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Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography Paperback – April 23, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691127883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691127880
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #694,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is the second major work on Kierkegaard to appear in recent years; Alastair Hannay's intellectual portrait Kierkegaard: A Biography approaches the religious philosopher's life and work in a thematic fashion, discerning behind the veils of Kierkegaard's pseudonymous writings his anxieties and hopes, failures and successes. Garff, associate professor at the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen, proceeds very differently in this biography, portraying a philosopher whose daily life formed the crucible in which his landmark works were written. Drawing not simply on Kierkegaard's most famous writings, Garff also examines in microscopic fashion the minute details of the Dane's life year-by-year from his birth to his death. Garff uses journals, letters, gossip and family conversations to present the portrait of an intense young man whose study of the philosophy and literature of his day turned him into both a romantic and an anti-romantic, a Christian and a rebel against Christendom. For example, Garff points out that Goethe's Faust heavily influenced the young Kierkegaard, as did his participation in a circle of friends who discussed romantic literature. Although some will accuse Garff of revealing salacious details of the philosopher's life—as in the chapters on Kierkegaard's relationship with his fiancée Regine Olsen—this monumental and magisterial biography offers fresh glimpses into the sometimes-tortured life and work of this true philosophical genius.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Much has changed since a prominent nineteenth-century cleric dismissed the writings of Soren Kierkegaard as "blasphemous toying with what is holy." But while generations of serious readers have learned to treasure the Danish thinker's profound meditations on the modern meaning of Christian faith, many have remained captive to the earliest caricatures of Kierkegaard as a hunchbacked and melancholy hypochondriac. Thanks to a gifted translator, English-speaking readers at last can share an acclaimed Danish biography that liberates Kierkegaard from those caricatures, even as it establishes the vital links between his tempestuous personal life and his epoch-making works. Garff allows readers to see, for instance, how Kierkegaard deliberately primed himself for his literary-religious mission by severing--at the cost of intense self-laceration--the only romantic tie of his life. In a similar manner, Garff connects the tensions in Kierkegaard's relations with his own father to the theological drama of Fear and Trembling. An acute critic, Garff discerns Kierkegaard's deeply private and psychological motives for pressing toward martyrdom in his implacable warfare against Christendom's complacent ecclesiastical hierarchy. But he also keeps in view the larger historical context, one in which Karl Marx was asking his own revolutionary questions about the role of religion within a rapidly industrializing world of commodity capitalism. A biography that illuminates an often-misunderstood mind. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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We owe a great debt to Joakim Garff.
My husband is reading this aloud to me.
Laurel Vanmaren
A very well written, and readable book.
J. Burke

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By colinwoodward on June 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
With its 800 pages of text, Garff's life of Kierkegaard will no doubt inspire fear and trembling (sorry, couldn't resist) in even the most diehard fan of SK. Fear not, however, as Garff has written the best Kierkegaard biography that one can find in English (though it would be nice if Walter Lowrie's and Josiah Thompson's excellent full-length biographies were also in print). It's an impressive piece of scholarship, and it is a rewarding experience to read it. Unfortunately for those of us on this side of the pond, perhaps only a Dane could have written such a book. Perhaps only someone who has walked the streets that SK did and who knows his Mother Tongue could put us in Kierkegaard's little world so well. We not only come to know SK inside and out after reading this large tome, we also get a feel for the sights, smells, and color of nineteenth century Copenhagen. If you have never read Kierkegaard, you will probably not want to read this book. Yet, those that have never read him, or even those who have, will profit from Garff making SK's milieu come alive. We not only get a lot about Kierkegaard, we also are treated to details about cholera epidemics, wars, and the Danish crown--all of which SK couldn't be bothered much with, but I liked reading about anyway.

Kierkegaard, first and foremost, was a writer, and Garff never lets us lose sight of how impressive his subject's achievements were (the amount he produced in the 1840s boggles the mind). All of SK's major works are discussed as well as his lesser known writings. The major events of SK's life are also dealt with in detail--his dour father and difficult brother, the relationship with Regine, and the disastrous sparring he did with "The Corsair." At some points, Garff must speculate on his subject's private world.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It may seem astonishing to many that a nearly-900 page biography of Soren Kierkegaard would ever be described as riveting, or as a page-turner, but that is exactly what this book by Joakim Garff, translated by Bruce Kirmmse from the original Danish, turns out to be. I first noticed it at the bookstore of my seminary, and, intended only to read through a few pages at the beginning to be somewhat familiar with the text (having a friend who is very into Kierkegaard), I noticed when I next looked up that I was 60 pages into the book, and half an hour late for my next appointment.

As Garff states in his preface, biographies of Kierkegaard are few and far between. Even in his native Danish language, 'biographies of Kierkegaard that have appeared since Georg Brandes' critical portrait was published in 1877 can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand.' Part of this was Kierkegaard's own stated desire that readers read his works, not into his person, and he often published under pseudonyms. However, this is an ironic situation, Garff writes, because Kierkegaard puts so much of himself into his writing that there are definite autobiographical elements. Israel Levin, Kierkegaard's secretary for many years, also recognised the paradoxical situation in dealing with a Kierkegaard biography - 'this is a life so full of contradictions that it will be difficult to get to the bottom of his character.'

One of the things Garff should be credited for is not trying to force a particular paradigm or interpretation on Kierkegaard. We don't discover 'Kierkegaard the existentialist' or 'Kierkegaard the religious rebel' or other such personas here - rather, these elements and more are all interwoven into Garff's text to show a complex and not always comprehensible figure.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. Burke on October 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A very well written, and readable book. The author does a good job of fleshing out the context in each time period of SK's life. The reader comes to know the people who were important to SK both personally and professionally. And, SK's important writings are put within the context of his life and culture. Garff has a sense of humor, and temperance in his editorializing. You don't have to be a fan of Kierkegaard to enjoy this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Clendenin on January 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
First published in Denmark in 2000, Joakim Garff's massive and monumental biography of the "melancholy Dane" makes its English debut just in time to commemorate Kierkegaard's death exactly 150 years ago ( November 11, 1855). Anyone who has taken a college freshman class in western civilization or philosophy has a vague familiarity with the name, if not his thought, and some have even dared to tackle his complicated and brilliant work of "indirect" communication via pseudonyms and his later "direct" (and was it ever direct!) communication under his own name. In grad school I took a turn at Kierkegaard, and even now in my office there hangs a poem by him thanks to my wife's calligraphy:

Herr! gieb uns blöde Augen (Lord, give us weak eyes)

für Dinge, die nichts taugen, (for things that do not matter)

und Augen voller Klarheit (and eyes full of clarity)

in alle deine Wahrheit! (in all your truth!)

Kierkegaard prefaced his work The Sickness Unto Death with this prayer-poem.

Although a wild diversity of interpreters from existentialism to deconstructionism has claimed Kierkegaard as their own, and although SK's personality and complex oeuvre present any biographer with an extraordinarily difficult task, Garff shows that he is rightly understood as an artist-poet whose focus was distinctly and deliberately religious. He treats the reader to large doses of SK himself, and reviews all his major writings and journals, focusing on Kierkegaard's life and not really his thought. In this sense he treats Kierkegaard personally rather than intellectually or theologically. He starts with his early years, and proceeds year by year.
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