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Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography

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"The day will come when not only my writings, but precisely my life--the intriguing secret of all the machinery--will be studied and studied." S�ren Kierkegaard's remarkable combination of genius and peculiarity made this a fair if arrogant prediction. But Kierkegaard's life has been notoriously hard to study, so complex was the web of fact and fiction in his work. Joakim Garff's biography of Kierkegaard is thus a landmark achievement. A seamless blend of history, philosophy, and psychological insight, all conveyed with novelistic verve, this is the most comprehensive and penetrating account yet written of the life and works of the enigmatic Dane who changed the course of intellectual history.

Garff portrays Kierkegaard not as the all-controlling impresario behind some of the most important works of modern philosophy and religious thought--books credited with founding existentialism and prefiguring postmodernism--but rather as a man whose writings came to control him. Kierkegaard saw himself as a vessel for his writings, a tool in the hand of God, and eventually as a martyr singled out to call for the end of "Christendom." Garff explores the events and relationships that formed Kierkegaard, including his guilt-ridden relationship with his father, his rivalry with his brother, and his famously tortured relationship with his fianc�e Regine Olsen. He recreates the squalor and splendor of Golden Age Copenhagen and the intellectual milieu in which Kierkegaard found himself increasingly embattled and mercilessly caricatured.

Acclaimed as a major cultural event on its publication in Denmark in 2000, this book, here presented in an exceptionally crisp and elegant translation, will be the definitive account of Kierkegaard's life for years to come.

896 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2000

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Joakim Garff

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
Profile Image for Steve Bennett.
71 reviews9 followers
October 19, 2011
Had Kierkegaard lived in contemporary times, he simply would have been prescribed mood-altering medications, written a hit movie "Forgetting Regine Olsen," and performed history of rap skits with Jimmy Fallon. As it was, he lived (and suffered) a lonely strange life but a life that was certainly individualistic and his own. And he wrote some great books.

Garff has written a fantastic (and extremley lengthy) biography of Kierkegaard. I've read Kirmmse's Kiekegaard in Golden Age Denmark and found that book beyond impossible to read due to it turgid writing style. So in comparison, this biography was a breeze to read. But all is relative. Garff's book is not exactly written in an exciting and concise style. For those who love Kierkegaard, however, it is a godsend.
Profile Image for Daniel.
113 reviews3 followers
September 13, 2016
Joakim Garff’s Soren Kierkegaard is a whopper of a biography coming in at 810 pages, but the tone was fairly light and the pace fairly quick so it was by no means burdensome. It took a long time to finish more because I fell ill about halfway through and all productivity went goodbye. I’m thankful for this fact, as the feeling of my own infirmities helped me to empathize with Kierkegaard’s own physical frailty and the sense of melancholy that easily accompanies it. While my frailty caused literary productivity to fall in the sense that I read less, seemingly nothing could stymie Kierkegaard’s fountain of a pen. He wrote originally and voluminously, if not obscurely in some places, till the grave a-swallowed him away at forty-two.


Garff proceeds by blending Kierkegaard’s published works, unpublished letters, and Danish culture in an easy to read style that stays entertaining. The mix favors letters almost as much as published work, which makes for a balanced, true-to-life presentation of complex man of big ideas by presenting the sundry details. The letters help to round out the image of Kierkegaard as solitary individual and a single man—the true soul in opposition to the false collective— as neither a thrifty ascetic nor a secluded misanthrope.

Hear Kierkegaard’s secretary Israel Levin recount an episode of Kierkegaard’s utter prodigality and love for luxury:

During the busy and work—filled years from 1844-1846, Levin could become almost a regular part of the household: “At times I spent up to eight hours a day with him. Once I ate at his house every day for five weeks. Merely providing nourishment for his hungry spirit was also a source of unending bother. Every day we had soup, frightfully strong, then fish and a piece of melon, accompanied by a glass of fine sherry; then the coffee was brought in: two silver pots, two cream pitchers and a bag of sugar which was filled up every day.” …But then came the moments Levin hated. No sooner was the coffee brought in than Kierkegaard went over and opened up a cupboard “in which he had at least fifty sets of cups and saucers, but only one of each sort.” Levin thought the cups revealed signs of a strange mania for collecting things, and he was similarly unable to understand why Kierkegaard has assembled such an “astounding number of walking sticks” which merely stood out in the entryway, taking up space. “Well, which cup and saucer do you want today?” Kierkegaard asked, standing in front of the cupboard. Levin could not have cared less and merely pointed wearily into the mass of china, but this sort of arbitrariness was not tolerated—Kierkegaard wanted an explanation. So Levin had to search his soul in order to justify his choice.

