Augustine's Confessions

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Overview

"Garry Wills rescues Augustine's Confessions from its posterity, peeling away layer after layer of anachronistic reactions to the text and providing an invaluable aid to readers. A master restorer, Wills gives us a picture carefully cleaned of a millennium-and-a-half of varnish. More than that: he helps us appreciate what the original colors actually meant to those who first made contact with Augustine's strange book. This is vintage Wills—punchy, clear, well-argued, and beautifully translated, both linguistically and culturally."—Peter Brown, Princeton University, author of Augustine of Hippo: A Biography

"This is a sensitive, informed, and just appreciation of and introduction to the Confessions. It does justice both to the appealing narrative of sin and fall that preoccupies most readers and to the more complicated structure and ending of the whole work. Few books on the Confessions rival the excellence or concision of this one."—James J. O'Donnell, Georgetown University, author of Augustine: A New Biography

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books
Another gem of a little book by Garry Wills. . . . Wills describes brilliantly the manner in which this strange work seeped slowly through literary circles. . . . His book is a passionate plea that we should read Augustine's strange book as it was first heard, and in the light of the purposes for which it was first written.
— Peter Brown
Booklist
Like a biography of a person, this volume takes Augustine's Confessions and traces its birth, growth and decline, and legacy. Since so much of an author's life is connected to his or her work—especially in the case of Confessions—this can't help but include a decent amount of Augustine's own bio. . . . Very readable and highly engaging.
— Wade Osburn
Macleans
[Augustine] and Wills, 76—one of the most distinguished Catholic intellectuals (and American historians) alive—make a potent pair in this lovely little volume, a biography not of the author, but of the book itself, especially of how it has been received in the 16 centuries since its creation. . . . Augustine is always going to matter to the Western tradition, atheist or religious, for his insights into the human psyche, and his thoughts on memory and the elusiveness of time. Wills, by stripping away centuries of myth-making, makes him more accessible than ever.
— Brian Bethune
Portland Book Review
This is the type of biography you normally don't see. It is not a biography of Augustine, there are enough of those; it is not another translation of his Confessions, there are enough of those as well. What this is, and what it attempts to be, is a biography of Augustine's Confessions.
— Kevin Winter
Sydney Morning Herald
Garry Wills really is a modern-day Renaissance man. He won a Pulitzer Prize for Lincoln at Gettysburg and then turned his attention to St Augustine, firstly translating Confessions, then writing a biography (St Augustine: A Life) and now offering a 'life' of Confessions from 'The Book's Birth' (the title of the opening chapter) through 'The Book's Conversion' to 'The Book's Baptismal Days' to 'The Book's Afterlife'. And what a story it is.
— Bruce Elder
Metapsychology
This is a short, reliable and well-written introduction to Augustine's Confessions that describes, firstly, how the Confessions came to be written and, secondly, the author's intentions in writing the Confessions these are not quite the same and, thirdly, the subsequent fate of the book. . . . With a deft touch, and in non-technical language, Wills' introductory book not only relays these ideas to the widest possible readership—but also communicates a sensitive understanding of the original context in which the Confessions were written and of Augustine's intentions in writing them.
— Stephen Leach
The Australian
Garry Wills . . . writes about Augustine's Confessions sympathetically but rigorously. He traces its trajectory from first appearance at the end of the 4th century AD until our time, and discusses the ideas contained within it. The result is readable and illuminating, and it sent this reader to Google and Amazon in search of more.
— Miriam Cosic
Catholic Register
Garry Wills has written a short book that teaches us how to read a longer book. If we follow Wills' instructions we will discover new riches in St. Augustine's seminal classic, The Confessions. . . . This is a very helpful guide to the Confessions that makes the great spiritual classic accessible to a new generation of readers. Wills' book is not only scholarly, but it makes good spiritual reading. It is highly recommended, not just for the regular reader, but for students of Augustine looking for a fresh take on this great book.
— Fr. Gilles Mongeau S.J.
Globe and Mail

