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Van Gogh: The Life

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  6,764 ratings  ·  215 reviews
Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith galvanized readers with their astonishing Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography, a book acclaimed for its miraculous research and overwhelming narrative power. Now Naifeh and Smith have written another tour de force—an exquisitely detailed, compellingly readable, and ultimately heartbreaking port ...more
Hardcover, 950 pages
Published October 18th 2011 by Random House (first published 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Charlie
I've never read a book so thoroughly detailed. At times it felt like a day-by-day account of his 37 years. The book establishes early on that Van Gogh was at best "quirky" and at worst had a few disorders, but hey, who doesn't. I'm not a psychologist, but when you are sleeping with your walking stick in your bed to punish yourself, I don't know, that's probably a red flag for later developments. For the first 600 or 700 pages, I developed a dislike for Van Gogh; he's an unlikeable loser. But by ...more
Jim
By far the saddest biography I have ever read, VAN GOGH is also one of the most stirring and superbly detailed biographies I have ever read. That Vincent van Gogh's life was such a brutally painful and difficult one should not deter readers from embarking on this massive journey, yet the fact that a 951-page book reaches page 750 before the subject has what could genuinely be called a period of happiness is a testament to the skill with which the book is written, for despite the utterly depressi ...more
Hadrian
An astonishing and redefining portrait of a tormented and brilliant artist. Covers literally everything - family life and troubles, alienating personality, the books and painters he adored, everything.

Van Gogh does not come across as a too sympathetic person - his personality, ingratiating and tempestuous, has driven away all but a few of his most devoted friends and his brother. His early forays with jobs and art education are embarrassing to read. He is fragile, wracked with his desires and th
...more
Bee
I am finally finished and spent a lot time skimming through chapters to avoid repeats, overblown accounts of everything, and dull negativity.
I got sick of re-reading pages on the dysfunctional or negative relationships Vincent seemed to have with every man, woman, and child he ever met. How many blow by blow accounts does a person need to read?

Sure, V was moody, argumentative, opinionated, and obsessive, but the man MUST have had good qualities. To the authors V is a burden and haunted, they ba
...more
Tony
VAN GOGH: The Life. (2011). Steven Haifeh and Gregory White Smith. *****.
This massive biography of Van Gogh by the two authors who won a Pulitzer Prize for their biography of “Jackson Pollock,” was marvelously readable for a person not trained in the arts...me. I have been to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, but that’s about it for my knowledge about the artist and his works. We’ve all seen the standards, like “The Sunflowers,” and “Starry Night,” and various self-portraits, but I didn’t reali
...more
Ann
This biography was certainly a massive undertaking by award-winning authors. It's well-researched and well-written all right. But the underlying view of Vincent as a man with basically a horrible personality who created his own problems seems short-sighted and unfair. Are the authors re-doing the Jackson Pollack book? This book made me go back to read Vincent's incomparable letters to Theo. There are other books that are superior in contemplating Vincent's mental and physical health issues/disab ...more
Paula Hebert
ask me anythin about vincent van gogh. go ahead, ask me. after reading 800 plus pages of this amazing biography, I feel like a world expert. Meticulously researched, from his birth, childhood, and adult life, and yet written in a very readable style that doesn't bog you down as many biographies can do, this is truly an amazing book. so much of what I thought I knew about van gogh was totally wrong. he exhibited signs of mental illness from a very young age, perhaps aspergers, compulsive obsessiv ...more
Greta
I don't usually write such lengthy, or such scathing reviews but this time I feel compelled to. First of all I will say that once I picked up this book, I really couldn't put it down. It was an incredibly intriguing, detailed, and fascinating story of a man we all know and some of us love despite his "issues". The authors spent ten years researching and writing this tome and in the end, I think they used their Harvard Law credentials to convict the subject of the crime of mental illness and of b ...more
Darlene
This biography of Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most extensive and well-researched biographies I have read. I'm not an art critic and I'm not even very knowledgeable about art but I do remember having the good fortune of seeing a traveling exhibition of Van Gogh's paintings many years ago and I was instantly enthralled with what I saw. I don't wish to write this review as simply a recitation of facts... anyone can obtain that information. Instead, this book provided me with some wonderful insi ...more
Dvora
This is a massive and wonderful book about an amazing person. I've read several books about Vincent, both fiction and non-fiction and I thought I knew a lot about Vincent's life, but Naifeh and Smith provide a lot more information than any of the others I've read and do it well.

