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The opening lines of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri launched Rod Dreher on a journey that rescued him from exile and saved his life. Dreher found that the medieval poem offered him a surprisingly practical way of solving modern problems. Following the death of his little sister and the publication of his New York Times bestselling memoir The Little Way of Ruthie Lemin The opening lines of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri launched Rod Dreher on a journey that rescued him from exile and saved his life. Dreher found that the medieval poem offered him a surprisingly practical way of solving modern problems. Following the death of his little sister and the publication of his New York Times bestselling memoir The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Dreher found himself living in the small community of Starhill, Louisiana where he grew up. But instead of the fellowship he hoped to find, he discovered that fault lines within his family had deepened. Dreher spiraled into depression and a stress-related autoimmune disease. Doctors told Dreher that if he didn’t find inner peace, he would destroy his health. Soon after, he came across The Divine Comedy in a bookstore and was enchanted by its first lines, which seemed to describe his own condition. In the months that followed, Dante helped Dreher understand the mistakes and mistaken beliefs that had torn him down and showed him that he had the power to change his life. Dreher knows firsthand the solace and strength that can be found in Dante’s great work, and distills its wisdom for those who are lost in the dark wood of depression, struggling with failure (or success), wrestling with a crisis of faith, alienated from their families or communities, or otherwise enduring the sense of exile that is the human condition. Inspiring, revelatory, and packed with penetrating spiritual, moral, and psychological insights, How Dante Can Save Your Life is a book for people, both religious and secular, who find themselves searching for meaning and healing. Dante told his patron that he wrote his poem to bring readers from misery to happiness. It worked for Rod Dreher. Dante saved Rod Dreher’s life—and in this book, Dreher shows you how Dante can save yours.


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The opening lines of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri launched Rod Dreher on a journey that rescued him from exile and saved his life. Dreher found that the medieval poem offered him a surprisingly practical way of solving modern problems. Following the death of his little sister and the publication of his New York Times bestselling memoir The Little Way of Ruthie Lemin The opening lines of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri launched Rod Dreher on a journey that rescued him from exile and saved his life. Dreher found that the medieval poem offered him a surprisingly practical way of solving modern problems. Following the death of his little sister and the publication of his New York Times bestselling memoir The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Dreher found himself living in the small community of Starhill, Louisiana where he grew up. But instead of the fellowship he hoped to find, he discovered that fault lines within his family had deepened. Dreher spiraled into depression and a stress-related autoimmune disease. Doctors told Dreher that if he didn’t find inner peace, he would destroy his health. Soon after, he came across The Divine Comedy in a bookstore and was enchanted by its first lines, which seemed to describe his own condition. In the months that followed, Dante helped Dreher understand the mistakes and mistaken beliefs that had torn him down and showed him that he had the power to change his life. Dreher knows firsthand the solace and strength that can be found in Dante’s great work, and distills its wisdom for those who are lost in the dark wood of depression, struggling with failure (or success), wrestling with a crisis of faith, alienated from their families or communities, or otherwise enduring the sense of exile that is the human condition. Inspiring, revelatory, and packed with penetrating spiritual, moral, and psychological insights, How Dante Can Save Your Life is a book for people, both religious and secular, who find themselves searching for meaning and healing. Dante told his patron that he wrote his poem to bring readers from misery to happiness. It worked for Rod Dreher. Dante saved Rod Dreher’s life—and in this book, Dreher shows you how Dante can save yours.

