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Van Gogh: The Life

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  15,407 Ratings  ·  348 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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Diane Nowak I also believe that Vincent was a victim of foul play. We'll never know,
but I feel that the way he was followed and harrassed by local youths, one of…more
I also believe that Vincent was a victim of foul play. We'll never know,
but I feel that the way he was followed and harrassed by local youths, one of which showed off a gun on several occassions, and the facts that Vincent walked back to town for help after the shooting and the gun and his art materials were never found certainly points to someone else shooting him.(less)

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Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
He expressed his truth in letters, and on canvas, immortalized a complex and beautiful soul.*

Pulitzer-winning biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith have gleaned a thorough and insightful portrait of Vincent van Gogh, primarily from meticulous research of his extensive letters to his brother Theo, who was a successful art dealer in Paris and his most ardent confidante and supporter. Vincent's epistolary story reveals thoughts and feelings ranging from spiritual, philosophical and po
Jul 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 05, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography, art
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
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
Jun 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A very comprehensive biography of an intense and passionate man that provides a deep insight into his mind and creative process. A thoroughly researched portrait of Vincent's tragic life. Vincent initially comes off as an arrogant and self-destructive man. But he was as much a victim of the society that rejected him for being different. Vincent would start his career as an art dealer. But he was neither smooth talking nor good with people, which would mean an end to his career as an art dealer. ...more
Lauren Olmeda
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was by far the most incredibly detailed biography I have ever read but also one of the most fascinating books in general I’ve ever picked up. I have always been drawn to van Gogh’s art and also him as a person, but admittedly didn’t know much despite having gone to the museum dedicated to him twice. He is such a legendary figure but the real story, meticulously researched and written here, is absolutely tragic. I find myself wanting to reach out to anyone I’ve ever been mean to in my life t ...more
Oct 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
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 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
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, bio

So much information in this spectacular and in-depth bio on Van Gogh arbitrary and turbulent life .
And with that so much despair and sadness.

Van Gogh lived a life with many obstacles. His struggle with mental illness and depression . The demons that refused to leave his head . His rejection from family , lovers and other artist .But despite all of this he had a mutual love and admiration for his brother Theo . Theo was his "saving grace" in many ways .

Without doubt Van Gogh
Nov 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Erwin Maack
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"Nós, que vivemos de pão, não somos em boa medida como o trigo, não somos, quando menos, obrigados a nos submeter a crescer como uma planta sem poder se mover, quero dizer, no rumo a que nos impele nossa imaginação, e a ser colhidos quando estamos maduros, como o próprio trigo?"

A história de um homem que viveu fiel a si próprio. E contou com trinta e sete anos e alguns meses de força para lutar contra todos os que pretendiam que ele se submetesse, sem exceção. Sem nenhuma exceção, e isso requer
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a compelling, tragic biography of the great 19th century Dutch artist whose life was deeply troubled, despite his creative gifts and intellectual power. It is to the writers' deep credit that despite the unbending pattern of extreme behavior and inevitable disappointment and failure that dominates the life recounted here over 800 pages, the telling firmly holds your attention.

Vincent was the eldest of six children. His father was a Protestant minister who served in a backwater parish, su
Paula Hebert
Apr 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 01, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
عزيزي فنيست فان جوخ المتوفى، ليس عليك أن تبقى حزينا طوال لوحاتك الفنية، عندما بدأت ألمس لوحاتك بدوت باردة، الحزن يطفو فيكَ. رسائل الانتحار التي طافت بك. كتاب فان جوخ جميل جداً يجمع لنا صراعات فان جوخ
Christine Zibas
"Vincent was 'a dreamer, a fanatical believer, a devourer of beautiful utopias, living on ideas and dreams.'" -- from "Van Gogh: The Life"

First let me say that despite the high rating, this book is not for the slacker. With 950-plus pages, it requires a real commitment of time and energy. This is a book that can leave you feeling exhausted, wishing many times that it would soon be over and then just as soon as you finish, thinking you should begin it all again to gather all the keen insights you
Aug 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The writers had a wealth of materials to draw from for this comprehensive biography, including the years of correspondence between Vincent and his brother Theo and numerous interviews with people who were knew or were aware of Vincent. This book is a commitment at 893 pages and it took me a couple of weeks of careful reading to finish it. An additional 6,000 pages worth of footnotes and source materials are available on the authors' website:

I must admit that I grew u
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
R. Alirhayim
Sep 03, 2017 is currently reading it
This book was so long I decided to stop and write a review before I finished reading it. Having said that, this biography is a very intricate, highly detailed account of Van Gogh's life. I almost felt that I had reached the end of it only to realize I was still on the 200th something page. This is not to say it was boring- was actually quite interesting. And I say that because I couldn't help but try to analyze some of what was going on in his head. Like at some point I thought Vincent must have ...more
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: van-gogh
I have never read a more thorough biography of any person in my life, even those written about peoples still living or where primary evidence is easily available to the biographer.
This is so incredibly detailed and researched, the wealth of work gone in to such a comprehensive account is plain, yet is not swathed so heavily in academia that would make it impossible to read for anyone without a degree in art history (if I'm confusing, which I might be because I was compelled to finish this and it
Oct 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 13, 2014 rated it liked it

This book was hard work like Van Gogh. This book really dragged on and on for me, until the end, and then it just became fascinating. It was slow, overly wordy, and drawn out for the first 75% and then it just became fascinating. I was not surprised to learn that Van Gogh was hard to get a long with and lacking in social graces. Why did this book take so long to talk about his early life, struggles etc? It was so drawn out and wordy. I often found myself wishing it would get to the point. Then i
Apr 03, 2012 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
Nov 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Michelle Stie
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, art
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
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Was Van Gogh a criminal mind? 1 7 Nov 07, 2015 11:21AM  
Who's reading this and what are your feelings about V.G. now?? 6 39 Jul 15, 2014 11:46PM  
great book 1 3 Jul 15, 2014 11:30PM  
AS wide ranging as Pollock book? 1 7 Aug 03, 2013 12:47PM  
anyone else reading this book?? 4 23 Jul 19, 2013 05:09PM  
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“To Vincent, his art was a record of his life more true, more revealing (“how deep—how infinitely deep”) even than the storm of letters that always accompanied it. Every wave of “serenity and happiness,” as well as every shudder of pain and despair, he believed, found its way into paint; every heartbreak into heartbreaking imagery; every picture into self-portraiture. “I want to paint what I feel,” he said, “and feel what I paint.” 2 likes
“Theo thought he knew the answer: Vincent was the victim of his own fanatic heart. “There’s something in the way he talks that makes people either love him or hate him,” he tried to explain. “He spares nothing and no one.” Long after others had put away the breathless manias of youth, Vincent still lived by their unsparing rules. Titanic, unappeasable passions swept through his life. “I am a fanatic!” Vincent declared in 1881. “I feel a power within me … a fire that I may not quench, but must keep ablaze.” 1 likes
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