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Augustine of Hippo: A Biography

4.26  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,294 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
This classic biography was first published thirty years ago and has since established itself as the standard account of Saint Augustine's life and teaching. The remarkable discovery recently of a considerable number of letters and sermons by Augustine has thrown fresh light on the first and last decades of his experience as a bishop. These circumstantial texts have led Pet ...more
Paperback, revised w/new epilogue, 576 pages
Published November 24th 2000 by University of California Press (first published 1967)
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2013 A
9th out of 109 books — 12 voters
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Best Christian Biography/Autobiography
123rd out of 222 books — 117 voters


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Lane Severson
Feb 24, 2010 Lane Severson rated it it was amazing
Peter Brown is a beautiful writer. Even if you have no interest in Augustine, you could read this book and simply be lost Brown's command of language. However, this is the defining biography of Augustine. Brown has gone back and updated this book towards the end of his career. This is a gift to the world. Brown covers Augustine as a philosopher, theologian, Bishop, man, son and father. This is a long read, but it certainly belongs on your to read list.
Cat
Aug 22, 2007 Cat rated it really liked it
I read the old version, which was fine. Augustine spanned the gap between the classic world and the emerging world of the middle ages. He started life as a Manichee and flirted with neo-platonism before settling down to life as the bishop of Hippo in Roman Africa. His was a very "Roman African" kind of career (a phrase which meant nothing to me before this book). Roman African Christianity was a "purer" form that was less influenced by decadent Roman/Italian ways. In fact, the main schism of Aug ...more
Vangelicmonk
Jul 17, 2007 Vangelicmonk rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those Interested in Church History
Shelves: churchhistory
I think this is a great Biography of Augustine, but I wish there was some more focus and clarification on Augustine's theology. I think I will have to explore some more books on that specifically. However, Brown does focus on aspects of Augustine's Theology and it is interesting to see it in contrast to many views of Augustine today. Overall very good and I learned a lot.
Þróndr
There are some problematic aspects to Brown’s biography of Augustine of Hippo, most of which, if not before, becomes apparent in the Epilogue included in the revised edition: “We should remember that in the 1960s some of the best work on the thought of Augustine stressed those moments where he appeared to have changed his mind on important matters. These studies examined the manner in which Augustine's progressive absorption of the Christian Scriptures, his pastoral experience and his wrestling ...more
Melora
Aug 20, 2014 Melora rated it it was amazing
Brilliant! I had this on my shelf for a year before I got to it – the size and subject matter just seemed a bit daunting – but it turned out to be engrossing and readable. Brown is a wonderful writer (though his style includes more use of commas than I am accustomed to), and he does a beautiful job balancing the personal details of Augustine's life with the history of the period. I would assume that most readers going in to this would have a basic familiarity with traditional Roman religion, the ...more
Scott
Jan 19, 2014 Scott rated it liked it
The past is a foreign country. When we read history, we shouldn't seek to necessarily read moral tales and place ourselves at the helm. Instead, we must seek to have humility and strive to understand the characters in their place and time.

I had to constantly remind myself of this when reading Peter Brown's magisterial biography of Augustine of Hippo, or known affectionately by most as St. Augustine. Brown's prose and integration of source material in this biography is remarkable. At times, even
...more
Jacob Aitken
A very difficult read, but easily the standard secondary source on Augustine. The broad contours of Augustine's life are well-known, but Brown places them within a theological framework. He takes intellectual themes from controversies in Augustine's life (thus the Latin-ish chapter titles) and retells the story around these themes. It makes for somewhat difficult reading at times, but it is very illuminating.

I cannot imagine a better work that more neatly captures Augustine's *sitz im leben* tha
...more
Nathanial
The best thing about Peter Brown is that he's an historian writing a biography. Sounds obvious, right? But he's not a psychologizing, or moralizing, or theologizing. He's historicizing.