30 review for How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Huff

    So often it seems we encounter certain books at just the right time, and such was the case for me with Rod Dreher's "How Dante Can Save Your Life". My son Matt and I have been doing a buddy read through Dante's "Inferno", which has greatly whetted my appetite for the remaining volumes of the Divine Comedy, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Dante's masterpiece was one of those reading projects I never got around to tackling in school, and I have been amazed at the depth, beauty, complexity and imagery of So often it seems we encounter certain books at just the right time, and such was the case for me with Rod Dreher's "How Dante Can Save Your Life". My son Matt and I have been doing a buddy read through Dante's "Inferno", which has greatly whetted my appetite for the remaining volumes of the Divine Comedy, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Dante's masterpiece was one of those reading projects I never got around to tackling in school, and I have been amazed at the depth, beauty, complexity and imagery of his writing. And clearly, Rod Dreher experienced all those same feelings. His happenstance encounter with Dante came during a mid-life relational crisis with his parents and sister, which had been brewing since his childhood and ultimately tumbled him as an adult into a season of depression and searching, finding himself emotionally and physically spent. In the transformative allegory of Dante's mid-life journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, Dreher found many insights into his own life and family situation and, ultimately, the path to resolution and restoration. You will certainly feel compassion for Dreher's struggle, and you will even more gain significant insight into Dante's profound and matchless epic --- likely finding much application for whatever your own life journey and challenges may be. Dreher is a fine writer and, for me, his book opened up many new avenues that enhance my understanding of the Divine Comedy, and I look forward even more to completing Purgatorio and Paradiso after reading "How Dante Can Save Your Life". A very worthwhile read for those interested in Dante!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Read this book. I was completely taken in by Dreher 's experience of reading Dante and how it became a map for his life. It taught him how to be alive, how to be healed, and how to forgive. I journaled throughout this book, I bought a copy of The Divine Comedy to begin reading, and I cried a lot. It mirrored parts of my own life and echoed a truth I know. Suffering in this life is not merely to be endured courageously. It is to be transformed into love and communion with God. I will count this a Read this book. I was completely taken in by Dreher 's experience of reading Dante and how it became a map for his life. It taught him how to be alive, how to be healed, and how to forgive. I journaled throughout this book, I bought a copy of The Divine Comedy to begin reading, and I cried a lot. It mirrored parts of my own life and echoed a truth I know. Suffering in this life is not merely to be endured courageously. It is to be transformed into love and communion with God. I will count this as one of my favorite books and I will read and ponder it again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    Self absorbed writer with little command of the topics under discussion. A lot of preaching and advice and the book reads as if it's a cross between the twelve steps of AA (alcoholic's anonymous) mixed with Jimmy Swaggart's Pentecostalism. I really didn't need the author's preaching and platitudes and his shallow approach to God and religion derived from his incomplete understanding of philosophy, history and religion. For the right wing anti-humanist (which this author is) beliefs come before r Self absorbed writer with little command of the topics under discussion. A lot of preaching and advice and the book reads as if it's a cross between the twelve steps of AA (alcoholic's anonymous) mixed with Jimmy Swaggart's Pentecostalism. I really didn't need the author's preaching and platitudes and his shallow approach to God and religion derived from his incomplete understanding of philosophy, history and religion. For the right wing anti-humanist (which this author is) beliefs come before reason and they let their heart be their guide for their intellect, a very dangerous way for acquiring beliefs about the world we live in. One's emotions will determine one's truths if they succumb to the way the author sees the world. That can lead to the need to seek psychological help, stress, and illness all of which the author described for himself within the book and worst of all it can lead to believing false things as true. By far the best thing in this book was the author's stories about his Louisiana parish (county) and what it means growing up in such an environment. One of my favorite books, Jerry Dewitt's book Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor's Journey from Belief to Atheism covers how some one can overcome the Pentecostal belief system (make no mistake about it, this author, Dreher, writes and thinks like a Pentecostal, Pentecostal's can never be persuaded by reason because they and this author reached their conclusion by emotion, and as Nietzsche says "What the populace once learned to believe without reasons, who could— refute it to them by means of reasons?"). For the author, he'll think in these terms: "Christianity can never fail, it can only be failed". He used that formulation for reasoning multiple times once for family and another time for his faith. That is an incredibly dangerous way to reason about the real world and leads to certainty and no room for growth within an individual for knowledge about the real world. The author puts belief before reason and defends that by describing "The Comedy" by being understood by the heart before intellect. Poetry can be defined as words that invoke an emotional response in the reader or listener, but it doesn't mean the reader needs to deny his own experiences based on the firmer foundation of logic, reason, analysis and empirical facts. There are no such things as alternative facts except in the world of right wing deniers of reality. The author really doesn't get the connections, doesn't explain Dante beyond what any reader could get from reading it themselves, and too often preaches his brand of orthodox Christianity while appealing to AAs repugnant twelve steps. Also, I found the author's story of ghost visitations through window tapping in the middle of the night incredible and extraordinary, and as always "extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence". I for one would not call an exorcist and a priest to investigate as the author did. That story beggars belief and belongs in my 'Weird Tales' comic book. I subscribe to the WSJ and they always seem to recommend this book in their editorials (for a slight truth correction: I used to subscribe to the WSJ but canceled it because I got irritated by their simplistic right wing non-sense, but the paper keeps coming in spite of the fact I haven't paid for it in a couple of years). It's as if they only had read the title of the book because I don't know how some one could have read this book and recommend it. This author does not understand philosophy or theology or medieval history. He had no business writing this book especially the parts that aren't about his whining about his family (he's more of an expert on whining about his family than I'll ever be) and the whining part got tedious. [I'll go slightly beyond what's in the book and why I think the author is really out of his depth. I'll try to illustrate why I say that. The author is clearly not a humanist, but doesn't understand who Dante is. Most people's short list of the founders of humanism would include Erasmus, Plutarch and Petrarch, and Dante. Augustine gives us free will, and for him it is the will that is analogous in man as to the will that God used in creating the universe, but later he takes free will away and Pelagius wants to put man back in the equation such that our prayers, hopes, wishes and desires will make a difference to God's absolute divine plan. This will be the big difference between Erasmus and Luther where, of course, Erasmus sides with Pelagius. The author will state multiple times that sin is when man does his own will not God's will. The author has the sentiment of Miester Eckart's prayer "to be free of God since unconditioned Being is above God and all distinction", that is an Augustinian thing to say and it aligns with Pascal and and how he believes in his "Pensee", and it also aligns with the author's special brand of non-Roman Catholicism (by the way, "Pensee" is a better self help book than this book was). The author will muddle his narrative by bringing up Aquinas. He has no idea what that means for his belief before reason stance. I would suspect strongly that the author has never read much Aquinas or what he really means for the scholasticism of the middle ages. One does not have to have my beliefs when writing a book but one needs to know what the connections mean and make a statement on them in order to make the book worthwhile which this book definitely was not].

