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The Seven Storey Mountain

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4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  7,171 ratings  ·  491 reviews
A modern-day Confessions of Saint Augustine, The Seven Storey Mountain is one of the most influential religious works of the twentieth century. This edition contains an introduction by Merton's editor, Robert Giroux, and a note to the reader by biographer William H. Shannon. It tells of the growing restlessness of a brilliant and passionate young man whose search for peace ...more
Paperback, First Harvest edition, 467 pages
Published October 4th 1999 by Harcourt, Inc. (first published January 1st 1948)
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Wanda
The first part of this book was painfully slow at times, yet interesting. Then in the second part, after Merton was baptized.... WHOOOOSHH!!! off we went! And I was spellbound til the end. Its impossible to summarize this book, and there are many reviews out there for everyone to peruse. So I'll simply quote a few of my favorite passages in the book.

As a newly baptized Catholic, I found this passage incredibly beautiful and accurate:

"I had come, like the Jews, through the Red Sea of Baptism. I
...more
Daniel Villines
Merton’s autobiography is the story of his quest to understand life and to give it some semblance of purpose. Not unlike each of us, in our own way, trying to develop a philosophy that will provide us the seeds of meaning to the infinite number of events that will assail us between now and the end of our days. If this was all that Merton accomplished in The Seven Story Mountain, then this would not be the book that it is. In my mind, Merton crosses the line. He selfishly places his quest above e ...more
Stephanie
Feb 18, 2008 Stephanie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: you, if you like Merton, Henry Nouwen, Christian mystics
I finally read Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain. Mostly out of obligation because if you tell anyone you’ve read Merton they ask if you’ve read Seven Story Mountain.

First, one neat story. Merton was at Cambridge, studying sociology, economics, history (196). On Merton’s first day of school, he accidentally seated himself in a class on the works of Shakespeare. So he got up, then sat back down, stayed. Later that day he went to the registrar and officially added the course. Here’s what he sa
...more
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 14, 2014 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books (Memoirs)
My first encounter with Thomas Merton (1915-1968). Orphan at the age of 16. Monk in the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, USA at the age of 26. This is his memoirs detailing the first half of his life when his family that originated in France had to move to England, Bermuda and United States. Born protestant, his parents were not avid followers of any religion, he got his first attraction to Catholicism by wandering around old deserted churches in France until his family moved to the US ...more
MattA
Merton is a gifted writer, and his descriptions of growing up in Europe are interesting. Much less interesting are his spiritual/religious judgments of others. These judgments seem to break down along the following lines:

If you're a bad person, and are not Catholic, the reason you're bad is because you're not Catholic.
If you're a bad person, and are Catholic, the reason you're bad is because you're not Catholic enough.
If you're a good person, and are not Catholic, the reason you're good is becau
...more
booklady
I listened to the abridged version of Merton's spiritual autobiography back in the 90's, loved it, and actually thought I'd read this book. Now I've read the unabridged book and learned all I missed.

However, given where I was 20 years ago, I doubt I would/could have appreciated so many of the things Merton described so well in his journey, especially his experience of being led from one Master to another, often via friends, travels and the many pitfalls of sin and shame. Speaking just about som
...more
Keegan
I've been plowing through this in my spare moments the past two weeks or so. I can see how my father and grandfather were affected by it.

If I had a different experience of Catholicism as a child, this book might have functioned as some sort of catalyst for rejoining the church. Fortunately my experiences were uneventful; tepid, even. I didn't leave Catholicism out of some reactionary experience. It was gradual. God was ground to dust throughout this decade in the millstone of my brain. My atheis
...more
Janet
Jan 06, 2008 Janet rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Catholics, orthodox Christians, people interested in religion and psychology
(from notes in my journal, Nov. 9, 2007)

Why did I wait so long to read Thomas Merton? I've known so many fans of his work and had so many opportunities to get to know him. In my mid-twenties I lived for a few years in Lexington, Kentucky, just about an hour from Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery where Merton spent the second half of his life. I had a lover who made regular pilgrimages and once brought me seeds from Merton's garden, carefully folded inside a dollar bill. But I never visited Get
...more
Amy Neftzger
This book is essentially Thomas Merton's autobiography of his early life through the time of his conversion to Catholicism and entry into a monastery. Aside from being an interesting story, there are a few additional insights to be gained from this book that make it extraordinary. For example, at the end of the book Merton talks about how vices can also be manifested in spiritual forms. It's through his own self reflection that he discovers how a person may display pride over spiritual accomplis ...more
Jason
Merton's quest for personal happiness leads him from a life of booze and women to a Trappist monastery. I read this book with an open mind, hoping that some of Merton's findings would translate into my own life. He abandons his secular life in favor of godly devotion, but along the way he trades analytical analysis for superstition, and logic for blind faith. He routinely blames saints and devils for mundane events in his life, and interprets the outcome of any situation to be a sign from God. R ...more
Mary
I have intended to read this book for a long time and finally it worked its way to the top of my reading stack.

