skeptical of higher education and taking a more thoughtful approach to the faith; a type of American pragmatism exists within American Evangelicalism. Yet, Noll is also sympathetic (he himself is an Evangelical) and desires to correct various misperceptions about Evangelicalism that are widespread in the larger culture. Noll's corrective lenses are both helpful and informative.
Although it is short, I think this book is a really fantastic introduction into a subject with widespread influence: religious, cultural and political. For those that are interested, Noll includes a fairly substantial bibliography in the back of the book with a number of recommendations for futher reading. And, given the 60% discount that Amazon.com is currently offering, this is probably the most informative $5.00 that you can spend right now.
It is a tough job to pull church history in America together into a short volume; one will always tend to leave things out. Noll does a decent job in selecting material, but the book suffers from poor writing. There seems to be no real organization to his chapters; they read as loose collections of ideas and paragraph biographies. If the book were reworked, it could be a valuable introduction.