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    I follow Rod Dreher on Twitter, read his previous book The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, and read a lot of what he writes for The American Conservative, so when he began blogging through The Divine Comedy I read his posts on it with great interest. Dante’s Comedy is my favorite book and one I’ve read and reread for many years. When Dreher announced that the Comedy would be the subject of his next book I was elated, and preordered a copy. I couldn’t disagree with the title: How Dante Can Save Your I follow Rod Dreher on Twitter, read his previous book The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, and read a lot of what he writes for The American Conservative, so when he began blogging through The Divine Comedy I read his posts on it with great interest. Dante’s Comedy is my favorite book and one I’ve read and reread for many years. When Dreher announced that the Comedy would be the subject of his next book I was elated, and preordered a copy. I couldn’t disagree with the title: How Dante Can Save Your Life. He has certainly changed mine. I was not surprised, reading Dreher’s columns, that he responded to it, too. How Dante Can Save Your Life picks up in the years following the events of his other memoir, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which chronicles his sister’s fight with cancer. Following her death, Dreher had picked up and, after decades away from home, moved back to Louisiana, trying to reconnect and mend tattered relationships with his family. Little Way was the story of how he came to do that. How Dante Can Save Your Life is the story of how his attempt failed. Despite returning home, Dreher recounts that his relationships with family—especially his father and nieces—were terrible. I like Dreher a lot and value his opinions, but having read his work for several years now, he strikes me as a classic oversharer. Reading Little Way, I could only wonder, despite being moved to tears, what his family thought of such a soul-baring memoir. In my experience, a tell-all—even an affectionate, nostalgic tell-all—alienates people. This book gave me an answer: “I showed Mike the manuscript of Little Way before I turned it in, and asked him to let me know if he wanted me to make any changes. He did not ask for changes, but as I learned later, the book displeased him greatly. He thought I had used his wife’s death to tell a story about myself” (30). As a reader, I too had had a hard time escaping this impression. The resentment of his family revealed, Dreher floundered in depression, lapsed into the doldrums of persistent illness and strained his relationships with his own wife and children. He finally saw a therapist, adopted a strict prayer regimen at the insistence of his priest, and, coincidentally, picked up Dante. Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dreher writes, is not only great literature but “also immensely practical.” The Comedy begins with a fictional version of the poet lost “in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost.” Not one to appreciate fiction, much less poetry, Dreher identified with Dante and kept reading. Like Virgil, sent by Divine Love to lead Dante to salvation, Dante was sent to lead Dreher out of his own dark wood. The book follows Dreher through his spiritual and physical recovery as he read through the Comedy. For Dreher, this meant salvation from alienation, broken relationships, and the misery and frustration caused by—and causing—both. Just as Dante’s journey through the revelatory levels of Hell, the suffering of Purgatory, and finally the harmonies of Paradise was, so Dreher’s journey was long, arduous, purifying, and deeply moving. I really liked How Dante Can Save Your Life, but I still wonder about the propriety of what Dreher has chosen to share with his readers—especially considering that one of the sources of strife within his family is his previous book. Dreher writes with great feeling and sincerity but, as another reviewer has noted, the narration sometimes comes across as self-pitying, even in the later stages when he has learned how selfish he is and is striving toward greater humility. Even as he learns to let go of his bitterness and anger, he reminds himself over and over again of the incidents that made him bitter and angry. The book also veers—just occasionally—into stereotypical self-help rhetoric. “Suffering comes to everyone,” writes Dreher. “It’s the human condition. What you do with that suffering determines whether or not you remain an earthbound caterpillar or metamorphose into a butterfly” (220). And from near the beginning of the book: “The answers and peace you seek are within you” (13), a statement completely at odds with Dante’s story of salvation through divine intervention. But that kind of self-help cliche is only occasional, and the former problem—what makes me wonder about the propriety of Dreher’s project—is just the negative side of his candor. Dreher mostly mines solid wisdom from Dante’s rich epic, and his honesty about his own failings is the book’s strong suit most of the time. As Dreher promoted his book I balked at the idea of treating Dante as a self-help guide. I want to value art as art, “practical” value being an unhealthy modern and particularly American obsession. Dante especially is someone with far more to say than bullet-pointed lists of self-help advice. But Dreher mostly won me over. How Dante Can Save Your Life is, importantly, “not . . . literary analysis, [but] a personal view” (xv-xvi). And Dante himself described four levels on which his art could be read and interpreted, writing that he intended his Comedy to be a hopeful work, one that would illustrate God’s salvation for people and help them toward it. After all a "comedy" is, in the medieval sense, a story with a happy ending. Dreher’s project is a continuation of that work, and for that I deeply appreciate it. Recommended.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amy Edwards

