Clearly written from a Christian viewpoint, the book nonetheless presents a comprehensive account of Van Gogh’s life and...

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

A rich account of the influence of religion on Vincent Van Gogh’s life and art.

Through a mix of academic research and poetic reflection, retired Presbyterian minister Davidson’s book explores Van Gogh’s passionate interest in God. Best known as the painter who severed his ear, the tormented artist suffered from anxiety and mental illness throughout his life, failing at several different careers before his eventual transition to painting. Initially intent upon becoming a cleric like his father, Van Gogh dropped out of theology school and briefly worked as an evangelist before being dismissed on the grounds that “he neglected himself so [that he] could not be an example to others.” While Van Gogh’s paintings are now considered groundbreaking contributions to modern art, the artist’s inability to work in the church plagued him, and he reported feeling “lonely and sad, especially when near a church or parsonage.” After studying 1,700 printed pages of Van Gogh’s letters (the majority of which were addressed to the artist’s brother Theo), the author recounts Van Gogh’s musings on God, nature and art, as well as his turbulent relationships with women, family and fellow artist Paul Gauguin. To the disappointment of those around him, Van Gogh consistently made poor decisions—through his letters, readers learn he repeatedly failed coursework, survived chiefly on alcohol and tobacco and began a domestic partnership with an alcoholic prostitute that immediately becomes problematic. Still, the book creates a detailed sketch of the Dutch post-impressionist painter, depicting him as a talented yet deeply troubled man who loved nature and feverishly yearned for a closer relationship with God. More interpretative segments of the book combine Davidson’s thoughts on Van Gogh’s work along with the writings of Christian scholars, suggesting that paintings such as ”The Night Café” were created in response to the artist’s experience of the divine.

Clearly written from a Christian viewpoint, the book nonetheless presents a comprehensive account of Van Gogh’s life and spiritual inclinations that need not be limited to a religious audience.

Pub Date: March 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1606086162

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Wipf and Stock

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2011



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Close Quickview