Having recently read Carol Wallace's Leaving Van Gogh with Goodread's Art Lovers group, I must say that I think her book should be banned for using real people in a fiction that is so far from the known facts.

Naifeh and
...more
John
It's no wonder to me now that these truly gifted biographers won the Pulitzer Prize for their life of Jackson Pollock, assuming, of course, that their prose is as "intense" as the writing in their most recent collaboration.

After 300 pages, I haven't detected a sentence or a paragraph that fails to extend their narrative of Van Gogh's life (all 900 pages of it, less the 5000 pages of documentation that resides on-line) or enrich their characterization of this terribly difficult man, whose shiftin
...more
Doug
Van Gogh: The Life by Stephen Naifeh and Grogory White Smith was well written and moved along quite rapidly for such an exhaustive study. I was impressed with the voluminous correspondence between Van Gogh and his family in general and his brother, Theo,in particular. Because I am a nature lover and hiker, Van Gogh's love of nature and devotion to taking his easal into the heath attracted me to his paintings and I have since been studying and enjoying them. In addition, while many artists did th ...more
Sandy Tonnesen
If you want to know what true scholarship looks like, read this book and follow the citations. These authors have written the definitive biography of Van Gogh, and oh is it fantastic! Loved it.
Kay
An exhaustive --and exhausting--biography of this brilliant artist, who only sold one painting during his short, lonely, unhappy life.
I noticed that one Goodreads reviewer said Vincent's troubles were of his own making, but after reading this painstakingly researched work, I reached the opposite conclusion.
Van Gogh was doomed by heredity, historical circumstances, and the lack of medical treatments for latent epilepsy and syphilis.
He struggled mightily to please his ultraconservative family--ev
...more
Kiof
Apr 03, 2012 Kiof added it
Encyclopedic. And for a figure mired in myth, that seems more than appropriate. Side note: I unfortunately can relate to V.V.G.'s cosmic, constant f-ups and overbearing and single-minded love. And his biogrpahism. But man was he a fuckup. It is quite amazing how much trouble he got himself in. Flip to any page and he's got himself (and his brother usually) in a new tradegy. His life as a societal fuckup, to me, does no disservice to his art or even my idea of him as a person. He seems sympatheti ...more
Cody
I am neophyte to the wonder of Van Gogh. Previously, I had trouble connecting to what I perceived as all that craziness on the canvas - his work just did not resonate with me. Attending a Van Gogh exhibition and reading this book have made me a passionate convert! I now see all that paint on the canvas as Vincent literally laying his whole soul bare - troubled as it was, he left IT ALL on the canvas. It was tough for me to live with the madman Vincent while I read this book - some days it was ju ...more
Jason
Exhausting portrait. Sad getting to the end. The authors claim that van Gogh's death was not a suicide and their evidence is very powerful. The entire image of Vincent seems to change. An amazing book!
J.M. Hushour
This admirable attempt at a biography of Van Gogh is, unfortunately, in the end, a bloated, overly-indulgent exploration of the minutiae of its subject with not much to show for the effort. It's strange that this is not really the authors' faults. They really went balls-to-the-wall with their research, delving into VG's letters and what-not to try and let his writings and works speak for themselves. The problem is that they take this too far, making the book dense as hell and chock full of so mu ...more
Michelle Stie
Now that I've finished the book, I understand why the authors took 600+pages to get to the last two years of Van Gogh's life, during which his most interesting work was completed. While it was slow going, the detailed discussion of the artist's family relationships and artistic philosophy and development was helpful in understanding how radical paintings like Starry Night and the sunflower and olive tree series are. I found the discussion of Starry Night's production to be the most poignant mome ...more
Michelle
I've read a good amount of books regarding van Gogh, including a condensed book of his prolific correspondence, and a few regarding his time in Arles with and without Gauguin.
I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I felt the viewpoint was slanted and biased to a negative perspective regarding a complicated man. Van Gogh was flawed, like any other man; he was a man misunderstood in his time. I suppose you could read any number of his letters and decide he was "delusional" or "ungrateful" an