    Rod Dreher stood in a bookstore, browsing through books, never guessing that his next move would change the course of his life. He pulled a copy of Dante’s Commedia off the shelf and opened to the first pages and read, Midway in the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood, For the straight way was lost. And with that, Rod Dreher was unexpectedly drawn into one of Western Civilization’s masterpiece works, Dante’s Inferno. He would descend with Dante into hell, climb with him the mountain Rod Dreher stood in a bookstore, browsing through books, never guessing that his next move would change the course of his life. He pulled a copy of Dante’s Commedia off the shelf and opened to the first pages and read, Midway in the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood, For the straight way was lost. And with that, Rod Dreher was unexpectedly drawn into one of Western Civilization’s masterpiece works, Dante’s Inferno. He would descend with Dante into hell, climb with him the mountain of Purgatorio, and finally enter with him into Paradiso. Reading Dante transformed Dreher, and while the title gives all credit to Dante, Dreher views Dante’s Commedia as an icon of the Truth of God, and in that way he sees his experience of transformation as truly an act of God, working through Dante. Dreher was in his own dark wood when he opened up the Commedia that day in the bookstore. He was struggling with depression and Epstein-Barr, which together left him ill and suffering. Although his earlier book about his family and hometown, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, was a success, Dreher found that a cold comfort. He had moved with his wife and kids to Starhill, Louisiana with great hopes of gaining the love and approval of his parents. Instead, he felt rejection. It was at this low point that he providentially picked up Dante’s Commedia and as it resonated with him, he allowed Dante to be his guide to healing. How Dante Can Save Your Life is partly a memoir of Dreher’s personal spiritual journey of repentance, redemption, and healing and it is partly a self-help book. He unabashedly writes from a Christian and Orthodox perspective, and yet he carefully addresses an audience of any faith, or of no faith at all. He writes to tell the story of how reading The Divine Comedy was a critical part of his spiritual journey and points toward how it just might become part of your journey as well. As I read How Dante I was struck at how adept Dreher was at reading Commedia and taking the principles of the book and applying them to his own life. Over and over again, as he read Dante, he was able to see parallel situations in his own life and was then able to perceive more clearly his own situation and the right response to it. This, combined with wise counsel from a Christian (and, for what it’s worth, Southern Baptist) therapist and the spiritual instruction of his priest, proved to be God’s instrument of transformation. Readers of Dreher’s blog know well the ending: Dreher is able to see his own culpability in his situation, repent, and finally yield to Christ completely. As Dante learned, and in turn, Dreher, Christians must turn from sin and sinful desires and replace those wrong desires with right desires. Even good things, when desired more than God, become idols and sinful. I am an avid reader of Dreher’s American Conservative blog and I appreciate his writing very much. Because of this, I eagerly awaited the publication of How Dante and couldn’t wait to read it. Having read all of Inferno and Purgatorio and most of Paradiso this past winter, I came to How Dante with my own recent experience of reading Dante for the first time. I wanted to love this book, but have to admit that while I liked it a lot, I didn’t love it. I like How Dante very much because it is a vivid and real account of a man engaging deeply with a work of literature and in doing so, using the work as a tool of self-reflection and change. Many people find literature dull because they fail to read in such a reflective way. As Dreher read about each level of hell and the poetic justice doled out to the damned, he immediately started searching his soul for signs of that sin within, and then, convicted of his sin, he repented. Not every work of literature inspires repentance, of course, but this kind of reading is exactly how we should all approach literature. As Lewis said in Experiment in Criticism, reading literature allows the reader to experience the perspective of others, and this often gives us cause for self-reflection. We are able to see our own situation differently. As a Christian reader, however, I cringed a little at the authority that Dreher gave over to Dante in his life. Dante’s Commedia is an amazing work of literature that is built upon Catholic theology, and in that way it might be called a Christian work. In Dreher’s Orthodox perspective, Dante’s Commedia is an icon of Truth, but I often felt that it was serving as an idol more than an icon for him. Several times as I read I found myself thinking of passages of Scripture that taught the same truth, yet Dreher rarely drew the connection. I wished he would have.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura Clawson

