ALBERT SCHWEITZER by James Bentley

ALBERT SCHWEITZER

The Enigma

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Bentley (Martin Niemoller, 1984), a former Anglican priest, makes use here of hitherto unpublished material in the Albert Schweitzer Archive in Alsace to paint a disquieting portrait of a very puzzling man. In this psychobiography, Bentley seems particularly--even peculiarly--interested in the people and events that formed his subject. Much is made of Schweitzer's boyhood, both that it was ``deeply miserable,'' as Bentley puts it, and that Schweitzer went to great pains to cover up this fact. This typifies Schweitzer's shadowy makeup: although he had an ``almost clinical, even arrogant intelligence,'' he took refuge in ``romantic irrationalism''; though opposed to racism, his hospital in the African jungle was run exclusively by whites. Bentley pores over Schweitzer's obsessions, especially Bach and the historical Jesus, seeing in each evidence of his subject's paradoxical outlook. The author places great emphasis on Schweitzer's mentors, devoting several pages to digressions on now-forgotten figures. Thankfully, he also brings his expertise to bear on Schweitzer's views on the historical Jesus, suggesting that this work, once seen as an invincible monument to Protestant liberalism, now takes its place as another chapter in the history of ideas. Perhaps Schweitzer--who won the Nobel Peace Prize, revolutionized New Testament and Bach studies, played the organ like a maestro, developed a theology based on reverence for all life, and put his Christian beliefs to the test by setting up a hospital in the heart of Africa--looms too large for any one biographer. But Bentley manages to sketch the complexities, no small feat in itself. An admirable if flawed addition, then, to Schweitzer studies. (Eight pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: March 25th, 1992
ISBN: 0-06-016364-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1992




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