...more
Mlg
Brilliant and exhaustive, this 900 page biography offers new insight into Van Gogh's troubled life and death. Vincent came from a family riddled with mental illness and suicide. All three of his siblings either died in a mental institution or committed suicide. It would have been interesting to include a modern day physician's take on what ailed Van Gogh. At the time, the diagnosis was epilepsy compounded by syphilis, but that doesn't explain his contrary nature, his ill-treatment of his family ...more
Jennifer
Van Gogh was a complicated, demanding, and offensive individual, and Naifeh and Gregory White Smith do not shy away from this. Unlike many popular portrayals of the great artist, here we meet a man less misunderstood by his family and more alienated by his own difficult behavior. Sympathy runs both ways - for Vincent who is unable and unwilling to behave in a manner which would allow the closeness he desperately sought with others, and for his family, especially his brother Theo, who were emotio ...more
Lynne
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Leslie
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Judy
A terrific biography of a intriguing man. Vincent Van Gogh's bizarre and complex relationships with his family--particularly his father and his brother Theo--are explored, as well as his struggle to produce paintings that were accepted by the art community. The authors' insights into Vincent's mental illness and how it was perceived and treated at the time are fascinating. Of particular interest are the conclusions the authors reach about Vincent's death, which these Pulitzer prize winners do no ...more
Melissa
Absolutely fascinating. I always had a little tender spot in my heart for Van Gogh. He just seemed like such a misunderstood genius. He is indeed that, but he was pretty crazy at the end of the day. He was crotchety. He manipulated his poor brother. He wore out his father. He was seriously ill. His images are undeniably beautiful and he lived a pretty tortured life. The authors have very convincing research about Van Gogh's death - arguing that he was murdered and did not attempt suicide. A real ...more
Maurice
It was a great book a long haul but well worth it. Always a huge fan of Van Gogh I saw the interview regarding the book and had to give it a try. They spent 10 years writing the book so the depth of knowledge was just incredible. It also gave a great backround to France in the 1890's which was very interesting. The guy had a tough life but he stuck to his painting and has stood the test of time. He wasn't a likeable fellow but certainly had a passion for art that has stood the test of time.
William Poe
This is a truly amazing work. Vincent and his family wrote many letters and most are preserved. Also, after his death and fame, friends and acquaintances wrote reminiscences. Naifeh and Smith seem not only to have read them all, they digested the material to produce a truly amazing portrait. I had only read Irving Stone's Lust for Life, and didn't realize what a fiction it is. Good book, but still not really the Vincent of real life. Vincent was a truly difficult, unlikable man, a religious fana ...more
Marcia
I could not stop reading this on my Kindle. I got out my copy of Van Gogh and Gaugin:The Studio of the South, which made an excellent companion to this book. I could follow along with maps, a timeline and images.....an amazing read! I felt as though I knew the man in a very intimate way. I remember feeling the same way when I finished Pollack, by the same authors. What can I possibly read next? Help!

Dave Bernard
This book was loaded with information on a man whose life was nothing short of intense. From his early days we learn of the obsessive manic personality that drove Vincent to the end of his life. I never really understood the concept of delusional until now. Imagine remaking memories of an unhappy childhood into dreamlike unrealities to cope with a world in which you just don't seem to fit. The book walks through Vincent's various efforts along the way to becoming an artist as well as his struggl ...more
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Who's reading this and what are your feelings about V.G. now?? 6 26 Jul 15, 2014 11:46PM  
great book 1 1 Jul 15, 2014 11:30PM  
AS wide ranging as Pollock book? 1 4 Aug 03, 2013 12:47PM  
anyone else reading this book?? 4 22 Jul 19, 2013 05:09PM  
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