But this was not the end of the bizarre scene. Kierkegaard had his own quite peculiar way of having coffee: Delightedly he seized hold of the bag containing the sugar and poured sugar into the coffee cup until it was piled up above the rim. Next came the incredibly strong, black coffee, which slowly dissolved the white pyramid. The process was scarcely finished before the syrupy stimulant disappeared into the magister’s stomach, where it mingled with the sherry to produce additional energy that percolated up into his seething and bubbling brain—which in any case had already been so productive all day that in the half-light Levin could still notice the tingling and throbbing in the overworked fingers when the grasped the slender handle of the cup (290-291).

This was a complex man, and if that account is any clue, also a very wealthy man who could afford luxury in the time of cholera (cf. p. 700). He inherited everything from his father, a successful textile merchant. He claimed to write at his own expense for the benefit of Danish culture. This is a deductively valid statement, but on is terms this meant that he made less than he spent on total living expenses, not simply on printing expenses. To give an example of what this meant, if I write and sell a book over the course of a year, and if this book produces $500,000 in my favor, and if, in order to write this book I spend $500,001 on pastries and shirts and coffee and servants and a penthouse suite, and other productivity-inducing luxuries, I have written that book to my expense of $1. In his words, “Without extravagance I would never have been able to work in the scale that I did; for my extravagance has always been calculated solely in order to keep me productive on this enormous scale,” a tactic of putting one’s money where one’s mouth that resulted in dozens of books, hundreds of essays, and thousands of letters.

Forms of communication

Kierkegaard’s works are easily split into two sections: the pseudonymous and the direct. His philosophy of communication for the first half-or-so of his life sometimes involved the use of rhetorical voices, not necessarily equated to Kierkegaard’s voices. At this moment in culture pseudonyms were used frequently as well, so there was precedent for this practice, one that has sadly died. Sometimes he would use one for concealment, to annoy someone else, or for the purpose of supposal; “what would it look like if someone said this in this situation, to this person, and how would that sound? “ This is called fiction, and though Kierkegaard did not write fiction in the true sense with characters and plots and settings, he did write creatively and poetically with a tuned aesthetic.

The instant recoil into frustration at the idea of this indirect communication through the use of not-100%-equivalent-to-himself voices can be calmed at the idea that this is exactly the case when someone writes a novel, forms which often contain antagonistic, vague, or complex characters. This doesn’t make interpretation any easier, but once again, there’s clear precedent for what he does, so it should not be a cause of especial conceptual frustration. “The times practically teemed with false names. Indeed, pseudonymity came close to being an unspoken aesthetic requirement, and this sort of literary mystification held great appeal for Kierkegaard” (216).

The nice thing about reading Kierkegaard is that he wrote plenty of things via direct communication, so options abound for the one who wants to not read through a mist. His pseudonymous works tend ramble and elude a lot of easy interpretation.

Fear and Trembling

“O, some day after I am dead , Fear and Trembling alone will be enough to immortalize my name as an author. Then it will be read and translated into foreign languages. People will practically shudder at the frightful emotion in this book” (251).

The relation to Kierkegaard that first drew me to him, that many evangelical Christians share, is a point in Francis Schaeffer’s apologetic works where he presents the “line of despair” by which Western Culture’s conception of God and Salvation went from Medieval And Fine to Modern And Flawed, essentially. Kierkegaard is credited with making everyone think that faith is an irrational affair, that it’s something in which reason provides no defense. You can imagine how this idea might irk an apologist, a priori.

