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Saint Augustine: A Penguin Life (Penguin Lives) [Hardcover]

By Garry Wills (Author)
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Item description for Saint Augustine: A Penguin Life (Penguin Lives) by Garry Wills...

"Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Wills examines this famed fourth-century bishop and seminal thinker whose grounding in classical philosophy informed his influential interpretation of the Christian doctrines of mind and body, wisdom and God."

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Viking Adult
Pages   160
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.83" Width: 5.48" Height: 0.73"
Weight:   0.6 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jun 30, 1999
Publisher   Viking Adult
Edition  Revised  
Series  Penguin Lives Biography  
ISBN  0670886106  
ISBN13  9780670886104  

Availability  0 units.

More About Garry Wills

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Garry Wills is a historian and the author of the New York Times bestsellers What Jesus Meant, Papal Sin, Why I Am a Catholic, and Why Priests?, among others. A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and other publications, Wills is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a professor emeritus at Northwestern University. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Garry Wills was born in 1934 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Northwestern University.

Garry Wills has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Anthony Hecht Lectures in the Humanities
  2. Emblems of Antiquity
  3. Lives of Great Religious Books
  4. Penguin Classics
  5. Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions
  6. Penguin Lives Biographies
  7. Simon & Schuster Lincoln Library

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Leaders & Notable People > Religious
3Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > People, A-Z > ( A ) > Augustine, Saint
4Books > Subjects > History > Africa > Algeria
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Catholicism > Saints
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History

Christian Product Categories
Books > Church & Ministry > Church Life > Roman Catholic

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Reviews - What do customers think about Saint Augustine: A Penguin Life (Penguin Lives)?

Saint Augustine  Mar 1, 2009
Here, as in his other works, Garry Wills gets under the surface of his subject as does no other author. His analysis of classical language, where appropriate, gives an unique insight into whomever and whatever his focus may be settled upon. This is an excellent complementary volume to Peter Brown's monumental work on the same subject.
Close, but not Augustine's Voice  Feb 29, 2008
It's hard to love St. Augustine. Even as one of the most influential religious thinkers in the history of Christianity--the image of heaven as a holy city, the City of God, was his idea--and as the author of his Confessions, arguably the first confessional biography (and a model for many of the literary memoirs we've lately been swamped with), he presents a cold and prickly figure. It's not so much that he doesn't give us the goods about his early, sinful life--he does, sometimes in great detail--but the guy who ranks his theft of a cartload of pears among his greatest mistakes is unlikely to impress our jaded sensibilities. What we want in a biography of Augustine, is an interpreter--not of his works, but of his life: we want to know the drama of this man's life, and to feel afresh his importance today.
That's just the issue here. Throughout the Confessions, which Garry Wills, in his new short biography of St. Augustine (one of a series of excellent short lives published by Penguin Putnam) more accurately translates as Testimony, we find ourselves in the presence of a man who has a lot to say, but speaks in a voice that sounds alien to most late-twentieth-century ears. The child of a pagan father and a Christian mother who would later be venerated as St. Monica, Augustine grew up on the fringe of the Roman Empire, in Africa. Torn between his mother's strict Christian discipline (legend has it that she allowed her child only two small cups of water a day, in order to mortify the `sinful' flesh--a story that Wills, perhaps wisely, omits) and the lure of the old pagan order which still held sway in much of government and civic life, it's small wonder that Augustine went where the money was. For the first part of his life, the part he would later describe as gravely sinful, he followed the career path many young Romans aspired to--to great effect: at the time of his conversion to Christianity, he held an advisary position in the court of the Emperor.
Along the way, however, he picked up an interest in philosophy, particularly the fashionable (and most unchristian) Manicheanism, which holds that the universe is a battleground between equally-matched and eternally-opposed forces of good and evil. It was his misgivings about the truth of his beliefs--no doubt also the influence of his mother, whom he brought along on his travels to Italy--that prompted his conversion, famously described in the Confessions. Sitting under a fig tree in his garden one day, reading the letters of St. Paul with a friend while wrestling with his doubts, Augustine heard what sounded like a child's voice from a nearby house, repeating the refrain of a nursery rhyme or game: Tolle, lege; tolle, lege--'Pick up and read, pick up and read.' He opened the book he had laid aside, read the first sentence on which his eyes fell--"Be clothed in Jesus Christ"--and a saint was born.
That's the famous story, the part of his Confessions most often read and retold today. But Augustine's long life (he would live another thirty years, eventually becoming the Bishop of Hippo in northern Africa, and writing his monumental book The City of God), would be spent amid the spiritual and political controversies of the Church in the fourth century A.D. Unlike our recent spate of memoirs--and of much less interest to contemporary readers--Augustine's biography here is a political one, less concerned with his personal spiritual transformation that with the religious politics of Roman Africa in the years just before Rome's fall. This is where, and largely why, Wills' biography loses its interest and pales beside the testimony of the saint.
It does not help that Wills repeatedly fails to enliven Augustine's story, keeping the flesh-and-blood man behind a scrim of political reportage and undoubtedly learned commentary on Augustine's theology, and a critical reading of his many written works. The composition of The City of God, for instance, is clouded over in background detail:
"Augustine spent fifteen years writing the twenty-two books of The City of God, that `great and trying labor'.... They were years of increasing desire for some measure of temporal peace. Augustine's hopes for enlightened leadership, first lodged in Marcellinus, then cruelly disappointed, were partly revived when another Christian official, Boniface, came to Africa in 417 as commander (count) of the Roman military force. Augustine sent him a long statement of the Donatist policy he had created for Marcellinus. Since Boniface had important frontier duties, keeping the Saharan tribes from Christian Africa, Augustine wrote for him in 418 a little treatise on military morality--war should be waged only when it is necessary to peace, and then with the minimum necessary violence; truth should be observed even toward the enemy; mercy to the vanquished precludes use of the death penalty."