    Reading How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem, I found myself within a forest dark, with any way out partially muddled by Dreher's whiny navel-gazing. I picked up Dreher's How Dante, as a runner-up to his earlier memoir The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, but couldn't help that feeling that it was the same story...just expanded with a little more distasteful familial jab. The salvific reverence Reading How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem, I found myself within a forest dark, with any way out partially muddled by Dreher's whiny navel-gazing. I picked up Dreher's How Dante, as a runner-up to his earlier memoir The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, but couldn't help that feeling that it was the same story...just expanded with a little more distasteful familial jab. The salvific reverence towards the poet Dante paired with the pontificating self-help sections in each chapter left me both intrigued and annoyed. There are moments of profound clarity in the book, especially in the conversations with his priest, therapist, and wife but Dreher switches so quickly from sufferer to Sage that his writing rings a little hollow. That said, there remain a few helpful highlights including his thoughts on bibliotherapy, envy as disordered love, and traditionalism as modern ancestor worship.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ben Smitthimedhin

    How Dante Can Save Your Life, or Why Does My Family Hate Me, Can't They See It's Them? and Other Sermons with Tidbits On Why I Left The Catholic Church. I was surprised by how little this had to do with Dante and how much this was really just a memoir about Dreher's family. Not that I mind memoirs, but Dreher's uncharitable portrayal of his family as people who just can't tolerate difference of opinion is also a bit off-putting. His characters are also kind of uninteresting, which may be due to h How Dante Can Save Your Life, or Why Does My Family Hate Me, Can't They See It's Them? and Other Sermons with Tidbits On Why I Left The Catholic Church. I was surprised by how little this had to do with Dante and how much this was really just a memoir about Dreher's family. Not that I mind memoirs, but Dreher's uncharitable portrayal of his family as people who just can't tolerate difference of opinion is also a bit off-putting. His characters are also kind of uninteresting, which may be due to his one-dimensional descriptions. Concerning a certain clergyman, he writes, "He had a back bone. He was the real deal." You know what I mean.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hope

    A more accurate title for this book would be "How the Orthodox Church Saved my Life" because this is Dreher's spiritual autobiography showing his progression from Methodism to Catholicism to Orthodoxy. Dante's The Divine Comedy was an integral part of that journey, helping Dreher to find the deep healing needed for family wounds he was bearing. I appreciated Dreher's good writing and his ability to make Dante seem less daunting. I think the average person might be turned off from the mystical/Or A more accurate title for this book would be "How the Orthodox Church Saved my Life" because this is Dreher's spiritual autobiography showing his progression from Methodism to Catholicism to Orthodoxy. Dante's The Divine Comedy was an integral part of that journey, helping Dreher to find the deep healing needed for family wounds he was bearing. I appreciated Dreher's good writing and his ability to make Dante seem less daunting. I think the average person might be turned off from the mystical/Orthodox emphases. Sometimes the hashing and re-hashing of the same family struggles felt self-indulgent. But overall I think this book would be helpful to someone who is having trouble forgiving their family for not being the safe place they always hoped for.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Justin Lonas

    Dreher has cooked up a very interesting blend of confessional memoir, literary commentary, and spiritual help, and it works astonishingly well. Each of these styles independently can be difficult to render engaging to readers, but the whole is strengthened by the inclusion of all three. Crucially, he takes us on an instructive journey through his own struggles and spiritual healing without bluntly prescribing any canned self-help quick fixes. Few things are more unhelpful than books in which auth Dreher has cooked up a very interesting blend of confessional memoir, literary commentary, and spiritual help, and it works astonishingly well. Each of these styles independently can be difficult to render engaging to readers, but the whole is strengthened by the inclusion of all three. Crucially, he takes us on an instructive journey through his own struggles and spiritual healing without bluntly prescribing any canned self-help quick fixes. Few things are more unhelpful than books in which authors demand that readers follow the same steps that led to their particular personal breakthrough. Dreher steers clear of those rocks, offering instead a very personal story (though one which, certainly, has application for many) and some key "takeaway points" while respecting readers' differing needs and personalities. There are a lot more sins and failures on display than successes, put forth with endearing vulnerability that disarms readers and invites us along for the journey. This is a follow-on to his The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life. While How Dante can stand on its own well enough, reading Ruthie Leming first helps get the full value from the continuing story. I've been regularly following Dreher's blog for several years, and was looking forward to this after seeing it develop in daily posts last year. It was even better than anticipated. He leads us into his own "dark wood" and relates the way that the Divina Commedia, his priest, and a Southern Baptist therapist worked in concert to reveal his hurts and sins and put him on the road to redemption. The four, rather than five, stars come from my standard Dreher caveats. I love the guy, he writes on my wavelength and is of my "tribe" (Southern, cosmopolitan, foodie, homeschool dad, etc.), but I have to recommend his theological work with a grain of salt. He is emphatically Orthodox, and rather given to the mystical aspects of the faith that the Eastern tradition inclines toward. Still, if you (like me) are emphatically Evangelical , don't let that stop you from learning from Dreher and his Medieval Catholic mentor, Dante. There is good fruit here, and lessons to ponder long after you close the book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ali M