The single most important thing for Wills, the thing he'd most like you to accept, is that Confessions is not autobiography. For Wills, this misreading of Augustine's best-known work has given us any number of interpretations (Freudian, sociological, historical) that obscure the point. And that point is? According to Wills, Confessions exist as a kind of 'training ground' or preparation for a reading of the Bible. He shows us how Augustine uses incidents from his life (some actual, some allegorical, some difficult to place on either side of the ledger) to turn the reader's mind toward holy writ, specifically Genesis. In other words, to prepare us to see/read/feel God's presence as it is revealed in Genesis. . . . His arguments make for vivid reading.
— André Alexis

Commonweal
I have taught the Confessions about twenty times, yet there are things in it I hadn't noticed until Wills pointed them out. This is a tribute to his erudition and critical acumen, but it's also a tribute to the Confessions itself, which, like any other classic, offers the reader an inexhaustible surplus of meaning.
— Lawrence S Cunningham
American Conservative
[A] brief, beautifully written story of the Confessions themselves. . . . [Wills] is a prolific writer who has tackled an extraordinary range of topics. . . . Wills clearly loves his subject . . . and that admiration is tied to a clear-headed examination of the many ways Augustine's critics have gone astray over time.
— Jean Bethke Elshtain
Biography
This is a masterful introductory work, written by someone of real eloquence and theological sensitivity. It is worth every minute spent on a first reading, and I have no doubt I will go back to the underlined passages each time I reread Confessions in the future.
— Kim Paffenroth
Globe & Mail
The single most important thing for Wills, the thing he'd most like you to accept, is that Confessions is not autobiography. For Wills, this misreading of Augustine's best-known work has given us any number of interpretations (Freudian, sociological, historical) that obscure the point. And that point is? According to Wills, Confessions exist as a kind of 'training ground' or preparation for a reading of the Bible. He shows us how Augustine uses incidents from his life (some actual, some allegorical, some difficult to place on either side of the ledger) to turn the reader's mind toward holy writ, specifically Genesis. In other words, to prepare us to see/read/feel God's presence as it is revealed in Genesis. . . . His arguments make for vivid reading.
— André Alexis
New York Review of Books - Peter Brown
Another gem of a little book by Garry Wills. . . . Wills describes brilliantly the manner in which this strange work seeped slowly through literary circles. . . . His book is a passionate plea that we should read Augustine's strange book as it was first heard, and in the light of the purposes for which it was first written.
Booklist - Wade Osburn
Like a biography of a person, this volume takes Augustine's Confessions and traces its birth, growth and decline, and legacy. Since so much of an author's life is connected to his or her work—especially in the case of Confessions—this can't help but include a decent amount of Augustine's own bio. . . . Very readable and highly engaging.
Macleans - Brian Bethune
[Augustine] and Wills, 76—one of the most distinguished Catholic intellectuals (and American historians) alive—make a potent pair in this lovely little volume, a biography not of the author, but of the book itself, especially of how it has been received in the 16 centuries since its creation. . . . Augustine is always going to matter to the Western tradition, atheist or religious, for his insights into the human psyche, and his thoughts on memory and the elusiveness of time. Wills, by stripping away centuries of myth-making, makes him more accessible than ever.
Portland Book Review - Kevin Winter
This is the type of biography you normally don't see. It is not a biography of Augustine, there are enough of those; it is not another translation of his Confessions, there are enough of those as well. What this is, and what it attempts to be, is a biography of Augustine's Confessions.
Sydney Morning Herald - Bruce Elder
Garry Wills really is a modern-day Renaissance man. He won a Pulitzer Prize for Lincoln at Gettysburg and then turned his attention to St Augustine, firstly translating Confessions, then writing a biography (St Augustine: A Life) and now offering a 'life' of Confessions from 'The Book's Birth' (the title of the opening chapter) through 'The Book's Conversion' to 'The Book's Baptismal Days' to 'The Book's Afterlife'. And what a story it is.
Metapsychology - Stephen Leach
This is a short, reliable and well-written introduction to Augustine's Confessions that describes, firstly, how the Confessions came to be written and, secondly, the author's intentions in writing the Confessions these are not quite the same and, thirdly, the subsequent fate of the book. . . . With a deft touch, and in non-technical language, Wills' introductory book not only relays these ideas to the widest possible readership—but also communicates a sensitive understanding of the original context in which the Confessions were written and of Augustine's intentions in writing them.
