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Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

4.52  ·  Rating details ·  428 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
Joseph Frank's award-winning, five-volume Dostoevsky is widely recognized as the best biography of the writer in any language--and one of the greatest literary biographies of the past half-century. Now Frank's monumental, 2500-page work has been skillfully abridged and condensed in this single, highly readable volume with a new preface by the author. Carefully preserving t ...more
Hardcover, Abridged, 959 pages
Published November 8th 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published 2002)
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Michael Finocchiaro
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a LONG but incredible recent biography about the great Fyodor Dostoyevski. Joseph Frank took advantage of the opening of archives in Russia that were previously unaccessible behind the Iron Curtain and gives us a fascinating story of this most contradictory of writers - intensely religious and yet capable of creating anarchists and nihilists in his writing and of writing one of the most heart wrenching and faith crushing chapters in all of literature about religion - The Grand Inquisitor ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
How could this be anything other than extraordinary?

This is perhaps one of the best biographies ever. Illuminating on so many levels. I learned so much, even about novels that I have read multiple times - such is the depth of both the biographer's knowledge, as well as Dostoevsky's nuanced and astonishing works. Frank also explores the culture and political background of Russia, providing much needed context. I could go on for paragraphs.

Emphatically recommended for all.
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A scholarly book that is worth reading if you like Dostoevsky's books or any of the great Russian writers that lived in the mid to end of the 19th century: Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy. What the book does is lay out for you the ideological climate of the age. What were the political, social, philosophical, psychological principles that moved Dostoevsky and then the book traces those ideas to his major works. What I enjoyed the most about this biography is the way that Frank links the though ...more
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I can only imagine what it would be like to read through Joseph Frank's five volumes of Dostoevsky's biography (published between the mid-1970's and early 2000's). This abridgment is a stunning substitute and is probably sufficient for most readers. It's a great distillation of what must in total be an amazing overall achievement. Bravo to the editor as well as the author! Frank masterfully weaves together biography, history, ideology, and literary criticism to elucidate Dostoevsky's thought. It ...more
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
For as long as I can remember, I’ve regarded reading as a powerful gift. As an aspiring author myself, I will always stand in awe of the remarkable impact that books can make on those who read them. I can wholeheartedly say that Joseph Frank’s “Dostoyevsky: A Writer in His Time” is one of those works I will never forget. If you follow me on Goodreads, or Facebook, or Tumblr, or if you know me personally, you’ve probably heard this before: Dostoyevsky is my favorite author, and one of a very few ...more
Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished-reading
I haven’t read that many biographies to certify it as the best biography ever. But the temptation remains. It satisfies you on so many levels. Because it doesn’t limit itself to the life of Dostoevsky. But, as the title suggests, tries to situate him in his time. The times that he lived in are equally important to it. This approach certainly doesn’t work for every other writer (for Kafka for example – whose life is revolved around his inner demons & whose famous diary entry reads thus: “Augu ...more
I read each of the five volumes of Frank's masterful biography of Dostoesvsky as they appeared over the 1970s and 1980s - each and every one entirely engrossing. I am now reading the one volume version - at 1000 pages two volumes really, but who's counting. I am thrilled to take up another of Frank's works, among the greatest biographers I've ever encountered. Right up there with Ann Wroe and Richard Helms.

Having finished this book, it is without doubt among the most successful examples of the b
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
there is hardly anything more worthwhile to read
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
When Joseph Frank’s five volume encyclopedic biography of the life and times of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky was published over the course of several years, it was widely lauded as the most comprehensive work ever undertaken on the life of this writer who has had enormous lasting impact over the past two centuries. Now, the Princeton University Review has published a condensed (though still a massive 959 pages) version of Frank’s epic work that gives new readers a richly detailed overview ...more
Frances Haas
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
After reading this book my understanding of Russian literature, Russia, and the causes of the Russian Revolution were clear and extended to an understanding of totalitarian governments, and why the Russian Revolution carried the seeds of its own failure.