    I am a fan of Rod Dreher and I thoroughly enjoy reading his writing over at The American Conservative http://www.theamericanconservative.co... He is an excellent writer, he is thoughtful and consistent in his worldview and sincere in his beliefs. Of course, that simple statement does not even begin to encompass what a great influence Dreher has on the modern conservative movement. But that is not what this book is about. This book is about Dante’s famous poem and about Dreher’s personal journey I am a fan of Rod Dreher and I thoroughly enjoy reading his writing over at The American Conservative http://www.theamericanconservative.co... He is an excellent writer, he is thoughtful and consistent in his worldview and sincere in his beliefs. Of course, that simple statement does not even begin to encompass what a great influence Dreher has on the modern conservative movement. But that is not what this book is about. This book is about Dante’s famous poem and about Dreher’s personal journey through that poem. This book honestly sounds a little weird. A guy writing about reading Dante doesn’t exactly sound riveting, but it works. First and foremost, the book is an outstanding introduction to Dante. Epic poems from the 14th century are not for the ill-informed or the faint-hearted and I have certainly never attempted to read it. Dreher makes clear that one needs a guide to make your way through and he recommends several, but for an absolute novice like me this was an excellent starting point and it did make me feel like one day I might dive into the actual poem. Secondly, the book is profoundly personal. This is both a strength and criticism of the book. Critics understandably feel for Dreher’s family and the relationships therein. He is unflinching in his assessment of his familial relationships and that can seem harsh. I do think Dreher worked very hard to be fair in those assessments, but he does lay it all out. At the end of the day this is his perspective and his feelings and it’s his book. More importantly it is his journey through reading Dante that leads him to a deeper exploration and understanding of his faith, his role in his family and in his community. In the course of this journey he necessarily had to examine the relationship he has with his family, but he does so honestly and the conclusions he reaches help him immensely. It was the personal aspects of Dreher’s journey that I enjoyed the most. Just as when I read “Surprised by Joy” by C.S. Lewis I find the individual ways people come to faith and God to be fascinating and very thought-provoking. We all have complex relationships with the world around us, the people we know and with faith. I enjoyed Dreher’s journey because it helped me reflect on my own and because he is Rod Dreher it was intellectually challenging all the way. I highly recommend this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Heath Morber

    I've enjoyed Dreher's previous two books (Crunchy Cons and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming) and really thought this book would be great; he's a fine writer and I LOVE Dante. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed. The book was fine but I struggled with the following: --Dreher is straightforward at the beginning that this is a self-help book . . . each chapter ends with a small section on "here's how my insight can help you, too." Now, I appreciate what he's trying to do here, but it this aspect I've enjoyed Dreher's previous two books (Crunchy Cons and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming) and really thought this book would be great; he's a fine writer and I LOVE Dante. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed. The book was fine but I struggled with the following: --Dreher is straightforward at the beginning that this is a self-help book . . . each chapter ends with a small section on "here's how my insight can help you, too." Now, I appreciate what he's trying to do here, but it this aspect really rang hollow with me. I think therapeutic advice would be more helpful and welcome from, you know . . . a therapist. I think these could have been removed and the book would have felt more authentic. --In the beginning of the book, Dreher talks about how some in his family were unhappy with how his previous book (The Little Way...) portrayed them and it led to some resentment and tension between Rod and them. And so, Mr. Dreher decides that another book two years later that also paints some of them (especially his aging father) in a bad light is the solution. It just seems like he could have written this book and then sat on the manuscript for 5 years until his folks passed away or at least until some of the family tension was able to die down. There are certainly many strengths in the book; again, Dreher's writing is fine, I think his interactions with his priest and therapist were good reading, he did a nice job digging into Dante's text and world and the Dante biblio in the back is a great list for those who want to dip into the author.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joy O’Toole

    I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this book from Netgalley and I read it slowly as I was reading Dante's Divine Comedy. Rod Dreher was at a low point in his life and just as Dante was lost in a dark wood at the beginning of The Inferno, Dreher was lost and ill and seeking for meaning in his life. As he read through Dante's masterpiece, Rod Dreher began to see what was holding him back from healing and grace and the love of God. This spiritual journey with the help of several mentors as I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this book from Netgalley and I read it slowly as I was reading Dante's Divine Comedy. Rod Dreher was at a low point in his life and just as Dante was lost in a dark wood at the beginning of The Inferno, Dreher was lost and ill and seeking for meaning in his life. As he read through Dante's masterpiece, Rod Dreher began to see what was holding him back from healing and grace and the love of God. This spiritual journey with the help of several mentors as well as Dante's Divine Comedy is set down in the book and was a tremendous help not only is understanding Dante's work, but in my own spiritual journey. I will read this book again as I finish my own reading of The Divine Comedy. Highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    E.