The Australian - Miriam Cosic
Garry Wills . . . writes about Augustine's Confessions sympathetically but rigorously. He traces its trajectory from first appearance at the end of the 4th century AD until our time, and discusses the ideas contained within it. The result is readable and illuminating, and it sent this reader to Google and Amazon in search of more.
Father; Catholic Register - Gilles Mongeau S.J.
Garry Wills has written a short book that teaches us how to read a longer book. If we follow Wills' instructions we will discover new riches in St. Augustine's seminal classic, The Confessions. . . . This is a very helpful guide to the Confessions that makes the great spiritual classic accessible to a new generation of readers. Wills' book is not only scholarly, but it makes good spiritual reading. It is highly recommended, not just for the regular reader, but for students of Augustine looking for a fresh take on this great book.
Globe and Mail - Andre Alexis
The single most important thing for Wills, the thing he'd most like you to accept, is that Confessions is not autobiography. For Wills, this misreading of Augustine's best-known work has given us any number of interpretations (Freudian, sociological, historical) that obscure the point. And that point is? According to Wills, Confessions exist as a kind of 'training ground' or preparation for a reading of the Bible. He shows us how Augustine uses incidents from his life (some actual, some allegorical, some difficult to place on either side of the ledger) to turn the reader's mind toward holy writ, specifically Genesis. In other words, to prepare us to see/read/feel God's presence as it is revealed in Genesis. . . . His arguments make for vivid reading.
Commonweal - Lawrence S Cunningham
I have taught the Confessions about twenty times, yet there are things in it I hadn't noticed until Wills pointed them out. This is a tribute to his erudition and critical acumen, but it's also a tribute to the Confessions itself, which, like any other classic, offers the reader an inexhaustible surplus of meaning.
American Conservative - Jean Bethke Elshtain
[A] brief, beautifully written story of the Confessions themselves. . . . [Wills] is a prolific writer who has tackled an extraordinary range of topics. . . . Wills clearly loves his subject . . . and that admiration is tied to a clear-headed examination of the many ways Augustine's critics have gone astray over time.
Biography - Kim Paffenroth
This is a masterful introductory work, written by someone of real eloquence and theological sensitivity. It is worth every minute spent on a first reading, and I have no doubt I will go back to the underlined passages each time I reread Confessions in the future.
Catholic Register - Fr. Gilles Mongeau S.J.
Garry Wills has written a short book that teaches us how to read a longer book. If we follow Wills' instructions we will discover new riches in St. Augustine's seminal classic, The Confessions. . . . This is a very helpful guide to the Confessions that makes the great spiritual classic accessible to a new generation of readers. Wills' book is not only scholarly, but it makes good spiritual reading. It is highly recommended, not just for the regular reader, but for students of Augustine looking for a fresh take on this great book.
Globe and Mail - André Alexis
The single most important thing for Wills, the thing he'd most like you to accept, is that Confessions is not autobiography. For Wills, this misreading of Augustine's best-known work has given us any number of interpretations (Freudian, sociological, historical) that obscure the point. And that point is? According to Wills, Confessions exist as a kind of 'training ground' or preparation for a reading of the Bible. He shows us how Augustine uses incidents from his life (some actual, some allegorical, some difficult to place on either side of the ledger) to turn the reader's mind toward holy writ, specifically Genesis. In other words, to prepare us to see/read/feel God's presence as it is revealed in Genesis. . . . His arguments make for vivid reading.
Commonweal - Lawrence S. Cunningham
I have taught the Confessions about twenty times, yet there are things in it I hadn't noticed until Wills pointed them out. This is a tribute to his erudition and critical acumen, but it's also a tribute to the Confessions itself, which, like any other classic, offers the reader an inexhaustible surplus of meaning.
From the Publisher
"I have taught the Confessions about twenty times, yet there are things in it I hadn't noticed until Wills pointed them out. This is a tribute to his erudition and critical acumen, but it's also a tribute to the Confessions itself, which, like any other classic, offers the reader an inexhaustible surplus of meaning."—Lawrence S Cunningham, Commonweal

"[A] brief, beautifully written story of the Confessions themselves. . . . [Wills] is a prolific writer who has tackled an extraordinary range of topics. . . . Wills clearly loves his subject . . . and that admiration is tied to a clear-headed examination of the many ways Augustine's critics have gone astray over time."—Jean Bethke Elshtain, American Conservative