Merton is very, very certain that Catholicism is the only true religion and path to God. He is very critical of Protestantism. If his treatment of other faiths had been more even handed, I believe it would have made his account of his journey to the Trappists more effective in terms of evangelism. However, maybe evangelism is not his goal and maybe his criticisms accurately reflects hi
...more
Paul
This edition of the book intimidated me at first, because neither of the prefaces exactly warmed me to the subject matter. The second, in particular, by some unctuous "we're so much more enlightened than this since Vatican II" type, really made me wonder if I would find anything in Merton that made any sense to me.

Fortunately I did. I started the book in the hotel and read probably the last four-fifths of it on the way back from Vienna to Chicago. I've never read any spiritual work that makes mo
...more
Amy
I have known about the Trappist monastery Gethsemani my whole life, having been born not too far from it in Kentucky. Growing up, my beloved grandmother always had a loaf or two of Trappist bread with the stamp of the monastery on the package. It was the best bread I've ever tasted, from grains grown and harvested by the monks at Gethsemani. Later on, I found my father reading this biography by one of their own, and I've been intrigued by Gethsemani and Merton ever since.

Merton writes in this on
...more
Christian Engler
Upon reading the spiritual autobiography of Thomas Merton, the immediate details of his life that boldly jutted out and painted the overall portrait of the man was his controlled yet cyclonic whirlwind of pell-mell inconsistency and the overall amorphousness of his ever evolving life up into manhood.

Thomas Merton's life seemed to be the never-ending quest for the ultimate truth, and there were many byways that he chose in order to obtain that: literature, academia, writing, traveling, communism,
...more
Matthew
Hugely disappointing. There were two main things about this book that turned me off:

First, I am irritated by the way that he seems to treat esoteric Catholic doctrines as clear and obvious, thus needing no explanation. For example, he presents Marian intercession as a universal principle that should be self-evident to any person capable of reason, despite the fact that (so far as I can tell) it has very little basis in Scripture and is not even a particularly important part of scholastic philos
...more
Cheryl
Now this, I never knew about men:

Is there any man who has ever gone through a whole lifetime without dressing himself up, in his fancy, in the habit of a monk and enclosing himself in a cell where he sits magnificent in heroic austerity and solitude, while all the young ladies who hitherto were cool to this affections in the world come and beat on the gates of the monastery crying, "Come out, come out!"


This is the tone you get from this author as he tells of his life: a peculiar mix of contempl
...more
Tim
First of all, no I didn’t spell “storey” wrong…that’s how it’s spelled on the book’s cover. This is Merton’s spritual autobiography, and it’s an intimidating book at first in its size, but I had no trouble being gripped by Merton’s writing style and his personal journey. In the end, he feels led into a Trappist monastery, from where he writes this book. While I loved his story of his journey of faith (I think anyone struggling with faith questions would), I have always been baffled by the decisi ...more
Skylar Burris
Part literary analysis, part theological speculation, and largely spiritual autobiography, this 467 page tome is a much easier read than one might initially expect. There were times when, as a non-Catholic, I got bogged down in some of the particulars of the tradition, but much of the book has a universal appeal. The Seven Storey Mountain tells of Merton's journey from agnosticism to Catholicism, from self-absorbed young man to contemplative monk. The work is well enough written to have captured ...more
Suzanne
I had always been curious about the Trappists which led me to this book. What would or could drive someone into silence and isolation? To some degree Merton explains his voyage from atheist to scholar to the disciplined harsh world of monastic life. Many criticized him for just trying to avoid serving in World War II, but I don't believe that fear motivated him. I've always believed that the World at that time, became very ugly and his retreat and commitment to a lifetime of prayer was his answe ...more
Johnny
I love pieces of this book as much as almost any other book I've read. Merton is a wondrous writer, ornate and latinphilic and emotive, dropping bits of wit while maintaining the highest sincerity. He moves me deeply in his reflections, and is approachable from both theistic and atheistic p.o.v.s. Ultimately, 7 Storey Mountain is about relinquishing control, about the limited attempt of shedding that which you reject but feed on, about a life of self discovered through denial of self--this is, u ...more
Kate
The book is a classic of 20th century American spirituality. I'll give it that. But, reading it through 21st Century eyes, I cannot help but see a pain-filled young man struggling with deep, deep grief at the loss of his parents at a very tender age. His way of coping is the Roman Catholic Church. A lot of what Merton has to say is buried in intellectual stuff (he is, after all, a brilliant Columbia grad), but, at base, I see a hurting orphan who finds comfort in a heavenly father, and the earth ...more
MT
Disappointed in this work. Part of the Renovare's "25 Books Every Christian Should Read". Rambling account of a young man born into a cultured family and of some means. I was stunned when I was halfway into the book that we had only reached the author's tenth year on the earth.

