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The Seven Storey Mountain

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  15,002 ratings  ·  1,069 reviews
One of the most famous books ever written about a man’s search for faith and peace.

The Seven Storey Mountain tells of the growing restlessness of a brilliant and passionate young man, who at the age of twenty-six, takes vows in one of the most demanding Catholic orders—the Trappist monks. At the Abbey of Gethsemani, "the four walls of my new freedom," Thomas Merton strugg
Paperback, First Harvest edition, 467 pages
Published October 4th 1999 by Harcourt, Inc. (first published 1948)
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Lynne King
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
A Trappist monastery is a quiet place! In a Trappist monastery, monks typically have three motivations to speak to one another: to get a particular work project carried out efficiently, to engage in a community discussion, or to discuss one's spiritual progress with a director or confessor. Sometimes, too, Trappists will enjoy friendly conversations with each other in a conversation room or in nature. These different types of conversation are balanced with the discipline of fostering a genera ...more
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
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
Aug 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Daniel Villines
Jan 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 s
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
Nathan Marone
Reading Merton's autobiography almost tempts me to become a Catholic. As a Protestant, there are elements of Catholic theology that I could never affirm, but Merton, an excellent spokesman, gives the reader a sense of the aesthetic beauty and solemnity of the Catholic faith that us pragmatist Protestants sorely lack. We are casual and friendly with God where they are formal and filled with awe. There is probably a right balance in our response to God here, and Merton's book offered me the vicari ...more
Oct 19, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Ramón S.
May 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
I didn’t like it but I respect the real conversion of Thomas Merton. Sometimes is confusing the way he explains things. I guess I will never read it again
K.D. Absolutely
Mar 05, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Apr 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: spiritualistic
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
Second Reading- The True Reading.

The first time I read this, I actually listened to an abridged audio version but didn't realize it was abridged. I am so glad I read this amazing autobiograhy! It is so inspiring and beautifully written.

This is a must read for anyone who loves the study of religion, personal testimonies, conversion stories and advice on how to live in this crazy world without losing your faith in God and humanity.

Thomas Merton lived in an Abbey just about 45min from my home so I
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-again-again
There is so much to be gained from this book. I will need to read it again.
Katie Fitzgerald
#CathLit2019 - A Spiritual Memoir

I was really surprised at how much I loved this book. I was drawn into the details of Merton's life and conversion from the very first page, and I found it impossible to put the book down. I love the way he incorporates observations about the Holy Spirit's influence in his life throughout the biographical sections of text, and his sincerity in trying to discern his true vocation.

Since finishing the book, I have learned (from my current read, The Life You Save Ma
Aug 02, 2009 rated it did not like it
This book came highly recommended but I can't recommend it in turn. Maybe if you skip forward to page 225 or so, when he's baptized and starts dithering about whether to enter a monastery. As someone who's never been at all interested in any sort of life of institutionalized contemplation, that part's pretty interesting. The first half of the book, though, is much too much like talking to an angsty teenager who insists on telling you about how "weird" and "crazy" he is when it's obvious to any c ...more
May 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I think I expected much more relatable spiritual insights than this book ended up providing. While the writing is in many places fabulous, it’s also extremely wordy and overwrought at times. While I appreciated his spiritual questioning and insight, the narrative didn’t feel as if it went far enough at times, and what must have been taken out might have met that need. While I don’t want to judge the work on what choices Merton made later in life, I’m wondering if this book “spoke” more to previo ...more
Oct 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, religion
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
Brigid Hogan
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was so hard for me to read, but so worth it. The questions Merton asks himself, especially at the end of the book when he has come into the church and has changed so much of his life, are incredibly challenging questions to turn on myself. I understand that this was written when he was still relatively new to monastic life and that he later regretted some of the more condescending or pietistic passages, but even those passages provide such deep insight into the soul of a young believer - th ...more
Mark Thomas
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jane Lebak
Mar 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: catholic
The first half of the book got a little tedious, but the second half simply flew by. If you find it tough going at first, just persevere. It gets better.

What we've got her is in effect a modern Confessions of St Augustine. Merton goes into detail in what amounts to a spiritual autobiography/memoir. One of the interesting things I found was that he lived in a lot of places I'm familiar with, unlike when I read the lives of saints who are predominantly from Europe. When he talks about Flushing, Do
Iona  Stewart
Sep 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I found this autobiographical work to be absorbing and very readable; unfortunately, I didn’t get it quite finished before it had to be returned to the library.

We’re told of Merton’s childhood, his parents and brother John Paul.

Merton’s mother died young and his father died slowly of a brain tumour.

Merton was interested in literature, philosophy, religion, mostly the latter.

He seems much obsessed with “the misery and corruption of my own soul” and several times throughout the book refers to his
Emily at Reaching While Rooted
I was excited to read this spiritual classic! However it was not the page turner I would hope it to be. Merton's writing is slow and pondering, with reflections and parts that seem to drag on. The contemplative nature of this memoir just wasn't a good match for my reading preferences.
Christian Engler
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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,
Apr 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Justin Pitt
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I'm not really certain how you summarize and review a book of this magnitude, both in terms of volume and depth, in such a short space. How do you begin to reflect on the currents that ran in a young, talented writer's life that moved him to become a Trappist monk in his mid-twenties? What may be sufficient to say, however, is that there is something in many of us that has recognized an emptiness in the current age - an emptiness built on the never-ending desire to satisfy one's anxieties and de ...more
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, religion
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
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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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