"This is a masterful introductory work, written by someone of real eloquence and theological sensitivity. It is worth every minute spent on a first reading, and I have no doubt I will go back to the underlined passages each time I reread Confessions in the future."—Kim Paffenroth, Biography

Library Journal
Wills (history, emeritus, Northwestern Univ.; Lincoln at Gettysburg) does for Augustine's Confessions what he did for the Gettysburg Address, which is to take a well-known iconic work and examine it with fresh eyes. He views the Confessions as a book haunted by Genesis, and this perspective allows him to notice things that are overlooked by commentators whose views are preformed by the interpretive tradition. Having translated the Confessions and written a biography of Augustine, Wills is not afraid to go out on a limb, and so even readers who would not agree with his often cheeky interpretations are forced to look at the work afresh. After considering the text itself, Wills considers its influence over the years and the various interpretations (e.g., psychological, postmodern) of the work. VERDICT James J. O'Donnell's Augustine: A New Biography is a similarly cheeky book that rebels against much of the received wisdom about Augustine's life. Wills offers an iconoclastic interpretation of a classic work, one that deserves a fresh treatment every few years.—Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691143576
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/21/2011
  • Series: Lives of Great Religious Books Series
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 561,234
  • Product dimensions: 4.80 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Garry Wills

Garry Wills is the best-selling author of many books on religion and American history, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lincoln at Gettysburg" (Simon & Schuster). His recent books include "St. Augustine: A Life" (Viking) and a translation of "Augustine's Confessions" (Penguin Classics).

Biography

Born in Atlanta in 1934 and raised in the Midwest, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and distinguished religion writer Garry Wills entered the Jesuit seminary after high school graduation, but left after six years of training. He received a B.A. from St. Louis University (1957), an M.A. from Xavier University of Cincinnati (1958), and his Ph.D. in classics from Yale (1961).

After graduating from Xavier, Wills was hired to work as the drama critic for National Review magazine, where he became a close personal friend and protégé of founding editor William F. Buckley. But as the winds of change blew across the 1960s, Wills got caught up in the cross-currents. A staunch Catholic anti-Communist in his youth, he began to drift away from political conservatism, galvanized by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam debate. He parted ways with National Review and began writing for more liberal-leaning publications like Esquire and the New York Review of Books, a defection that left him slightly estranged from Buckley for many years. (They reconciled before Buckley's death in 2008.)

In 1961, while he was still in grad school, Wills's first book, Chesterton: Man and Mask was published. [It was revised and reissued in 2001 with a new author's introduction.] Since then, the prolific Wills has gone on to pen critically acclaimed nonfiction that roams across history, politics, and religion. He expanded one of his Esquire articles into Nixon Agonistes (1970), a probing profile John Leonard said "...reads like a combination of H. L. Mencken, John Locke and Albert Camus." (The book landed Wills on the famous Nixon's Enemies List.) He has also written penetrating studies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Wayne, and Saint Paul; he has won two National Book Critics Circle Awards; and his 1992 book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Something of a rara avis, Wills is a Catholic intellectual who has produced thoughtful, scholarly books on religion in America. His translations of St. Augustine have received glowing reviews, and he has acted both as an outspoken critic of the Church (Papal Sin) and as an ardent advocate for his own faith Why I Am a Catholic). Proof of his accessibility can be found in the fact that several of his religion books have become bestsellers.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      May 22, 1934
    2. Place of Birth:
      Atlanta, GA
    1. Education:
      St. Louis University, B.A., 1957; Xavier University, M.A., 1958; Yale University, Ph.D., 1961

Table of Contents

A Note on the Translation vii
Chapter 1: The Book's Birth 1
Chapter 2 :The Book's Genre 17
Chapter 3: The Book's African Days 26
Chapter 4: The Book's Ambrose 41
Chapter 5: The Book's "Conversion" 58
Chapter 6: The Book's Baptismal Days 78
Chapter 7: The Book's Hinge 98
Chapter 8: The Book's Culmination 112
Chapter 9: The Book's Afterlife: Early
Reception, Later Neglect 133
Notes 149
Basic Readings 155
Index 157

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