    Four and a half stars. This book offers one of the most insightful looks at sin I have ever seen. When you live what most people would consider a generally decent life, it can be difficult to realize just how radically sin has affected you. It's even more difficult when many of your problems center around relationships in which you have been treated unfairly. Thanks to a stress-related illness--and with the help of "The Divine Comedy"--Dreher was forced to focus on how his own sins could be cont Four and a half stars. This book offers one of the most insightful looks at sin I have ever seen. When you live what most people would consider a generally decent life, it can be difficult to realize just how radically sin has affected you. It's even more difficult when many of your problems center around relationships in which you have been treated unfairly. Thanks to a stress-related illness--and with the help of "The Divine Comedy"--Dreher was forced to focus on how his own sins could be contributing to struggles with his extended family. Even readers who do not love Dante will find a lot to appreciate in this remarkably honest book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Matt Moser

    Insightful, moving, and wise. There's a profound human depth to Dreher's reading of Dante. He reveals the Comedy as a work of life and spirit and struggle and grace. Take. Read. Insightful, moving, and wise. There's a profound human depth to Dreher's reading of Dante. He reveals the Comedy as a work of life and spirit and struggle and grace. Take. Read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    90% whining about his dysfunctional family - 10% Dante. I would have preferred the reverse.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matt Manry

    This is an amazing book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    I finally did it. I finally made it through this book. Granted, it took a long shift at a telemarketing job to motivate me to read it, but it happened. It is finished. There's no way to put this nicely: this should have been a hundred pages shorter. It's not that the arc was bad-I may have been the only kid in my high school class that loved Inferno, and to have someone write a book reflecting on their own spirituality using Dante's three poems as an outline was very cool. The parts where Dreher I finally did it. I finally made it through this book. Granted, it took a long shift at a telemarketing job to motivate me to read it, but it happened. It is finished. There's no way to put this nicely: this should have been a hundred pages shorter. It's not that the arc was bad-I may have been the only kid in my high school class that loved Inferno, and to have someone write a book reflecting on their own spirituality using Dante's three poems as an outline was very cool. The parts where Dreher connects the poem to his own life and his familial struggles were easily the strongest parts of the book. The emotional beats tied to his wife land each and every time, and its these bits that let this book be a three star. The parts where he discusses the reasons he fell in and out of different facets of the Christian faith (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox) were well done as well, and while not overtly emotional, he manages to convey that the kind of emotion he went through and why he thought the way he did without calling anybody out. I would actually enjoy reading a book by Dreher that compared religions and their tenants, since he has the rare ability to compare without showing any real bias-probably because he has experienced emotion in all three areas. However, the bit that killed this book was the literary analysis. First and foremost, I came for the discussion on Dante, yet that was the most disappointing. Too much of this book was re-hashing specific points in Inferno and discussing them. This wouldn't have been so bad if the writing didn't turn so dry in these areas. It caused me to stop reading this book multiple times because the middle was so chock-full of a mixture of analysis/preaching, and so far removed from what was actually working for the book. There were interesting points made, but it was hard to fish them out from the middle. Overall, it had a strong beginning, a decent ending, and a dry-as-dirt middle. I might go back sometime and look at some of the highlighted sections (I thought the Orthodox method of training the mind was fascinating) but probably will just check out any Dreher books in the future.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Josiah

    This is really more of a Dante-themed memoir than a commentary on Dante (though you do get a bit of that within this book). As a Dante-themed memoir, however, it was quite good. While there are some valid questions to be asked about the wisdom of writing about family members who are either still living or who only died recently with the hard honesty that Dreher displays here, this was a moving book on what it looks like to learn to love difficult people without letting them take over your life. This is really more of a Dante-themed memoir than a commentary on Dante (though you do get a bit of that within this book). As a Dante-themed memoir, however, it was quite good. While there are some valid questions to be asked about the wisdom of writing about family members who are either still living or who only died recently with the hard honesty that Dreher displays here, this was a moving book on what it looks like to learn to love difficult people without letting them take over your life. While I've never found myself in anything close to the situation that Dreher did with a resentful family, I did see a lot of similarities between the ways he tends to think and approach life and the ways that I do. And so between the similarities of our thoughts and the wealth of his insights on the life moved by love, this book had a lot to offer. Rating: 3.5-4 Stars (Good).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Watkins

