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Kierkegaard: A Single Life Hardcover – August 16, 2016
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Stephen Backhouse’s Kierkegaard: A Single Life is an extremely useful book that makes Kierkegaard accessible to those just beginning to know him. Backhouse’s account of Kierkegaard’s life is exemplary but particularly useful is his summary of Kierkegaard’s works. -- Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Emeritus Professor of Divinity and Law, Duke University
Stephen Backhouse has given us a wonderfully lively and sympathetic portrait of one of the greatest minds of the nineteenth century, sparing us nothing of Kierkegaard’s abrasive, contrarian personality, but also illuminating the extraordinary courage and spiritual depth of the man. We have waited a long time for such an accessible introduction, growing out of deep study of the abundant original sources and bringing them alive with a light and sure touch. -- Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College and former Archbishop of Canterbury
Drawing on the wealth of new biographical material that has become available in the last twenty years, Backhouse's life of Kierkegaard sets the Danish thinker in his time and place and does so with confidence and verve. Few books about this most subtle and elusive of figures could be described as page-turners, but Backhouse combines a fast-moving style with a strong grasp of the big issues that makes this a compelling read. For those who have not yet read Kierkegaard himself, this will leave them wanting to do so - which must be the best outcome for any work of this kind. -- George Pattison, Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow
This is an extraordinarily likeable book about a not-very-likeable, though fascinating, figure. This is not hagiography; Backhouse gives the full measure of Kierkegaard, and loves him in all his weirdness. Backhouse is a great storyteller---witty, imaginative, and with an eye for irony and humor. This book fills a need for an introduction for the educated nonspecialist to Kierkegaard’s life and thought, which are inseparable. How lucky we are that this need has been filled with such flair. -- Dr. William T. Cavanaugh, Director, Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, DePaul University
Almost every road in modern Christianity leads back, at some point, to Kierkegaard. Yet few appreciate this fact because we’ve lacked a knowledgeable and accessible guide. Finally, we have one in Stephen Backhouse. I’ve waited my whole life for this book. And so has the church. -- Dr. Richard Beck, Associate Professor of Psychology, Abilene Christian University
Stephen Backhouse has written a lively, accessible and expert introduction to an often misunderstood but hugely influential and prophetic thinker. This is an ideal place to start understanding Kierkegaard’s life and thought, which has much to say to the contemporary church and world. -- Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, President St Mellitus College
Starting with the astonishing scenes at Kierkegaard’s funeral, Stephen Backhouse traces the life and impact of this extraordinary, elusive, passionate critic of passionless Christianity. Backhouse’s book is both learned and accessible, so that the issues that Kierkegaard wrestled with walk off the page to challenge us again today, while the man himself haunts us, calling us and hiding from us, as he did his contemporaries. -- Dr. Jane Williams, Assistant Dean and Lecturer in Systematic Theology, St Mellitus College
Kierkegaard believed that to understand an historical figure, one must be able imaginatively to become the person’s contemporary. In this gripping biography, Stephen Backhouse helps us become contemporaries of Kierkegaard himself. In these pages the Danish thinker comes alive. This book gives us an extraordinary portrait of an extraordinary human being. -- C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University
This book is a fascinating read about a fascinating person. Stephen has skillfully created a glimpse into the life and work of a perplexing and brilliant character. -- Luke Norsworthy, Podcaster and Pastor. Organization- Newsworthy with Norsworthy Podcast and Westover Hills Church
About the Author
Stephen Backhouse is the Lecturer in Social and Political Theology at Mellitus College, London. He has published a number of critically well-received books and articles on religion, history, and Kierkegaard, from the popular Compact Guide to Christian History for Lion through to the academic Kierkegaard’s Critique of Christian Nationalism for Oxford University Press.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is divided into two sections. The first section, which takes up the bulk of the text, is a straightforward biography that makes use of Kierkegaard's own journals and papers as well as materials from his contemporaries. This distinguishes Backhouse's biography from Lowrie's earlier hagiography which relied almost exclusively on Kierkegaard's journals and published texts as his source materials. Lowrie believed Kierkegaard's pseudonymous works were keys to Kierkegaard's life, a belief Backhouse does not appear to share.
A final chapter explores the enormous impact Kierkegaard had on global culture, ranging from Karl Jaspers, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Franz Kafka, to Japanese anime and the Matrix film trilogy. Kierkegaard's influence has indeed been unmistakable.
The second, shorter, section of Backhouse's book is an overview of each of Kierkegaard's published and posthumous works. Lowrie integrated these works into his coverage of Kierkegaard's life. Backhouse, however, separates them; he briefly references each work in the biographical section of the text as the books are published, and then devotes one to three pages to each work in the overview section. I believe this is an effective way to introduce a reader to Kierkegaard and his works.
This book probably would not provide anything new for those who are already familiar with Kierkegaard, although the material provided by Kierkegaard's contemporaries is content I had not encountered before. The chapter on Kierkegaard's influence also might be of interest to the more advanced reader. Otherwise, I can readily recommend this text to the reader who is curious about this important thinker and is seeking a general introduction.
SK was thoroughly Christian and saw in the biblical characters, particularly Abraham, true Knights of Faith, ones who saw their Absolute Duty to God and did not rely on others to mediate to them the true way. The true Christian is not a second-hander, to use the phrase of Ayn Rand.
Understanding and appreciating SK is critical to unwrapping 19th century philosophical movements that rushed like a torrent into the 20th. Yet SK is notoriously inaccessible. His use of Socratic irony and his playful use of pseudonymity for and in his books can easily lose the reader. He meant it to be so. He wrote like life is. Things don't go in straight lines. So a book that brings some blue sky to cloudy terrain is appreciated, and Stephen Backhouse's Kierkegaard: A Single Life is just that book.
I have finished one reading and now on my second. I see a third reading quickly following. Not only does Backhouse offer of a graspable outline of SK, he stimulates us with it to think more deeply about the nature of truth, the depth of our struggle, and the exploits of true faith.
The bottom line is that he motivates me to want to read SK more widely by giving me a frame of understanding, a rhythm of his thought process and identification of the currents and cross currents I will encounter.
I will have more to add later on. But for now there is only one point to make - BUY THIS BOOK. And, oh yeh, read it, too. :-)