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A Private History of Awe

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  208 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
An original and searching memoir from "one of America's finest essayists" (Phillip Lopate)

When Scott Russell Sanders was four, his father held him in his arms during a thunderstorm, and he felt awe—"the tingle of a power that surges through bone and rain and everything." He says, "The search for communion with this power has run like a bright thread through all my days." A
ebook, 336 pages
Published May 15th 2007 by North Point Press (first published 2006)
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A Private History of Awe by Scott Russell Sanders is a beautiful testament to the power and fragility of this thing we call life--and the language we use to describe it. In his memoir, this gentle man holds in balance the wonder of the beginnings of life and the terrible waning of life as it ends. And he uses this balance to frame the story of his search for communion with the source of power that runs through all living things, all of nature, all of the universe. He guides us through stories of ...more
Aug 28, 2010 Laura marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Review Quotes:
Letter to Scott Russell Sanders, from Wendell Berry: "Dear Scott,
"I finished your book last night and I think it is splendid. Much in it is authentically beautiful, and it is beautifully and properly titled. It has gravity and pleasure and candor and gratitude and sorrow, all eloquent, and never a moment of ungenerosity. Every return of the theme of your love for Ruth put tears in my eyes. You matter so much to me that I have no idea what others will think of this book, but it is
Feb 16, 2016 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautiful book. Sander’s writing is graceful and eloquent, even though I did not always find myself in agreement with his theology. It is evident that Sanders has left his childhood faith behind. Yet, and it may seem strange for me to suggest this from a man who questions the deity of Christ, his writings appear to me to be incarnational. Sanders experiences the Creator’s hand throughout the world and especially in other people. In this memoir, Sanders weaves together the story of ...more
Jun 24, 2008 Ken rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
In A Private History of Awe, Scott Russell Sanders writes about his life and various stages of coming of age. The book begins with one of his earliest memories, when his father held him on the porch of their house while a storm rolled it. It was, as Sanders describes, his first experience with awe, his first engagement with the forces of life in the universe.

Sanders states that his aim is to detail those experiences where he encounters awe, but the memoir is more than that. He details those mome
Hannah Jane
Feb 26, 2013 Hannah Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, memoir, 800s
In A Private History of Awe, Scott Russell Sanders takes a thunderstorm and illustrates how it can dance across three generations. Sanders not only spotlights the beauty and spectacle a thunderstorm can create, but also its rude and wild fury.

This is one man’s deeply personal path of awe, a memoir of sorts, but mostly the story of how one soul can become so beautifully entangled in both life and death. Throughout the story of Sanders’ life are these spectacular vignettes of his newborn grandchil
Mar 12, 2008 William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very interesting book. A religious book from a non-religious man. Sanders "awe" serves as a stand in for life force, energy, 7th chackra, god and all the other descriptions of spiritual oneness throughout worldwide cultures. What he describes as the god-like moments all of us at one time or another feel, he explains as being one with the natural forces around us. He recalls seeing thunder and lightning while being held in his fathers arms at a very young age, one most of us would have ...more
Tito Quiling, Jr.
Aug 18, 2014 Tito Quiling, Jr. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I had some reservations at first when I came upon several religious references, until the author equally (albeit briefly) discussed the connections between the diverse faiths. In addition to he post-war America setting, there was an insightful pondering on the position of the writer's country and its nuances in terms of their decisions, particularly on the Vietnam War. An effective way of taking a definite stance on a sensitive subject is to look at it from both sides before making a statement a ...more
Angela Kantola
A good read. I've always appreciated Sanders. My favorite quote was this: "I sometimes wonder if all other animals, all plants, maybe even stars and rivers and rocks, dwell in steady awareness of God, while humans alone, afflicted with self-consciousness, imagine ourselves apart." p. 166

I really resonate with this. As long as I can remember, I have asked this question about animals: “What do they KNOW?”

What I’ve come to believe (but cannot prove) is that animals inherently know “I AM” in a way
Aug 14, 2010 Rick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal-account
I met Scott Sanders in Concord, Massachusetts, in 2007, at the Annual Gathering of the Thoreau Society. We had a very cordial conversation and learned things from each other. Then I read his book. It's not just about his life; it's about his life as a constant journey of discovery and ecstasy, things he learned and insights along the way. I was very impressed at the affective nature of the book. It turns out that we grew up about 50 miles from each other in Ohio, and there were parallels in our ...more
Mar 31, 2009 Seth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the better memoirs I've read. He takes a relatively normal growing up and young adulthood and suffuses it with an extraordinary longing, a smartness, and empathy for his fellow living creatures. You get the sense the writer's a very kind man, with a big heart and also a pretty big sense of guilt, too. The back-and-forth between his growing up and the present-day birth of his granddaughter and demise of his mother worked pretty well to give the book a double narrative drive. A searching, s ...more
Oct 10, 2010 Bonnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a little trouble getting into this book. It's very good but in the first few pages it's so soft and gentle, I was thinking it was going to be like The Country of the Pointed Firs. (Which I loved but nothing happens) I'm glad I persisted, it's much, much more and very compelling and interesting. The author is coming to my hometown of Bradford, PA to our University and I'm looking forward to meeting him.
Mike Schneider
Well, I dunno . . .

