Augustine's Confessions A biography

Garry Wills, 1934-

Book - 2011

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2nd Floor 242/Augustine Due Jul 7, 2022
Lives of great religious books
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press c2011.
Physical Description
166 p.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Garry Wills, 1934- (-)
Other Authors
Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (-)
  • The book's birth
  • The book's genre
  • The book's African days
  • The book's Ambrose
  • The book's "conversion"
  • The book's baptismal days
  • The book's hinge
  • The books culmination
  • The book's afterlife: early reception, later neglect.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Here's an early entry in a new series—a creative one focusing on so-called biographies of influential religious books. Like a biography of a person, this volume takes Augustine's Confessions and traces its birth, growth and decline, and legacy. Since so much of an author's life is connected to his or her work—especially in the case of Confessions—this can't help but include a decent amount of Augustine's own bio. Wills, who has written both a biography of Augustine and a translation of Confessions, must scale back his content for a package that's only slightly larger than a pocket guide. That's made easier because he clearly has a general audience in mind and assumes his readers have little knowledge of the work. In a concise fashion, he covers why and how Confessions came to be. He also devotes a chapter each to the book's genre, its hinge, its culmination, and what he calls its "conversion" and "baptismal days." The final chapter deals with the book's reception through the years. Very readable and highly engaging. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Wills (history, emeritus, Northwestern Univ.; Lincoln at Gettysburg) does for Augustine's Confessions what he did for the Gettysburg Address, which is to take a well-known iconic work and examine it with fresh eyes. He views the Confessions as a book haunted by Genesis, and this perspective allows him to notice things that are overlooked by commentators whose views are preformed by the interpretive tradition. Having translated the Confessions and written a biography of Augustine, Wills is not afraid to go out on a limb, and so even readers who would not agree with his often cheeky interpretations are forced to look at the work afresh. After considering the text itself, Wills considers its influence over the years and the various interpretations (e.g., psychological, postmodern) of the work. VERDICT James J. O'Donnell's Augustine: A New Biography is a similarly cheeky book that rebels against much of the received wisdom about Augustine's life. Wills offers an iconoclastic interpretation of a classic work, one that deserves a fresh treatment every few years.—Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ [Page 112]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

From Pulitzer Prize–winner Garry Wills, the story of Augustine’s ConfessionsIn this brief and incisive book, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills tells the story of the Confessions--what motivated Augustine to dictate it, how it asks to be read, and the many ways it has been misread in the one-and-a-half millennia since it was composed. Following Wills's biography of Augustine and his translation of the Confessions, this is an unparalleled introduction to one of the most important books in the Christian and Western traditions.Understandably fascinated by the story of Augustine's life, modern readers have largely succumbed to the temptation to read the Confessions as autobiography. But, Wills argues, this is a mistake. The book is not autobiography but rather a long prayer, suffused with the language of Scripture and addressed to God, not man. Augustine tells the story of his life not for its own significance but in order to discern how, as a drama of sin and salvation leading to God, it fits into sacred history. "We have to read Augustine as we do Dante," Wills writes, "alert to rich layer upon layer of Scriptural and theological symbolism." Wills also addresses the long afterlife of the book, from controversy in its own time and relative neglect during the Middle Ages to a renewed prominence beginning in the fourteenth century and persisting to today, when the Confessions has become an object of interest not just for Christians but also historians, philosophers, psychiatrists, and literary critics.With unmatched clarity and skill, Wills strips away the centuries of misunderstanding that have accumulated around Augustine's spiritual classic.