The kernel of the idea of salvation that Kierkegaard presents is more critically examined by other people in their wonderful books, but for the sake of shortcutting (read James Barr if you don’t like this idea), think of Kierkegaard’s situation as this: (1) in the context of Hegelian philosophy that emphasized The Way Things Are as logical and completely reasonable, (2) in the context of the syncretism Danish-Church state of the church, and (3) the context of what he perceived to be a weakening of people who believed God earnestly enough to do act differently than they otherwise would did they not believe (his criticisms of Bishop Mynster and Mynster’s successor Martenson (both of who were popular, wealthy, and knighted) were founded on this very idea). Take this context, and then take this story that summarizes in kernel form the staggering nature of salvation that he thought was largely lost on his generation: suppose there is a king who is wealthy and is a good man, king to many people. One day this king calls on of his commoners via summons into his chambers to meet with him. At this the commoner is astounded that such a king would have any desire to meet with him. But this is not where the summons ends. The king further states that he desires to make this commoner his own son. This king has adoption in mind, and from now on the commoner will carry out the king’s work on the king’s behalf, and is heir to the kingdom. If this were to happen in our world aside from the gift of sonship that God offers in the giving of his son Jesus for a sinful race, you have you admit that it would strain credulity. God’s calling of humans into his favor ought to give pause to the way we see things typically happening. It ought to bend the way we view the world, and redefine love itself. It ought to seem too good to be true, and the catch is that it is too good to be true, at least in human terms of “too good”. It is the single thing that does not fall into the category of “too good to be true,” making it not the object of common sense or result of rationality, but of faith, which transcends both. If this utterly gratuitous action of the part of God does not give pause to the course of nature, then it is not truly seen.

This is in my estimation what Kierkegaard is getting at when he talks about faith. One of the things Barr is good to say is that the Kierkegaard of Schaeffer’s experience would be the Kierkegaard brought to him by the students he met who had read Camus, who read Kierkegaard as an absurdist (and for Camus absurd=meaninglessness, futility, despair), which if you track with my depiction of his “faith,” does not follow, in addition to “if you track with” works like Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing & The Sickness Unto Death & Lily of the Field, Bird of the Air, e.g. you will simply not nail Kierkegaard as an absurdist of any kind.


This book mirrors the man in question: long, sometimes tedious, sometimes blissful, sometimes enigmatic. Kierkegaard’s literary legacy is a wealth, and I expect to tap it for many years to come. This book served as a great starting point for reading any of his works, and the dimension of the man’s character that Garff adds in invaluable in making him stand as something more than the author of texts, a man who lived a fully human life, complete with grief, depression, hunger, pride, humility, skill, fame, humiliation, and a name that will endure wherever Western philosophy is studied.

If you’re wanting to read some of what Kierkegaard wrote in a more edifying vein, I recommend “The Crowd Is Untruth,” which you can find at: http://www.ccel.org/k/kierkegaard/unt..., and you can also read a nice commentary at: http://www.reformation21.org/articles...
Profile Image for Knut Rage.
1 review1 follower
May 6, 2013
Den ultimate Kierkegaard-biografi! Livsløp, kuriosia og ein grundig gjennomgang av SAK's skrifter. Ein murstein du gjerne vil ha i hovudet!
Profile Image for Khol0d Atif.
112 reviews135 followers
December 14, 2021
(كُتب هذا الكتاب من أجل المتعة، لا الربح)
يصدّر المؤلف كتابه القيم بهذه العبارة..هذا كتاب كتب بمتعة وقراءته متعة حقيقية.يتتبع المؤلف حياة سورين كركيغارد لا بشكل منفصل.. إنما كما وعدنا في المقدمة واوفى بوعده. أن الكتاب سيعيد كركيغارد إلى محيطه الدنماركي وإلى تلك الحقبة الزمنية بكل تفاصيلها..حنى نتعرف على حياة ذلك الرجل المبدع..في سياقها الصحيح لا منزوعة منه.
الكتاب يستعرض حياته من يومياته ويوميات المحيطين به ..نتاجه وتحليل وتفسير لأعماله اجتهد المؤلف فيها..حروبه ومعاركه مع معاصريه
ألمه الشخصي..واختلافاته مع عائلته
سيرة ثرية جدااا مكتوبة بشكل ممتع ..لكل مهتم أو صاحب فضول تجاه كركيغارد. لكل من قرأ كتبه وشعر بأنه لم يفهم مايود إيصاله.