This biography from the late '60s (his new edition left the original pretty much intact, and just added a preface and epilogue with information about recent discoveries of sermon texts and letter transcriptions, with the attendant implications in thought), was among the first to situate such a major figure from a
...more
Janet Craigmiles
Oct 22, 2013 Janet Craigmiles rated it it was amazing
This is probably one of the best biography's I have ever read. It creates a realistic portrait of one of the most important figures in Christian history. I highly recommend!!
Czarny Pies
Mar 23, 2015 Czarny Pies rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those who have read the Confessions and Excerptes from the City of Go.
Shelves: european-history
Peter Brown's Augustine of Hippo is a brilliant tour-de-force that will delight any reader familiar with the history of theological thought or the late Roman empire. It recounts the life and intellectual struggles of a fascinating person, elucidates the writings of an important philosopher and gives a brilliant portrait of African society in the fifth century.
The first thing to understand is that Brown has written a true biography; not a speculation of the life of man known through his actions a
...more
Nick
Feb 04, 2011 Nick rated it really liked it
I was somewhat skeptical that this book would be worthwhile, having been through the confessions a number of times and having Augustine's life story pretty much together in my own head. I thought an Augustine biography would be redundant, having already read the one written by the saint himself. For some reason, the stupidity of this attitude did not make itself aware immediately; fortunately, it only took the first few pages of Brown's book to disabuse me of my philistinism.
Brown's research is
...more
Peter N.
Nov 09, 2012 Peter N. rated it it was amazing
(I read the old edition.) Titanic is the word that came to mind as I read. Augustine, his theology, his philosophy, his pastoral ministry, his interaction with the state, his defenses of orthodoxy come alive in this wonderful biography by Peter Brown. Brown emphasizes Augustine's intellectual labors and how his thought matured over the years. I was especially convicted by his love for his flock and his compassion towards them. Brown's discussion of the Donatist controversy and the Pelagian contr ...more
Fariba
Jul 05, 2016 Fariba rated it it was amazing
I read the 1967 edition without the epilogues, so I am aware that the book is dated in parts; however, Peter Brown’s classic biography of Augustine of Hippo has got to be the greatest biography I have ever read. Brown gives his reader a human portrait of a complex figure in the history of Western Christianity. Such an engrossing read!

Despite the highly unpleasant teachings in Augustine’s writings against Julian of Eclanum, I feel that the “Augustinian pessimism” is actually quite comforting. Our
...more
Mitch
Dec 02, 2008 Mitch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent picture of the man and what shaped him. Brown is an adept biographer; his treatment of St. Augustine reads almost like a novel. I would be a lot more enthusiastic about biographies if they were this well-presented. This served as a great tool to prompt interest in Augustine's works, namely, his confessions and City of God.
Karen Whittingham
Mar 18, 2012 Karen Whittingham rated it really liked it
I never finished reading this book, and it's not my favorite by Brown, however, I learned a lot about Augustine and filled in my mental picture of the milieu of early Christianity which interested me so obsessively when I was in my thirties. If you want to read a history of Augustine that is nearly as readable as a novel but infinitely more informative, this is the book for you!
Ruben
Jan 11, 2015 Ruben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
insightful background to Augustine's work
vittore paleni
Aug 23, 2015 vittore paleni rated it it was amazing
A rich, subtle, and delightful read.
Douglas Wilson
Feb 24, 2009 Douglas Wilson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Outstanding.
Scott Barber
Aug 14, 2013 Scott Barber rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
So very good
Thomas
A dense, fascinating study of one of the central figures of Christian history. I took a few breaks from the book over the past few months, but it was fairly easy to pick things up when I wanted to with Brown's short, clear chapters (although, it probably helps if you already have some idea of the shape of Augustine's life). Brown writes with a precocious authority (he was 32 when the book was published), and he provides a detailed, if sometimes idiosyncratic, account of Augustine's growth and ch ...more
Jeffrey Miner
Oct 28, 2009 Jeffrey Miner rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As other reviewers have pointed out, it is remarkable the degree to which Brown can reconstruct the interior life of a man who lived nearly 1600 years ago. This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to read about the Roman world, but doesn't want to just read about Emperors, debauchery and military conquest. This is at least as good as any biography of an American president that you'll ever read.

