Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Augustine: A New Biography

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Augustine: A New Biography

Article excerpt

AUGUSTINE: A NEW BIOGRAPHY. By JAMES J. O'DONNELL. HarperCollins. 396 pp. $26.95.

Like spouses in a bad marriage, biographers sometimes grow to hate their subjects-a kind of Stockholm Syndrome in reverse. James O'Donnell, currently provost at Georgetown University, has already written one monograph on St. Augustine in 1985. He then went on to publish a masterly three-volume commentary on the Confessions in 1992, providing an amazing amount of background material essential for understanding that most influential (and indeed the first) autobiography in Western letters. But with his most recent biography O'Donnell is clearly ready to file for divorce. While it would be too much to say he hates the Bishop of Hippo (the book's concluding chapters concede a grudging admiration for the man's greatness), the author clearly wants to bring all his erudition (which is considerable) to the task of deconstructing his subject's reputation. The chapter titles and subheadings give away the agenda: "Augustine Unvarnished," "Augustine the Self-Promoter," "Augustine the Social Climber," "Augustine the Troublemaker," on and on. …

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