Admittedly, I know very little of Soren Kierkegaard despite having heard his name much through the years, especially in the course of my studies. That combined with the praise that Stephen Backhouse’s book received upon its release made me interested in reading Kierkegaard: A Single Life. The book did not disappoint.
The book is less about the influence that Kierkegaard had on the world and more about the influence the world had on Kierkegaard. In ten chapters readers capture a glimpse into the life of Soren Kierkegaard. The book is brief, so the depth is limited. However, the author’s manner of communication allows readers to develop a picture of Kierkegaard’s personality giving way to an abstract understanding of why he engaged with the world the way he did.
Stephen Backhouse offers an engaging read with three distinct characteristics:
- Writing Style: The author’s style of writing makes for an interesting read. He utilizes an engaging form of writing that captures reader’s attention in an unexpected way. As a result, it is an easy and enjoyable read.
- Biographical Style: The book is simply a biographical sketch behind a man who has influenced the modern thinking immensely. Backhouse describes Kierkegaard’s relationships with family, friends, and foes with such precision that even those who have studied Kierkegaard’s writings can ascertain a new level of understanding about the personality of the man behind those writings.
- Contextual Style: Finally, the author gives people a context for Kierkegaard’s life. First, by defining his relationship, from troubles with his family to his battle with the Corsair. However, Backhouse goes deeper by describing the ways of the culture at the time so that readers understand the significance of areas such as his courting, engagement, and dissolution of engagement to Regine Olsen.
The writing style, biographical style, and contextual style of the writing make for a read that is interesting and thought-provoking while also being light-hearted and understandable.
The author has intentionally chosen to deal with Kierkegaard apart from his writings with the intention that readers understand more about the man. Because this is the goal, Stephen Backhouse has only superficially dealt with Soren Kierkegaard’s influence through his writings (mostly with a few comments throughout the book and a final section that lists his works with a brief explanation of many). Such a purpose has served well and is to be commended. Yet, because he acknowledges the lasting legacy of Sore Kierkegaard so little, and mostly in the final chapter, readers are left asking, “Why?” Why do we need to know about Sore Kierkegaard? The connection between Kierkegaard’s life then and his influence now is lacking.
While addressing Kierkegaard’s influence would be helpful, the fact that the focus is more about the man than his writings is what makes this a worthwhile read. I know of no other book that offers this type of context to his writings. So to capture a mild understanding of who he was and why he wrote, Kierkegaard: A Single Life is of great value.
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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free of charge from the publisher for purposes of review. However, this review is the result of my own reading and was not influenced by anyone else.