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Van Gogh: The Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 18, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Look Inside Van Gogh

Jo Bonger Van Gogh with son Vincent van Gogh
Credit: Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh, Age 13
Credit: Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh, Age 18
Credit: Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Theo van Gogh, 1890
Credit: Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

The Yellow House Arles
Credit: Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Graves of Vincent and Theo van Gogh Auvers
Credit: Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam


The definitive biography for decades to come.”—Leo Jansen, curator, the Van Gogh Museum, and co-editor of Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Letters

“In their magisterial new biography, Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith provide a guided tour through the personal world and work of that Dutch painter, shining a bright light on the evolution of his art. . . . What [the authors] capture so powerfully is Van Gogh’s extraordinary will to learn, to persevere against the odds.”Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Captivating . . . Winners of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for their biography of Jackson Pollock, [Naifeh and Smith] bring a booming authorial voice and boundless ingenuity to the task and have written a thoroughly engaging account of the Dutch painter. Drawing on Van Gogh’s almost uniquely rich correspondence . . . the authors vividly reconstruct the intertwined stories of his life and his art, portraying him as a ‘victim of his own fanatic heart.’ . . . Their fine book has the potential not only to reinvigorate the broad base of popular interest that Van Gogh already enjoys but to introduce a whole new generation to one of art history’s most remarkable creative spirits.”Jonathan Lopez, The Wall Street Journal

“Could very well be the definitive biography . . . In it we get a much fuller view of Van Gogh, owing to the decade Naifeh and Smith spent on research to create this scholarly and spellbinding work. . . . How pleased we should be that [these authors] have rendered so exquisitely and respectfully Van Gogh’s short, intense, and wholly interesting life.”—Roberta Silman, The Boston Globe
“This generation’s definitive portrait of the great Dutch post-Impressionist . . . [The authors’] most important achievement is to produce a reckoning with Van Gogh’s occasional ‘madness’ that doesn’t lose sight of the lucidity and intelligence—the profound sanity—of his art.”—Richard Lacayo, Time
Brilliant . . . Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith are the big-game hunters of modern art history. . . . [Van Gogh] rushes along on a tide of research. . . . At once a model of scholarship and an emotive, pacy chunk of hagiography.”—Martin Herbert, The Daily Telegraph (London)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (October 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507489
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (250 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh are graduates of Harvard Law School.

Mr. Naifeh, who has written for art periodicals and has lectured at numerous museums including the National Gallery of Art, studied art history at Princeton and did his graduate work at the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University.

Together they have written many books on art and other subjects, including four New York Times bestsellers. Their biography Jackson Pollock: An American Saga won the Pulitzer Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It also inspired the Academy Award-winning 2000 film Pollock starring Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden as well as John Updike's novel Seek My Face.

Naifeh and Smith have been profiled in The New Yorker, The New York Times, USA Today, and People, and have appeared on 60 Minutes, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, Charlie Rose, and the Today show.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

295 of 310 people found the following review helpful By BiogDevourer on October 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read biographies almost exclusively. So when I first saw the fascinating "60 Minutes" piece on the new VanGogh biography I thought to myself, why do we need another book on VanGogh? Lots of books, movies, pop songs, dormroom posters - even Starry Night on the start-up screen on my celphone. Haven't we had enough of Vincent Van Gogh? Turns out we haven't. This may not be the first source on Van Gogh that I've ever seen but it is the first time I've ever actually met him.

This book was the fastest, freshest 800 and some pages I've ever read. So often, a biographer forgets that his subject did not LIVE as a subject of a book. (Ok, Washington did, but still...) So we get research, information, quotes, blah blah blah. But in VanGogh: The Life, I could feel Vincent experiencing his life as vividly as I experience my own.

We walk WITH Vincent through his powerful, wrenching life with writing that is immediate, facts that are fresh - even a little surprise about the alleged suicide - told with a psychological accuity that obliterates that tired 'tortured artist' cliche which has passed for VanGogh biography in the past. And you get a bonus master class in art history to boot! All presented with such a complelling, almost novelistic narrative, that Vincent's demise arrives nearly as a tragic surprise. Because you wind up knowing this guy and actually rooting for him. I felt real suspense reading a book about a man whose life was generally known to me. But still you will weep at his deathbed with the only other person who ever cared about him.

Oh... and if you're a fan of grown-up words and luxurious sentences - and I am - then just read this book for the experience of literature. When's the last time you got to do that? A PLUS!!
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210 of 235 people found the following review helpful By William J. Havlicek, PhD on October 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an art history professor and author of a book on Van Gogh, I have spent many years researching the life, motives and actions of Vincent Van Gogh. I am convinced that he was a heroic man. He was a consistent champion of the underdog, and on numerous occasions took blame for the misdeeds of others. The idea that Vincent wanted to protect the boys who accidentally shot him is consistent with his personality. Emotionally and intuitively, Vincent's accidental shooting and his protection of the young boys makes perfect sense, and offers a far more reasonable conclusion to an extraordinary life--one that was from beginning to end selflessly devoted to the Gospel theme of loving another in place of oneself. To Vincent Van Gogh, it was about cherishing daily life in pursuit of eternal salvation, though his path to redemption was uneven and even at times tortured. And perhaps--as Naifeh and Smith have suggested in their book--this act of compassion in shielding those young boys from blame, and in preventing his brother Theo from further undue stress, may well have been a coup de grâce...a final effort to propel himself into the eternal life to which he had long aspired.

In my view, Van Gogh: The Life is a book any serious Van Gogh fan should own for the impressive amount of information that Naifeh and Smith present. For instance, the authors offer the reader a portrait of conventional Dutch social life in the nineteenth century and the complex and conflicted role Vincent played within that era. Other notable features of the book include an astute discussion of the importance of music in Van Gogh's aesthetic formation. Passages of the book are simply beautiful and noteworthy.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Tom Sales on November 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My wife and I went to the Van Gogh Museum soon after it opened in 1973. It is still perhaps the most interesting museum we have ever visited. That's because it had--what is today called--a "back story." You can view his paintings in chronological order, against the backdrop of what most would admit is the folklore of Van Gogh.

Based on a decade of research and collaboration with the museum, this book fact-checks and synthesizes those stories into a compelling analysis of how Van Gogh 1) failed in every career endeavor, 2) painfully and begrudgingly gained the respect of other Impressionist painters while selling only one painting, 3) could create masterpieces in hours, and 4) left a decade's worth of work that soon became wildly popular and priceless.

The other comments focus on the circumstances of his death. True, there is little in the book about that, but really his whole life reflected his inability to get along with local townspeople and how gangs of boys tormented the hobo in their midst. The book is absolutely a psychological study of Van Gogh's fears, motivations, hopes and dreams, but the authors also do a wonderful job of showing how all that lead to bizarre behaviors that turned so many against him. One wonders whether he would have discovered a new kind of art without the mental and physical mockery swirling all around him.

This collaboration also suggests the direction that art, history, libraries and museums may be heading in the future. The Van Gogh Museum is now promoting Vincent and Theo's letters on their website so anyone can interpret them and decide for themselves what may have driven such an original artist.
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