I finished reading this book. Many facets of Russia and why it is Russia stay with me from the book. I am sorry that the literature created under the crucible of a totalitarian state seems to have died with it. Russia has been through so many ch
Sanchir Jargalsaikhan
Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Seamless fusion of personal, historical, and political narratives. One of the best biographies I've ever read. Last paragraph (Solovyev's words spoken just before D's death): "Just as the highest worldly power somehow or other becomes concentrated in one person, who represents a state, similarly the highest spiritual power in each epoch usually belongs in every people to one man, who more clearly than all grasps the spiritual ideals of mankind, more consciously than all strives to attain them, m ...more
Moon Rose
"Christ was sent by God not to give mankind the peace of absolution but to stir it to struggle against the law of personality. Dostoevsky points out that Christ himself prophesied his teachings only as an ideal, predicted himself that strife and development will continue to the end of the world...Life for Dostoevsky was, as it had been for Keats, a vale of soul-making, into which Christ had come to call mankind to battle against the death of immersion in matter and to inspire the struggle towar
Mike MY
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Joseph Frank's five-volume work is equal parts biography, dense sociocultural history, and literary analysis. Frank's elucidations of Dostoevsky's masterpieces fully illuminate the contemporaneous social and cultural conversations as well as the more timeless religious-moral quandaries feverishly animating all of the writer's work. While celebrating the genius of Dostoevsky, Frank doesn't shy away from the ugly parts of Dostoevsky's thinking -- his rabid, (silly) messianic Russian nationalism an ...more
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazing journey and one of my all-time favorite reads.

I recommend accompanying this with Notes From Underground, Idiot and Brothers Karamazov.
Justin Evans
Apr 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is an almost perfect book: Frank combines fascinating history, insightful biography and above average literary criticism perfectly. I'm literally speechless; the only book I can think of to put beside this is MacDiarmid's 'Christianity: the first three thousand years,' which is similarly clear, stimulating, beautifully written and finely structured.
Aside from giving us a model for literary biographies, Frank also manages (possibly without knowing it) to write a perfect guidebook for writin
Thomas Walsh
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes myth can overshadow the man. In the case of Dostoevsky, the novels have, in this reader's mind, created the man. This book is a surprise. Dostoevsky came from a "normal" environment. His political views, however slightly liberal, got him in the danger which changed his life forever. But, karma is peculiar. If he didn't go through the near execution and the camps, he might have never imagined some of the most glorious psychological works of the 19th century. From the epistolary "Poor Fo ...more
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
A long old read, with too much analysis for me, but really a brilliant book. Probably more for the obsessive Dosoevskyites than anyone else, but it makes sense of some of the more abstract ramblings in his books. I wont read it again any time soon, but i'm glad i read it, and if anyone tries to start a dostoevsky based conversation with me, i'll be quoting this book to make myself sound a lot smarter than i really am.
Laura Leaney
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is the most interesting, comprehensive, intellectually stimulating biography I've ever read. Ranks above my previous favorite - David Herbert Donald's biography of Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward). If you're a reader of Dostoyevsky, Frank's insights will deepen your pleasure and understanding of the author's works.
Oct 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
This appears very well-researched and is extensively footnoted. Not for most general readers, but add a fifth star if you are very much interested in Dostoevsky or mid-nineteenth century Russia.

The book is described as condensed and abridged (from five volumes). The 950 pages are somewhat densely written, so that I would suspect: condensed and compressed.

The three big things I took from this:
(1) Dostoevsky was thrown in prison for four years as a result of his innocent association with a group o
Trevor Durham
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
When I say Deutcher's Trotsky is detailed, I didn't even brush on Frank's Dostoevsky. Not much new to say- he's universally accepted to be the dominant scholar of the Russian writer. It's actually that good, I promise.
Alec Fletcher
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Dostoevsky is my favorite author. His words and themes have universal import that reach across centuries in a way that few can. Perhaps the most difficult part of understanding him is the difference in culture between him and contemporary readers; resolving this difficulty is the task of this biography, and it succeeds.

Beyond brilliant textual analysis, Frank does a great job of illuminating the Russian ideological culture that shifted throughout Dostoevsky's life and always inspired him. Under
Славея Котова
Понеже има достатъчно много ревюта към книгата на английски, реших да драсна едно кратко и на български.