I anticipated a story that would tell of a true journey of faith. In essence, Merton wanders half-heartedly through a life fairly closed off by higher education, living with inherited means and eventually growing bored wit
...more
Brian Robbins
Although I have read other work by Merton, and ones about him too, I was unsure what to expect from this. Written in his earlier monastic days, and charting his movement towards a very alien way of life for most of us, I was hesitant about what to expect. It turned out to be a beautifully written account into which it would have been hard to resist being drawn.

He charted his movement from self-indulgent oik to brother in a strict religious order, with considerable honesty. He did not reveal all
...more
Patrick
This book is an autobiography of a monk and his spiritual journey towards salvation and oneness with God. Prior to his conversion, he describe himself as a worldly man with worldly thoughts (ie: he was a normal guy with normal needs for his age). As far as I can tell, he did not commit any mortal sin just venial sin.

I think the best part of this book is when he describes his experience with mysticism in having complete peace and strength when he found God's Grace in his life. For those of us wh
...more
Tiffany
Yes, you will hate me for giving this book a single star. I readily admit this book deserves more--I just couldn't get through it. There are reasons for that. First, it is well acknowledged that P. Merton indulges more than a little in Protestant bashing. I really don't want to spend my time with haters unless they hate exactly the thing that I do. (If you are reading this and do not know me allow me to assure you this is intended irony.)

Second, I can't help feeling he's touching on the ordinary
...more
Michelle
This is a very hard book to review since it is a classic religious text and who am I to judge?

The book is very readable, and the experiences of the famous monk, Thomas Merton, were interesting. Especially those experiences from when he was a young child. I have to admit that I was envious of his travels; although, his life was so scattered that it probably wasn't the best environment for a child.

Another thing I enjoyed was when Merton related the time he spent in Harlem working with the mission
...more
Magdelanye
In fact, I finished this amazing book a couple of weeks ago,but with the iffy situation on the internet,have not been able to give my full report. Now I am on a fairly decent machine and with a bit of time to spare, but the book is no longer with me for reference. It barely held up through the rough treatment,covers gone,but what a good choice for this arduous journey. Merton was a real pioneer,honest and true to his genius,discreet in a way that did not strike me as false modesty,and if he coul ...more
Erin
I am so glad I finished this book. I feel like it took me forever. There were parts that I flew through, and other areas felt like drudgery, but overall very good.

Here are a few quotes that I really liked:

"I had always understood that art was contemplation, and that it involved the action of the highest faculties of man." p. 222

"In fact, if Adam had never fallen the whole human race would have been a series of magnificently different and splendid images of God, each one of all the millions of me
...more
Nate
For me it was a nice peek into the Catholic church of my grandparents’ generation. Generally speaking SSM is a pretty good memoir with enough historical perspective and tough questions to make it worthwhile reading for just about anybody.

There were definitely parts that had me brimming with envy, e.g. Woe-is-me! I am again FORCED to return to (Oxford/Columbia/my boarding school in the French countryside, etc.)

There were times when I felt like either his order or the norms of the 1948 publishin
...more
Cris
May 14, 2013 Cris rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: bios
Everyone I know is very complimentary of this book, however it just did not do it for me. Though I am generally attracted to intellectual memoirs, I think the book glosses over the emotional and psychological needs which attracted Merton to Chritianity in general and the avocation of 'religion' in particular. A modern-day Confessions, the book leaves out many important parts of Merton's life, as edited by his superiors. This I think takes away the emotional impact of his conversion. I think it i ...more
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1711
Thomas Merton was one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in the American state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer, poet, author and social activist. Merton wrote over 60 books, scores of essays and reviews, and is the ongoing subject of many biographies. Merton was also a proponent of int ...more
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“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” 205 likes
“Souls are like athletes, that need opponents worthy of them, if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers, and rewarded according to their capacity.” 77 likes
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