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Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time
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Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

4.54 of 5 stars 4.54  ·  rating details  ·  177 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Joseph Frank's award-winning, five-volume Dostoevsky is widely recognized as the best biography of the writer in any language--and one of the greatest literary biographies of the past half-century. Now Frank's monumental, 2500-page work has been skillfully abridged and condensed in this single, highly readable volume with a new preface by the author. Carefully preserving t...more
Hardcover, Abridged, 984 pages
Published November 8th 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published 2009)
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Hadrian
How could this be anything other than extraordinary?

This is perhaps one of the best biographies ever. Illuminating on so many levels. I learned so much, even about novels that I have read multiple times - such is the depth of both the biographer's knowledge, as well as Dostoevsky's nuanced and astonishing works. Frank also explores the culture and political background of Russia, providing much needed context. I could go on for paragraphs.

Emphatically recommended for all.
Francisco
A scholarly book that is worth reading if you like Dostoevsky's books or any of the great Russian writers that lived in the mid to end of the 19th century: Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy. What the book does is lay out for you the ideological climate of the age. What were the political, social, philosophical, psychological principles that moved Dostoevsky and then the book traces those ideas to his major works. What I enjoyed the most about this biography is the way that Frank links the though...more
Kim
I can only imagine what it would be like to read through Joseph Frank's five volumes of Dostoevsky's biography (published between the mid-1970's and early 2000's). This abridgment is a stunning substitute and is probably sufficient for most readers. It's a great distillation of what must in total be an amazing overall achievement. Bravo to the editor as well as the author! Frank masterfully weaves together biography, history, ideology, and literary criticism to elucidate Dostoevsky's thought. It...more
Lauren
For as long as I can remember, I’ve regarded reading as a powerful gift. As an aspiring author myself, I will always stand in awe of the remarkable impact that books can make on those who read them. I can wholeheartedly say that Joseph Frank’s “Dostoyevsky: A Writer in His Time” is one of those works I will never forget. If you follow me on Goodreads, or Facebook, or Tumblr, or if you know me personally, you’ve probably heard this before: Dostoyevsky is my favorite author, and one of a very few...more
Jim Hale
This is one of those historical occasions where the biographer rises to the greatness of his subject and anyone who commits to reading it has a good chance of being swept away. It all ends on an especially eerie note, as the last words Dostoevsky wrote were in promotion of Russian expansionism in Asia. I'm writing this one day after Putin's land grab in Crimea! A Writer in His Time is a thorough study of his life and his work. I enjoyed the life chapters more than the literary summary and analys...more
Tim
When Joseph Frank’s five volume encyclopedic biography of the life and times of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky was published over the course of several years, it was widely lauded as the most comprehensive work ever undertaken on the life of this writer who has had enormous lasting impact over the past two centuries. Now, the Princeton University Review has published a condensed (though still a massive 959 pages) version of Frank’s epic work that gives new readers a richly detailed overview...more
Laura Leaney
This is the most interesting, comprehensive, intellectually stimulating biography I've ever read. Ranks above my previous favorite - David Herbert Donald's biography of Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward). If you're a reader of Dostoyevsky, Frank's insights will deepen your pleasure and understanding of the author's works.
Justin Evans
This is an almost perfect book: Frank combines fascinating history, insightful biography and above average literary criticism perfectly. I'm literally speechless; the only book I can think of to put beside this is MacDiarmid's 'Christianity: the first three thousand years,' which is similarly clear, stimulating, beautifully written and finely structured.
Aside from giving us a model for literary biographies, Frank also manages (possibly without knowing it) to write a perfect guidebook for writin...more
☽ Moon Rose ☯
"Christ was sent by God not to give mankind the peace of absolution but to stir it to struggle against the law of personality. Dostoevsky points out that Christ himself prophesied his teachings only as an ideal, predicted himself that strife and development will continue to the end of the world...Life for Dostoevsky was, as it had been for Keats, a vale of soul-making, into which Christ had come to call mankind to battle against the death of immersion in matter and to inspire the struggle towar
...more
John
I read each of the five volumes of Frank's masterful biography of Dostoesvsky as they appeared over the 1970s and 1980s - each and every one entirely engrossing. I am now reading the one volume version - at 1000 pages two volumes really, but who's counting. I am thrilled to take up another of Frank's works, among the greatest biographers I've ever encountered. Right up there with Ann Wroe and Richard Helms.

Having finished this book, it is without doubt among the most successful examples of the b...more
Thomas Walsh
Sometimes myth can overshadow the man. In the case of Dostoevsky, the novels have, in this reader's mind, created the man. This book is a surprise. Dostoevsky came from a "normal" environment. His political views, however slightly liberal, got him in the danger which changed his life forever. But, karma is peculiar. If he didn't go through the near execution and the camps, he might have never imagined some of the most glorious psychological works of the 19th century. From the epistolary "Poor Fo...more
Frances Haas
After reading this book my understanding of Russian literature, Russia, and the causes of the Russian Revolution were clear and extended to an understanding of totalitarian governments, and why the Russian Revolution carried the seeds of its own failure.