هذا الكتاب هو المدخل الحقيقي والوافي للتعرف على كركيغارد وعلى أدبه وفكره

على الصعيد الشخصي..ساظل ممتنة جدااا لهذا الكتاب. شكرا للرفقة،، شكرا للمتعة شكرا كركيغارد!
Profile Image for Michael Baranowski.
385 reviews9 followers
February 3, 2019
Garff's biography of Kierkegaard made me realize that Kierkegaard was a strange and fascinating man. But because so much of his life was mental life, his biography is not exactly scintillating. This 800+ page book is not something I'd recommend for anyone other than Kierkegaard scholars or obsessives.
Profile Image for Alex Obrigewitsch.
418 reviews82 followers
December 20, 2017
A well-woven work that greatly fleshes out and depicts the context of Kierkegaard's life and times - thw Copenhagen which was so essential to the existence of this thinker to whom existence was of such essential import.

Anyone who is seriously studying Kierkegaard will find this work a must-read. It is a weighty tome, but it is eminently readable, and never dull. It is also a lot less idealizing than Lowrie's biography, offering a perhaps fairer picture of this excentric and endearing individual.

(As a bit of a bemoaning sidenote, might I say that I wish people, at universities or elsewhere, would stop thinking or speaking as though they have read and understood Kierkegaard after having only read Fear and Trembling. It is highly troublesome, first of all purely because it is impossible to understand any thinker's thought from reading but a single of their works, especially a thinker as elusive and thorny as Kierkegaard. But furthermore, these people make the grevious error of attributing the views experessed in the work, the thoughts of a pseudonymous author, to Kierkegaard himself. This is the cardinal sin of reading Kierkegaard, amd the fact that it still plagues campuses fills me with dread for the future of academia. I could continue, but this is neither the time nor the place. I bring this marginal cry to a choking halt..)
Profile Image for Younes Mowafak.
129 reviews2 followers
August 7, 2021
مراجعة كتاب سيرة سورين كيركغارد/ يوكيم غارف

ولد سورين كيركغارد في عائلة دنماركية محافظة دينياً سنة (١٨١٣) في كوبنهاغن والده تاجر جواريب مُقتدر مالياً، كبر في بيئة متدينة مؤمنة ببعض العقائد الخرافية وبسبب تدين والده عاش سورين حياة مملة وسوداوية في طفولته رغم بعض الذكريات المرحة والتي سوف تصطدم بوفاة والدته واخوته ماعدا اخوه الأكبر (بيتر كرستيان) ��ليعود الاب الى لوم السماء والتوعد والكفر بالذات الالهية وليتذكر الأخوين هذا المشهد بضبابية.

علماً أنها المرة الثانية التي يُقدم عليها والدهم على هذا الفعل عندما كان يرعى الاغنام في طفواته ببيئة قروية وبسبب الفقر المادي وفي سن صغير لعن السماء، وتبقى هذه الحادثة في ذهن الاب حتى بعد ان اصبح جزءً من الطبقة البرجوازية الدنماركية المدينية، ويرى الاب ان فعلته هذه هي السبب بموت اطفاله وكلا زوجاته. ولتكن بين الأخوين (بيتر وسورين) اسطورة تزاوج بين كفر الوالد في سن ٣٤ وبين انهم سيموتون قبل ان يحين عيد ميلادهم ال٣٤ ولكن هذه النبوءة لم تتحقق.

يعيش كيركغارد جواً دراسيًا محموم خلال طفولته حتى سنوات الشباب الأولى وبساعات مكثفة من القراءة وتعلم اللغات (الفرنسية واليونانية واللاتينية والعبرية والالمانية) الى والرياضيات والعلوم الأخرى. كل هذه المقدمات كانت من اجل ماجستير في اللاهوت المسيحي فيما بعد.

يرث سورين كيركغارد من والده النفس و الرؤية السوداوية في نظرته لحياة وسنرى علاقته بأخيه الأكبر (بيتر كرستيان) علاقة متذبذبة وهو شخص محدود الذكاء اذ ما تم مقارنته بسورين لكنه كان يظهر بمظهر "الاخ الكبير القوي" وكأن سورين يعيش في ظله، كان سورين مجتهد وذكي في سنوات تحصيله الدراسي. لم تكن عبقريته غير اعتيادية فقط بل كان صاحب نكتة ومغرور في ذات الوقت.

