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Van Gogh: The Life

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  23,930 ratings  ·  594 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, 970 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)
Kevin Mitchell Mercer I just finished this book and I think it is a lot more complicated than this. There's a lot going on here with Van Gogh. I just now realized this ques…moreI just finished this book and I think it is a lot more complicated than this. There's a lot going on here with Van Gogh. I just now realized this question is four years old... you've probably moved on or read this book by now. My apologies. (less)

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 ·  23,930 ratings  ·  594 reviews

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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
Jan 29, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I have a plethora of intense feelings after reading this extremely arduous book. I've learned so much and have this gnawing sadness in my heart for the misunderstood, broken, fragmented, tortured, loving, frustrating, creatively gifted, and masterfully talented soul.

Where do I begin? Upon being introduced to Van Gogh’s (pronounced GUH) family, it seemed Vincent was always desperate for his mother's affection. He longed for moments of solitude and tenderness of a woman he revered more than anyth
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
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: credshelf
A social pariah's life: stalking shades and hues, skirting the cliffs of sanity, into the forever's starry night.

Fascinates and inspires.
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
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
George Kaslov
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
During this summer I had the chance to visit Van Goghs museum in Amsterdam and after my return home I just had to find out more. Before my trip I looked up interesting locations to visit up on TripAdvisor and of course this museum was in top 5. Seeing this my thoughts were:

1) Oh yeah, he was Dutch, wasn't he... and
2) I really don't know more about him other then the ear incident, Sunflowers and Starry Night

This gap in knowledge had to be fixed!

Vincent was an incredibly tragic and passionate fig
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 Moore
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
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Biographies can be a dry subject, especially if they have over 900 pages - and for that reason, I must compliment Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith for having written such a compelling and addictive book. In this absolute page-turner, they have not only developed a top-notch academic research work, they have also managed to write it with such skill that it turned into a gripping, inspiring novel-like tale. Using the painter's letters, they succeeded in making his personality and struggles co ...more
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
Neil R. Coulter
Nov 21, 2019 rated it liked it
“Trust in God who sees everything and knows everything,” said Vincent Van Gogh’s mother, Anna, “though His solution may be deeply sad.” This is a fitting summary of one of the saddest family chronicles imaginable. Nearly everyone in Vincent’s family ended life at least disappointed, if not depressed or insane. The glorious French sunlight that Vincent left us in his paintings covers a shadowy lifetime of seemingly unanswered prayers for harmony and wholeness in his family. The massive biography ...more
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
Nov 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I seldom write Goodreads reviews and am not about to start to, but this book has deeply moved me - at times to tears. It would seem unjust to simply mark it as read and move onto the next read.

Many know Vincent van Gogh for cutting of his own ear and his crowning achievement: The Starry Night. A few know the details in between; the frustrations and let-downs that had led to Vincent almost amputating his left ear, after which he sought respite at the Saint-Paul asylum, from which he painted his s
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
Dvora Treisman
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
Lukas MacAllan
Mar 05, 2016 rated it did not like it
What banal and unadulterated drivel!

I must begin by stating for the record that I am not religious. And it would not be appropriate to place me in any distinct “belief” category since even I cannot. But I am continually amazed and saddened by the audacity of those who purport with their writings to tell the story of a person’s life yet distort that biographical record so completely and, in the case of the illustrious Vincent van Gogh, so unashamedly. I refer to the 976-page tome by former Pulitz
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
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
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
Helene M
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
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was blown away by this book. Not only for its deeply researched detail, but because it does what a superior biography should do, it humanizes it's subject and makes the reader care about them.
This is no easy feat with a character like Vincent Van Gogh.
Through letters with his brother Theo, we come to learn of Vincent's petty jealousies and insecurities, his living off his brother's money, his violent temper, and a host of other unlikeable traits.
Yet by the end of this book, I found it rea
John Devlin
Apr 13, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Could not imagine a more authoritative and fluent biography of a difficult subject: an artist.

The author seamlessly melds quotes to text, making a seamless story that never seems stilted.

Van Gogh was a self absorbed, delusional man who claimed and got the full financial support of his brother.

Failing at the clergy, business, and a myriad of artistic notions: journeys to backwaters, starting artistic communes, or simply alienating everyone he met, Vincent was an utter failure.

But he also suffered
I have more things to say, but for now, I've never read a biography this exhaustive--or sad. I love Vincent. He's my spirit animal and I understand him. I am going to be referring to book this often as I have several other Vincent books on my TBR. ...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.
Oh, Vincent, what an unmitigated miserable pain in the ass you must have been. How tiresome and infuriating it must have been to live with you, having you swing back and forth, making the same bad choices time after time, self-sabotaging at every turn, and then blaming everyone else for the outcomes. Not that I'm taking your parents' side either. They sound equally draining, just in a completely different way.

I'm not even going to try for coherent comments here. Vincent and I have spent too muc
Laurel Hicks
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I had to read this long, tortuously researched book slowly, bolstering it between lighter works. The strange, haunted genius that Naifeh and Smith paint in their 950 pages aroused in me empathy, pain, sometimes disgust, sometimes wonder. My mind wandered, perhaps with more understanding, to others I have known in life and in books who had in some slight way some of the characteristics of Vincent and his brother Theo. This is a book to be remembered, a life to weep over, a spark to add new dimens ...more
Jun 25, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, nonfiction, art
Van Gogh: The Life, is a comprehensive look at the life of renowned painter Vincent Van Gogh. From a lonely early childhood to the painting of masterpieces, sojourns into asylums and an early, mysterious death, this book contains a multitude of details scoured from numerous sources making this the story of Van Gogh.

I knew this book would be an epic journey and I greatly enjoyed the undertaking of it. I found out that much of what I thought of as common knowledge of Van Gogh is incorrect, and ins
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Huntsville-Madiso...: Staff Pick - Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith 1 7 Mar 09, 2019 05:41PM  
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Who's reading this and what are your feelings about V.G. now?? 6 46 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 25 Jul 19, 2013 05:09PM  

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177 likes · 168 comments
“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.” 2 likes
“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
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