I finished reading this book. Many facets of Russia and why it is Russia stay with me from the book. I am sorry that the literature created under the crucible of a totalitarian state seems to have died with it. Russia has been through so many ch...more
Luke
A long old read, with too much analysis for me, but really a brilliant book. Probably more for the obsessive Dosoevskyites than anyone else, but it makes sense of some of the more abstract ramblings in his books. I wont read it again any time soon, but i'm glad i read it, and if anyone tries to start a dostoevsky based conversation with me, i'll be quoting this book to make myself sound a lot smarter than i really am.
Sanchir Jargalsaikhan
Seamless fusion of personal, historical, and political narratives. One of the best biographies I've ever read. Last paragraph (Solovyev's words spoken just before D's death): "Just as the highest worldly power somehow or other becomes concentrated in one person, who represents a state, similarly the highest spiritual power in each epoch usually belongs in every people to one man, who more clearly than all grasps the spiritual ideals of mankind, more consciously than all strives to attain them, m...more
Lila
there is hardly anything more worthwhile to read
Brett
The word that keeps springing to mind to describe Joseph Frank's biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky is "magisterial." This 1000+ page monolith is a distillation of the five volume biography that Frank has written, though it is hard for me to imagine anyone but the most serious Dostoevsky scholar needing to delve into more detail than is present in the abridged volume.

Frank has three different types of chapters. One is straight biography, describing Dostoevsky's life and its relation to his work. One...more
Eric
What is amazing about this book is that it is the "abridged" version of an original 2500 page book. This book is very thorough and unless you are a huge Dostoevsky fan and are interested in philosophy to boot, you might want to find a shorter biography. This book is one third biography and two third's a discussion of Dostoevsky's philosophy and the philosophical debates surrounding him at the time.

Its really interesting stuff to see where all his works came from and how he wrote most of them as...more
rmn
A fascinating (and 900 page long) book that will appeal to Russian literature scholars, literary critics, and like three other people in the world (and unfortunately I happen to be one of those three). The book follows the timeline of Dostoevsky's life but isn't a straight biography. It is ~1/3 biography, ~1/3 Russian history (with a focus on intellectual and literary history), and ~1/3 literary criticism of Dostoevsky's works.

The author could probably sell a lot more books were he to separate...more
Pat Rolston
This is an incredible scholarly work that weaves his biographical history with the interpretation of all his works. I know it warrants 5 stars, but for the more casual reader of Dostoevsky such as myself(I read The Idiot, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov) the dissection of all of his works I did not read is a bit overwhelming. The problem becomes the detailed analysis beyond his life and the interpretation of these works becomes less than interesting for someone like me who is re...more
Pastor Ben
My plan for this book was to read it in conjunction with his novels to get a deeper knowledge of them. It was very helpful in this regard. It also provided a great deal of insight into the man and what fired his passions. Dostoevsky, with his many warts and foibles, stood up firmly for the truth that life's suffering had taught him: that faith in Christ and the afterlife must be the foundation of any enduring ethic, that Russia (and particularly her peasants) was the hope for the world's future...more
Gabriel
This is the best biography I have ever read, and should serve as a model for all biographies of creative personalities. Frank concentrates on Dostoevsky's life as it relates to his work. This focus is what really sets this book apart. After all, our interest in such personalities stems from our relation to what they created. Frank indulges our interest, and presents the necessary knowledge for us to attain a much deeper and more comprehensive understanding of Dostoevsky's work.
Darren
Over the course of about 20 years, Joseph Frank published a massive five volume biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky that has been widely praised. This is a single volume condensed edition that retains the scope of the original, and has been called the best single volume biography of Dostoevsky available. If you don't want to slog through all five volumes (and it's well worth it), this is the edition for you.
Marilyn Moreau
One of the best biographies I have ever read. Fuller review to follow.
Samuel
Catechism of a Human Being
Stephen Buggy
The best literary biography I have ever read. Better than Ellmann's Joyce biography.
Andrew M
I never thought I'd drool over literary biography, the best.
Dave
An exhaustive review of Dostoevsky's life and works.
Austin Riley
Austin Riley marked it as to-read
Oct 19, 2014
Elaine Titus
Elaine Titus marked it as to-read
Oct 18, 2014
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The Guest of Honor at the international conference Art, creativity, and spirituality in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, held at the College of Holy Cross and Museum of the Russian Icon in Worster, MA., April 10-12, 2008.
European University in SPB Efim Etkind Prize for the best book about Russian Literature and Culture by a Western Scholar, 2006
Docteur Honoris Causa, Sorbonne University, 1999
Honor...more
More about Joseph Frank...
Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850-1859 Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871 Dostoevsky: The Stir of Liberation, 1860-1865 Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871-1881

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“His unrivaled genius as an ideological novelist was this capacity to invent actions and situations in which ideas dominate behavior without the latter becoming allegorical. He possessed what I call an eschatological imagination, one that could envision putting ideas into action and then following them out to their ultimate consequences. At the same time, his characters respond to such consequences according to the ordinary moral and social standards prevalent in their milieu, and it is the fusion of these two levels that provides Dostoevsky's novels with both their imaginative range and their realistic grounding in social life.” 3 likes
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