في سنواته الدراسية في الجامعة كان ذو حظور مكثف عند انعقاد المناقشات الفكرية والمحاضرات الدينية المنتشرة آنذاك في كوبنهاغن، ويعطينا الكتاب "صورة بانورامية" عن المحاججات والمعارك الدينية ورأي النخب الدنماركية في المسائل الدينية والفلسفية والسياسية وتفاعلهم مع الثورة الفرنسية حتى بعد مرور اكثر من ٤٠ سنة على انطلاقها. وكان للحركة الشيوعية وبداياتها مع اطلال الثورة الصناعية الأوروبية حظور في كلام كيركغارد حين التقى سورين بملك الدنمارك وطلب الاخير منه تحليل لهذه الحركة وتأثيرها على حكمه، فما كان من سورين وهو ابن البرجوازية الا ان اصطف مع القوى المحافظة "من دون النزول الى الشارع" واجاب الملك بانه ما من تهديد لعرشكم فهذه معارك بين تيارات على الارض فقط "وقد صدق في ذلك" !! بخصوص النموذج الدنماركي.

في شبابه تمت خطبته من ريجينه وهو فتاة شابة واستمرت مدة الخطوبة بين عامين (١٨٤٠-١٨٤١) وكانت الاخيرة تحبه وهو يبادلها الشعور، ولسبب ما بدأت العلاقة تدخل فترة فتور وما كان بينهم من رسائل وهدايا من العطور الفرنسية اصبح في طي الكتمان. ويعزي سورين ذلك للايروتيكية التي عليها ريجينه في هذه العلاقة على عكسه هو، في لمحة وجدتها في الكتاب التي تذهب الى ان كيركغارد يمكن تشخيصه بالصرع و واحدة من اعراض المرض (ضعف الشهوة الجنسية)، وقد اشار الى ذلك (ليفن اسرائيل) في حادثة يتيمة والاخير كان سكرتيره لمدة ٤ سنوات وناسخ كتبه واجتمع معه لمدة (٤ساعات الى ٨ ساعات) يوميًا على مدار ال٤ سنوات.

يرى سورين انه في بعض الأحيان لا تُعبر اللغة المنطوقة بوصفها محكية ك(محادثات عادية) عن كل شيء في نفس الانسان او لا تقدر على ان تعبر عن جوانيته، لذلك يعتبر سورين ان الاشارات غير المنطوقة فيها قوة لتواصل، وهي اقرب في المفهوم الاسلامي ل(السنة الفعلية). كما يرى سورين الحب يُعمي ويزيد المرء انغلاقاً ولا يستطيع التكلم فيلوذ نحو الشعر وفي كلا المثاليين اعلاه نلاحظ التركيز على قصور اللغة المباشرة في إيصال المعنى المراد.

كان كيركغارد يؤلف ما تفيض به قريحته على شكل كتب ومحاضرات وكأنه يكتب لنفسه ويحاكي مشاكل ومشاغل داخلية يريد لها ان تُسود على بياض الورق لان منظر الورقة البيضاء كانت تستفزه، ويرى في هذا الفعل راحة نفسية وللابتعاد عن مالنخوليته السوداء وبتعبير جنسي كان ك(قذف الحبر على الورق).

ومن الاخبار الاكثر صحة وجدية من (اصابته بالصرع) وقد نقلها (ليفن اسرائيل) أيضاً كانت معانته من فوبيا من النار وما يتصل بها وهي المسماة ب(البيروفوبيا) وهذا ما كشفهُ ليفن في مجمل ماتحدث عنه هذا السكرتير كذلك طريقة شرب سورين للقهوة وأضافته جبل السُكر على القدح ومن عاداته انه قبل انتهاء مفعول القهوة يشرب كأس من النبيذ لكي ينتشي هذا العقل البارع والمحتدم ولكي ينهي مهامه وهو بمزاج عالي.