If you're historically inclined, the epilogue and other materials
...more
Derek Jeter
Sep 05, 2009 Derek Jeter rated it it was amazing
Shelves: catholic, biography
“Augustine of Hippo” was first published in 1967 and then recently revised in 2000, with a new epilogue that dealt with a whole new breed of archeological evidence that emerged between the two dates. Augustine lived from 354-430 AD. While this may seem distant from the modern consciousness, Brown has a special gift for immersing us in Augustine’s writing style (which is timeless) and relating it to the history and culture of the period. Another wonderful technique of Brown’s biography is to let ...more
Mike E.
Nov 10, 2010 Mike E. rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Brown takes the reader on an epic journey. It took me a long time to read this book. Reading it was like a long mountain bike in the Sierra--painful, long, beautiful, and worthy! Brown's book is not a casual read but the reader will be rewarded by getting to know a godly man who lived in a world so different and so distant from our own. Augustine lived in Roman, Christian Africa. Only after reading this book do I even have a hint of what that culture was like . . eating roasted peacock, studying ...more
Ray
Jan 17, 2008 Ray rated it it was amazing
This is the definitive bio of Augustine. (What Bainton once was for Luther). The 2nd edition is a whole new work.

I met Peter Brown in Princeton, where he taught, a few times, and he just oozed brilliance. I have nothing new to add except an anecdote that tells it all. The story goes that Brown was so focused and mature that he came to the idea of writing this definitive critical bio of Augustine while in his early teens. He focused all of his energy on it, methodically begining to maste the sec
...more
Jeff
Aug 03, 2009 Jeff rated it liked it
This biography of Saint Augustine is ideal for someone not part of the Christian elect but yet interested in the development of Western (Catholic) Christianity. The focus is primarily on the personal and professional experiences in Augustine's life that helped shape the development of ideas on original sin, predestination, and grace espoused by one of the "doctors" of the early church.

Part of what makes Peter Brown such a great historian is that he is physically unable to write a book that doesn
...more
Ryan
Dec 31, 2011 Ryan rated it liked it
This is an intellectual biography of Augustine, written for intellectuals. I cannot criticize a book for not being something it never intended to be, but I can say that if you want an account of Augustine's life written largely with an eye to his thoughts, beliefs, and participation in theological controversies, this is a good book to read. If you would prefer a discussion of the events of Augustine's life or his relationships, you should look elsewhere. This is a thoroughly academic treatment o ...more
Gaetano Amato
Oct 22, 2011 Gaetano Amato rated it really liked it
I came upon this book by accident. My wife was helping my son with an essay re: free will. I found the book helped enhance my understanding of the transition from the pagan world (dominated by Greek rationale thought) and the conversion of the Roman world to Christianity. Its interesting to see the development of a man who owned so much to the Pax Romana become the spokesman/defender for the latin church against both competing versions of Christainity (e.g. the Donatists), and those who argued t ...more
Bryan
Feb 08, 2016 Bryan rated it really liked it
St. Augustine served as a bridge between the late Roman Empire and the Middle Ages in Christian thought. Starting out as a Manichee in his youth (a religious sect who only believes in the New Testament), he later converted to Catholicism and became a Bishop in North Africa. His writings on Theology are considered to be classics and were extremely influential on Medieval thought in the church. In them he unites a neo-Platonist perspective with traditional church beliefs, giving the church a sophi ...more
Erik Graff
Feb 10, 2013 Erik Graff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to Erik by: David Hassel, SJ
Shelves: biography
This excellent biography of the late neo-Platonist-turned-Christian was assigned reading for Dave Hassel's Philosophy of St. Augustine course during the first semester of 1981/82 at Loyola University Chicago. Having read all of the early and much of the later work of this western patristic figure, I found Brown's book extremely rewarding in providing a better sense of Augustine's background and political life as a church bureaucrat. Readers only familiar with his Confessions will, however, not b ...more
Mark
Mar 17, 2016 Mark rated it liked it
Shelves: faith, biography
A long and detailed look at the life of Augustine written in the 1960's. One of the more interesting parts of the edition I read was the epilogue that discussed works of Augustine that have been discovered and catalogued since the original edition of the book was published. Some of these works altered the way the author thought about Augustine, giving us a better view of his real character as a preacher and pastor.

My favorite quote from the book is actually from Augustine's Exposition on the Psa
...more
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Peter Robert Lamont Brown FBA is Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His principal contributions to the discipline have been in the field of Late Antiquity. His work has concerned, in particular, the religious culture of the later Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, and the relation between religion and society.
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