I heard Scott RS talk last year and liked him, could even say he inspired me. So I bought this book . . .

It's reasonably interesting as a memoir of a life that's not especially remarkable. He places his life story in the context of being awe-struck by the miracle of existence, and frankly it starts to wear after awhile . . . the homiletic tone. A secular preacher . . . self-justifying.

Yes, he's a good man, and he damn sure wants us to know it.

-- Michael
C.D. Mitchell
May 28, 2012 C.D. Mitchell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Scott Russell Sanders is a true wordsmith. As a writer, anytime I begin to undertake serious revbision of my work, I revisit this memoir, for its wordcraft and beautifully crafted sentences always influence my own work.
But Sanders also tells a story that makes you feel as if you are sitting on the porch swing on the outskirts of Memphis, soaking up his tales as you become a part of his world.
Jan 09, 2011 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
One of the heroes of CNF recounts awe-inspiring moments through his life. Organizing themes include elements (Fire, Air, Water, Earth) and hid dying mother and baby granddaughter (Eva and Elizabeth). Beautiful writing with seamless organization and transitions. Ruminative and narrative. Got a bit philosophical but still A+
Oct 27, 2010 Patricia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I read this book the day before the author spoke at our local university. This is the best memoir I have ever read. He was born in the deep south and came of age in the midwest...where he eventually settled and claimed as his place. He advocates for the simple life and caring for our planet, one communty at a time.
Sep 13, 2010 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved all of his descriptions and obeservations, and how well-crafted his memories are, but I should read his essays- I'm guessing I would prefer them. He had a few moments bordering self-righteousness that tasted a little sour to me. But that's just the vibe I got.
Although some of the prose was moving and picturesque, I couldn't help but feel as though I could've told this story myself - there wasn't anything in it that inspired me, or seemed to me to be unique.
Anne Van
May 11, 2010 Anne Van rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A memoir of the writer's childhood, his marriage to his high school sweethear, and his pursuit of Phd. at Cambridge. He parallels the age changing events of the 1960's with his own coming of age. I finished the book, but didn't much care for it.
Patricia Murphy
Aug 15, 2015 Patricia Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Written in a classical memoir style a la Stop Time, I was impressed with narrative and descriptive details.
Jun 05, 2008 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You'll really want to snuggle up and read this one. It's the book you keep on your night stand. My favorite phrase-Who ever you are, be srue it is you. Read what he has to write about rain.Lovely.
Hank Lentfer
Apr 10, 2011 Hank Lentfer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sanders is a master. The construction of each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter, and the entire ext is like an exquisite set of nesting dolls. Read it for the mastery of the craft.
Don Campbell
Jan 01, 2013 Don Campbell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The river of words flows on." Indeed, one should read this wonderful work carefully and consciously.
May 10, 2010 Jane rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It took me quite awhile to get involved, although the author is a good story teller. I'm feeling highly ambivalent about this one and am really looking forward to our discussion.
Dec 12, 2008 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sanders wrestles with the conflict between religion and science and does a nice job explaining it, at least what it means to him.
Janell P
Apr 07, 2011 Janell P rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Janell by: Myself
This was a very good memoir, almost not like a typical 'this problem and that issue' memoir. Very well-written and deeply thought out. Page 250 was my favorite page.
Vaughn rated it liked it
Apr 13, 2007
Joseph rated it really liked it
Apr 04, 2012
Jesse Long
Jesse Long rated it it was amazing
Jun 06, 2014
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Scott Russell Sanders is an American novelist and essayist.His twenty books of fiction and nonfiction include A Private History of Awe and A Conservationist Manifesto. The best of his essays from the past thirty years, plus nine new essays, are collected in Earth Works, published in 2012 by Indiana University Press. Among his honors are the Lannan Literary Award, the John Burroughs Essay Award, th ...more
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“Although "making love" may serve as a polite name for an act that has many rude ones, it's misleading. For lovers do not so much make love as they are remade by love--dipped into the fire, melted down, reshaped. If they are devoted to one another, love will transform them, dissolving the shells of their old separate selves and making them anew.” 7 likes
“Life is precarious and improbable, a flame in matter, easily snuffed out. Nature shows no regard for the individual spark, in this creature or that, but only for the spreading of the fire, like an ember passed from cell to cell.” 5 likes
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