سورين المحب لبلده وخصوصاً العاصمة كوبنهاغن مكان مولده حيث كان يحب ان يمشي لساعات وكان يحفظ شوارعها والأزقة بسبب كثرة تجواله كان يستهلك الاحذية ويواضب على اصلاحها وشراء اطقم جديدة من صانع الاحذية وفواتيره شاهدةٌ على ذلك البذخ الذي كان يعيشه، كان لسورين موهبة في العثور على كلمات مفتاحية لكي يبدأ الحديث مع الغُرباء وليقترب منه وينهمك معه في محادثات اثناء التجول في المدينة فهي (اي العاصمة) عنده اشبه بصالة منزل كبيرة، ويعود ذلك الى ان كيركغارد كان يريد ان يمارس قليلاً من البحث النفسي والاجتماعي لبيئته.

عانى سورين في منتصف عمله الأكاديمي من مجلة (كورسان) ورئيس تحريرها (غولدتشمدت) فهي لم تكتفي مثل الصحف الأخرى بالنقد البناء او الهدام، إنما امتدت الى اطلاق رسومات كاريكاتيرية على شكل بنطاله الذي يرتديه وتناسق طول قدميه وظهره الأحدب (بسبب حادثة وقعت لهُ في طفولته)، ولهذا تحول سورين الى شخص انطوائي بعض الشيء يمكث في شقته اكثر من ذي قبل، وتحولت نظرات عامة الشعب لهُ ��ن توقير ورهبه بسبب مظهره المختلف عنهم الى ازدراء وضحك ومضايقات من الاطفال والشباب، وهذا كله بسبب مساهمة مجلة (كورسان) سيئة الصيت. وبسبب هذا الفعل يرى سورين إننا كبشر نواجه شيئاً اكثر ايلاماً وخطورةً من الموت إلا وهو السخرية ولنراه يقول "لو عاد المسيح اليوم لما تم قتله بل لكان عرضه لسخرية" في اشارة للقتل المعنوي بدلاً من القتل العمد عند الشروع في تدمير الخصم.

في سنوات مابعد ١٨٥١ اصبح كيركغارد اكثر حدة في نقده الكنيسة الرسمية واضاف ما سوف يكون مغزى حياته من "اصلاح المسيحية وجعلها فردانية"، وكأنه أصبح يدرك ان نزعة الكهنوتية المحافظة وظفت المسيحية في خدمة الظلم الاجتماعي، وان رجال الدين بعملهم هذا مدانون بتهمة الاحتيال إزاء القضايا الاجتماعية وازاء المسيحية على السواء. المسيحية (على حد تعبيره) ليست بالدرجة الاولى دين النظام بل دين الضعفاء والمهمشين،الخارجين على القانون: اذا كانت المسيحية أصرت أحد… فأنها بأولئك الذين يعانون، الفقراء، والمرضى، المجذوبين، المختلين عقلياً واشباههم، بالأثمين، والمجرمين.

تحدث المستشار العدلي هنريك فرديناند (الذي كان رئيس في البنك المركزي) قال بعد خمسة ايام على وفاة كيركغارد ١٨٥٥: "حين كان على قيد الحياة انفق ماله على كتاباته وتكاليف معيشته وجزء على الفقراء ولم يترك خلفه سوى مكتبته".

هذا الكتاب موجه لقراء هذا الفيلسوف الدنماركي على وجه الخصوص، وبالعموم لمن احب ادب السيرة ولم يكن من قراءه.
Profile Image for William Schram.
1,700 reviews65 followers
February 19, 2018
In this massive tome, Joakim Garff attempts to separate fact from fiction in the life of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard. While Kierkegaard wrote a lot of works and pieces of philosophy, much of his personal life remained shrouded in mystery. Originally printed in Danish, this book was translated by Bruce Kirmmse. It was wonderfully researched and very thorough in scope.

Alongside the text are several pictures and portraits done of Kierkegaard in various stages of life. The book was thoroughly researched, as I mentioned before, and contains references to all of Kierkegaard's extant works with some portions being cited to make his point.

All in all, Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a troubled man but wrote quite beautifully. At least, in my opinion, he was very skilled with language.
65 reviews10 followers
August 7, 2022
Painstakingly detailed year-by-year account of Kierkegaard’s life. This explains a lot of the background context against which K wrote, and helps understand a lot of the motivations, especially in his second authorship. This book isn’t intended as an introduction and not recommended as one. It’s just as thick as one of K’s works!