And so on, and so on--making a short book feel long and dry. It's hard to remember, while we read this, that one of the most splendid conceptions of divine grace ever committed to paper is taking shape in the background--the scratching of Augustine's quill is drowned out by the noise from the street outside.
Not that we lose sight of much that Augustine wrote: hardly any of the saint's extant sermons or treatises are left unmentioned here, but few are actually summarized to the point of intelligibility, or quoted at length enough to allow us to get a flavor of the man's thoughts. In fact, so much discussion is spent here on the meanings of texts not quoted, or on the interpretation of single words and phrases, that Augustine, the man whose Confessions have unjustly earned him a rather scandalous reputation, gets lost in a fog of worldly detail. Often it's difficult to tell just where our hero is, what he's doing in his daily life, and why it matters in the larger scheme of things. The tone of the book is dry enough to make Augustine's common-law marriage--at the age of sixteen, making him a father a year later--and his eventual spurning of the woman he called his `concubine,' first for the prospect of a socially advantageous marriage, then for God, all seem rather dull. Where, we want to ask, is the drama of the sinful life that Augustine himself conveys in his Confessions?
And this is the saint we want--and perhaps the saint we need. There's no shame in admitting that when we read his biography, we want to know not the brilliant prose stylist and theologian, not the provincial magistrate and church politician, but the man who sinned, suffered, doubted and finally found his faith--a faith that would change the world for centuries to come--in the voice of a child overheard in a garden. If Wills' book can be said to have failed this task, it is because he has given us the words of Augustine, but not his voice.
Vague  Dec 27, 2006
With so much to say about Saint Augustine, it is difficult to include all of the facts in one book. It is impossible to include all of the facts in 144 pages. What makes this book disappointing is that this book has little to say about this magnificent man.

At times, Wills focuses more on the writing of Saint Augustine than in his life. Obviously, there are not first hand interviews of this saint available. Instead, Willis interprets the writings on Saint Augustine. The product is so concise and scattered that it is often hard to makes sense of it. This is a tremendous injustice to Saint Augustine. The greatest shame is the fact that Wills focuses so much time on Saint Augustine's views on intercourse and celebacy rather than his defense of the Christian faith.

There are so many better books to learn about Saint Augustine such as "Confessions" and "City of God". While the authors attempts to draw points from these books, the point are too scattered to interpret.
Not a Good Introduction but it will be Stimulating for the Informed Reader  Oct 20, 2006
Any biography on Augustine will always linger in the shadow of the great Peter Brown's work, which is a classic treatment of the philosopher/bishop without rival in the English speaking world. Therefore, anyone desiring a complete portrait of St Augustine must first behold the masterpiece found in the pages of Brown's Augustine of Hippo. This being done, Wills book can be fully appreciated. Some notable aspects of this compact but wholesome biography are (1) his ability to bring into focus some of the more obscure details of Augustine's early life, as they are found spilled out on the pages of the Confessions. (2) Wills cleverly renders "confessions" into "the testimony," thereby greatly enhancing the meaning of the entire text of Augustine's Confessions. (3) The author also does a fine job discussing the various individuals who impacted his life: in particular, his overview of Augustine's relationship with his concubine, who Wills craftily names Una, is fantastic, just as it is with his son Adeodatus and others who were close to him. (4) The authors' brief but profound discourses on the key revolutions in Augustine's intellectual and spiritual odyssey, and on his literary and ecclesiastical exploits, will also be welcomed by the reader for all their insight and terseness.(5) Wills also makes some rather innovative--but stunning--assertions such as the down-playing of the role of St Monica and St Ambrose on Augustine's conversion. (6) Possibly the best aspect of Wills work, is the revelation of the optimistic, pastoral and compassionate side of Augustine--a characteristic that most scholars don't care to spend too much time cultivating. Overall it would be safe to say that this is not a good introductory work, however it will be very stimulating to anyone who has previously read Brown's classic or a lot of Augustine's writings first-hand.
Wills' essay on Augustine was written for a series of new introductions for use by students and the public. But unlike Peter Brown's superb biography, now stronger than ever after its revised 2000 edition, Wills does a very poor job introducing big chunks of Augustine's life and background. If you don't know about Donatism and Pelagianism, or have never heard of Julian of Eclanum, Wills won't help you. His selection of themes and angles is almost eccentric and he skates over way too much. This is an essay for the specialist who knows the background and wants another pungent point of view. It is not a beginner's survey. If Augustine interests you, try Henry Chadwick's short, superb "Augustine" from Oxford, or dive into the warm, deep waters of Peter Brown's book.

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