"Dostoevsky: A writer in his time" е компилация на монументалното дело на Джоусеф Франк, а именно - пет томната биография на Достоевски, която той пише от средата на '70те до началото на 21 век. Сериозно съкратена, но все още изключително подробна, книгата описва живота на Достоевски от годините непосредствено преди раждането му до неговата смърт.
Започвайки със семейната среда, подробно опис
Nov 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
What is amazing about this book is that it is the "abridged" version of an original 2500 page book. This book is very thorough and unless you are a huge Dostoevsky fan and are interested in philosophy to boot, you might want to find a shorter biography. This book is one third biography and two third's a discussion of Dostoevsky's philosophy and the philosophical debates surrounding him at the time.

Its really interesting stuff to see where all his works came from and how he wrote most of them as
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
A fascinating (and 900 page long) book that will appeal to Russian literature scholars, literary critics, and like three other people in the world (and unfortunately I happen to be one of those three). The book follows the timeline of Dostoevsky's life but isn't a straight biography. It is ~1/3 biography, ~1/3 Russian history (with a focus on intellectual and literary history), and ~1/3 literary criticism of Dostoevsky's works.

The author could probably sell a lot more books were he to separate
Alex Obrigewitsch
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This abridged and condensed single volume edition of Joseph Frank's biography of Dostoevsky is not only a must read for sholars or fans researching the roots of his work and the thinking that it so symbolically and masterfully expresses, but also for anyone desiring an enticing reading of the life of a man who suffered many a trial and tribulation.

This work is one of the best biographies I have ever read. Frank delves deep into the Russian culture and its thinking in order to mine the roots of D
Clay Fink
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read this across two years, stopping from time to time to read one of the books Frank describes: The Idiot, The Double, A Friend of the Family, Notes From Underground, Crime and Punishment, as well as Turgenev's Fathers and Sons. Long, but consistently engrossing biography. As the subtitle suggests, it gives you not only the full sweep of Dostoyevsky's life, but also a clear picture of the times he lived through, especially in terms of the intellectual and political movements from the 1840s th ...more
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
The word that keeps springing to mind to describe Joseph Frank's biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky is "magisterial." This 1000+ page monolith is a distillation of the five volume biography that Frank has written, though it is hard for me to imagine anyone but the most serious Dostoevsky scholar needing to delve into more detail than is present in the abridged volume.

Frank has three different types of chapters. One is straight biography, describing Dostoevsky's life and its relation to his work. One
Pat Rolston
Nov 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an incredible scholarly work that weaves his biographical history with the interpretation of all his works. I know it warrants 5 stars, but for the more casual reader of Dostoevsky such as myself(I read The Idiot, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov) the dissection of all of his works I did not read is a bit overwhelming. The problem becomes the detailed analysis beyond his life and the interpretation of these works becomes less than interesting for someone like me who is re ...more
Pastor Ben
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
My plan for this book was to read it in conjunction with his novels to get a deeper knowledge of them. It was very helpful in this regard. It also provided a great deal of insight into the man and what fired his passions. Dostoevsky, with his many warts and foibles, stood up firmly for the truth that life's suffering had taught him: that faith in Christ and the afterlife must be the foundation of any enduring ethic, that Russia (and particularly her peasants) was the hope for the world's future ...more
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The Guest of Honor at the international conference Art, creativity, and spirituality in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, held at the College of Holy Cross and Museum of the Russian Icon in Worster, MA., April 10-12, 2008.
European University in SPB Efim Etkind Prize for the best book about Russian Literature and Culture by a Western Scholar, 2006
Docteur Honoris Causa, Sorbonne University, 1999
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“His unrivaled genius as an ideological novelist was this capacity to invent actions and situations in which ideas dominate behavior without the latter becoming allegorical. He possessed what I call an eschatological imagination, one that could envision putting ideas into action and then following them out to their ultimate consequences. At the same time, his characters respond to such consequences according to the ordinary moral and social standards prevalent in their milieu, and it is the fusion of these two levels that provides Dostoevsky's novels with both their imaginative range and their realistic grounding in social life.” 8 likes
“Rise, prophet, rise, and hear, and see, And let my words be seen and heard By all who turn aside from me. And burn them with my fiery word.” 1 likes
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