For anyone visiting Copenhagen, this makes a great reference for locations in K’s life, many locations which you can still visit today.
27 reviews
August 15, 2019
I don't know of any book like this that goes as in depth in to the life of Kierkegaard. I found it fascinating. I would say that if you read it you will regret it and if you don't read it you will regret it.
Profile Image for Michael Baranowski.
385 reviews9 followers
July 9, 2020
This massive biography of Kierkegaard is almost certainly overkill for anyone but the most ardent admirer of the Danish philosopher. And even then, the level of detail becomes almost mind-numbing. It was, however, a fantastic bedtime soporific.
Profile Image for Joseph.
2 reviews1 follower
August 26, 2016
In this definitive biography of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Joakim Garff gives a lucid and thorough presentation of the subject's life and works. This work is not brief, and anyone who undertakes reading an 800-page biography of a man who did not do much besides write should expect to take a deep dive into details most find trivial. However, for the student of Kierkegaard this biography leaves nothing to be desired. One is immersed in 19th century Copenhagen literary circles which Kierkegaard was part of and follows the feuds which took place in the newspapers of the day. Background and erstwhile stories for the entire supporting cast contextualizes the alliances and disagreements Kierkegaard had (though there were far more of the latter). Indeed, Garff provides such an in-depth account, he perhaps errs on the side of too much information; some five pages in one chapter are dedicated to calculating and presenting Kierkegaard's costs and profits of publishing various works in a manner that would satisfy even the most stringent auditor. For a biography of this kind though, it is good to err on the side of too much information.

Garff further demonstrates a deep understanding of Kierkegaard's dialectic philosophy, something very few can claim. What's more, his vast research was no light undertaking in his review of thousands of journal entries, and Garff demonstrates excellent judgement in deciding which sources to present and when to present them. The book follows a loosely chronological timeline, but Garff is eager to compare what Kierkegaard said in 1848 to what he stated in 1843, details the passive reader of Kierkegaard would not realize leafing through an anthology. Biographies of philosophers are especially beneficial in understanding their philosophies, and Garff gives an excellent example of how this is best done. I would highly recommend that the serious student of Kierkegaard obtain this biography, not only to learn about the life of the writer, but to explore Kierkegaard's works in tandem to their corresponding context in his life.
Profile Image for jeremiah.
173 reviews4 followers
April 21, 2016
Joakim Garff, one of the most reputable Danish Kierkegaard scholars (check out his essay "The Eyes of Argus" to judge for yourself), takes 800 plus pages to work a narrative around Kierkegaard's life and times, including antagonists ranging from the Corsair, N.F.S. Gruntvig, Jakob Peter Mynster, Hans Lassen Martensen, his former "disciple," Rasmus Nielson, and even his own brother, at times, Peter Christian Kierkegaard. Garff gives many insights drawn from historical materials many do not have access to; some are humorous, some banal, and some devastating. For instance, one defender of the church, B.S. Ingemann ("who was usually able to maintain friendly relations with just about everyone," according to Garff) slams SAK after the debacle with the local paper, the Fædrelandet, regarding Copenhagen's institutionalized Christianity. Ingemann writes in a letter that Kierkegaard was "the master sophist of our Athens," and that "as far Søren Sophist is concerned, I have never believed that the truth was in him; with his brilliant dialectics, he has always seemed to me to be a sleight-of-hand artist who plays hocus-pocus with the truth and with Christianity, letting it appear and disappear under his shells" (743). Some 150 years later, this description seems extraordinarily accurate to me.

I spent 7 months reading this book! Wow!
Profile Image for Joe Olipo.
97 reviews
December 29, 2019
A surprising mediocrity despite (or, perhaps due to) the heft of this volume. Like most competent biographers of the modern style, Garff does not leap beyond the facts of the matter. No objection will be made to the accuracy of his account regarding descriptions of S.K's various trips abroad, his public ecclesiastical controversies, or regarding Garff's extensive coverage of the well-known Olsen affair. In fact, for those interested in historical tidbits regarding cultural life in early 19th century Copenhagen, perhaps this volume will be a tantalizing read.

However, where Garff lacks substance is where scholarship on Kierkegaard becomes more difficult (and more interesting). How does someone like S.K come to be? What are the thoughts of his which may have been left out of diary entries? What is his reflection upon his own scholarship, besides what he has put to print? Of course, there is a risk of inaccuracy in such speculative fumbling, and Garff's immaculate scholarship never takes such risks. I wonder about the irony in that.

Our unfortunate predicament is that such weighty scholarship (900 pages!) cannot be ignored. Garff has placed the academy in a kind of zugzwang, in which any repudiation would dampen all future scholarship, while any approbation will bind us to this mediocrity for perpetuity. Fortunately, we still have the Hong translations of the primary work.
Profile Image for Pamela Tucker.
Author 1 book12 followers
August 21, 2010
It is always interesting in a time of history to find out how someone who becomes prominent later in life for their talent, philosophy, etc. This book does more than that as it Garaff takes into consideration what formed Kierkegaard from his relationships. Guilt, rivalry, and his tortured relationship with his fiancee Regine Olsen. In a lengthy journal entry, or rather many series of entries, which he jotted down on August 24, 1849, and titled it "My Relation to 'Her.'" It was somewhat poetic where many portions were more likely omitted or passed over. Regina hardly understood or knew him and considered herself as unhappy. She did study Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ, and Regine claimed to have studied quite assiduously, and she wanted to be happy, like everybody else. 1837. The unhappiness was probably because of his fascination to Bolette a twenty-two-year old very pretty and sensible. So it is an interesting book on their lives in that time giving insight to life in the 1800's.
Profile Image for max.
87 reviews4 followers
March 15, 2007
A richly researched book by a single scholar seeking to capture and collate every occurrence in Denmark of significance to Kiergegaard's life. The complete cast of two generations of Danish intellectuals sparkles and feuds, and puts Kierkegaard's peculiar prose--a stew of dictions, vast ranges of tone, endless layers of rhetoric and contradiction--in marvelous perspective. "A Biography" is an incredibly readable book, even if besides breaking up with a fiance and enduring the passing of his father, little happens to the main character besides emotions: the heightened sentiments of a man completely devoted to writing to the exclusion of everything else.
9 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2011
I really enjoyed reading this extremely well-written biography. The author really makes the whole environment around Kierkegaard fascinating, and the language is vivid and interesting. Sometimes, the detailing is a bit to much for me, for example an entire chapter of Kierkegaards expenses on food. But it is a must-read for anyone interested in Kierkegaard.
It is also a good introduction to Kierkegaards litterature.
Profile Image for Bob.
99 reviews5 followers
May 20, 2009
Soren Kiekegaard is not always the easiest writer to read. This biography, by an Associate Professor at the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen, is not only a great biography, but also an excellent summary/introduction to the work of this mercurial and purposefully anbiguous philosopher.
Profile Image for David.
41 reviews2 followers
June 13, 2014
I'd compare reading this book to watching a gigantic DVD box set - the sopranos, say. Once you're done with it you kind of feel relieved because of the time investment spent, glad to get back to the 'real' world - but you also know you'll miss having the lead characters in your life. In this case its just one lead, so solitary and yet so fascinating.
Profile Image for I-kai.
126 reviews9 followers
September 24, 2013
Garff is very thorough with regular flashes of humorous remarks. Provides a proper correction to the typical portrait of K., ultimately leading to a better grasp of how K.'s character is intertwined with his writings.
Profile Image for Jason.
126 reviews18 followers
April 11, 2007
This is a decent biography of Kierkegaard, although I think that Garff strays too often into a psycho-analytic analysis of Kierkegaard that is, at best, speculative.
Profile Image for Jan.
11 reviews
July 26, 2011
Interesting, but rather tedious now and then. Overall a nice book.
Profile Image for Martin Jensen.
30 reviews
December 12, 2013
Må beundre detaljegraden. Men meget lang. Brugte et år på den. Men så ved man alt absolut alt om Søren Kierkegaard.
Profile Image for Joel Zartman.
527 reviews22 followers
January 1, 2014
Good and thorough. All one could want except that one is left with no questions remaining.
258 reviews5 followers
August 25, 2014
now i know which books of his to read and which not to bother with. A fascinating eccentric character. The last of the pre-Darwinian philosophers worth their salt. A cranky passionate guy.
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