    Part autobiography, part self help book, part commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Well written and helpful.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Audrey Babkirk Wellons

    A worthwhile read; 4 stars instead of 5 mostly because I had so much frustration and anger (at the author, his conservative family, and the Catholic Church) while reading this. It's the tale of the author's spiritual journey (alongside Dante's) and it definitely brought *me* to a few realizations as well. It made me want to yell at Rod Dreher but also read more of what he's written. A worthwhile read; 4 stars instead of 5 mostly because I had so much frustration and anger (at the author, his conservative family, and the Catholic Church) while reading this. It's the tale of the author's spiritual journey (alongside Dante's) and it definitely brought *me* to a few realizations as well. It made me want to yell at Rod Dreher but also read more of what he's written.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John

    Dante's Commedia may save your life but I wouldn't bet on this book doing the same. How Dante can Save Your Life is both interesting, annoying, and ultimately disappointing. If I had stopped in the middle of this book I would have rated it higher. It certainly started out well but, what can only be described as the author's whining, slowly degraded my view. The seriously religious do not perceive reliable approximations of reality. They are drifting with their phantoms, looking for things that c Dante's Commedia may save your life but I wouldn't bet on this book doing the same. How Dante can Save Your Life is both interesting, annoying, and ultimately disappointing. If I had stopped in the middle of this book I would have rated it higher. It certainly started out well but, what can only be described as the author's whining, slowly degraded my view. The seriously religious do not perceive reliable approximations of reality. They are drifting with their phantoms, looking for things that cannot be rationally demonstrated to exist. Though I admire the discipline and restraint many intelligent religious people exhibit it's simply impossible to take their cherished beliefs seriously. Those of us that demand verifiable reasons for accepting propositions will never accede to the belief that the purpose of life is to return to God. The author repeatedly returns to this theme as he reads Dante and shares his own life. The author, Rod Dreher, and his family endured serious grief. The best part of this book is his retelling of his sister's death from cancer in her forties and her community's out pouring of love and support. I don't think the author would disagree that his sister's death, and the book he wrote about it, greatly contributed to his career as a writer. It was at this point the author had a crisis that lead to Dante. Cemeteries are for the living not the dead, as is myth. Dante created an extravagant and great myth and like all great classics his epic poem has much to offer readers in any age. The author uses it as a type of self help book to work through his family problems. His problems are common. Many of us have seen loved family members die horribly, many of us have suffered crippling injuries, many of have distressing careers, and many of us have family members that are struggling with themselves and us. Yet some of us are tough enough to see life as a random clash of blameless atoms and that whining will not fix anything. In Dante's view this is the great sin of pride that unchecked leads to Hell. Lucky for us Hell and Heaven are myths. Art, however great, is not reality. Cross posted at: Analyze the Data not the Drivel.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Family conflict brings Dreher to a point of physical and spiritual ill-health that causes him to seek professional help. He dutifully meets with a therapist to discuss his woes, but ultimately finds healing through a combination of agents: a therapist, a spiritual mentor, and Dante's Divine Comedy. Having just read through the Comedy myself, it was fun to see what struck Dreher. He and I seem to have similar traits, and I found myself marking passages to add to my journal, agreeing with his insi Family conflict brings Dreher to a point of physical and spiritual ill-health that causes him to seek professional help. He dutifully meets with a therapist to discuss his woes, but ultimately finds healing through a combination of agents: a therapist, a spiritual mentor, and Dante's Divine Comedy. Having just read through the Comedy myself, it was fun to see what struck Dreher. He and I seem to have similar traits, and I found myself marking passages to add to my journal, agreeing with his insights. I've read many memoirs, and I must say, I appreciate the fact that Dreher can acquaint readers with his family background without becoming repetitious. This is a helpful quality, since the situation is large and tangled enough to have spanned two books now. :) I am curious as to how others perceive the boxed thoughts at the end of each chapter: "How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing", "How to Be Faithful Despite the Church", "How to Stop Wasting Time and Start Becoming Great". They seemed to me to be distracting--I'd rather have had them in a concluding chapter at the end. Set up as they were, they seemed more like fortune cookies or daily platitudes for living. But that is beside the point. I liked this book because it gave me pause to reflect on Dante again, and because I can identify with Dreher's stress and mental turmoil and the peace in God he sought. (And found!) I would recommend this book to anyone willing to read Dante also, because without it, it wouldn't be the same/as meaningful.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rick Davis

    I was hoping for a book that outlined a therapeutic use for Dante's Commedia. This wasn't quite that book. For the most part it felt like the author's memoirs with Dante as a sideline. The first half of the book had me hooked though. Dreher is a good writer who knows how to tell a story. As the book progressed I became increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of oversharing that Dreher engages in as he talks about his family's problems, especially since most of those family members are still a I was hoping for a book that outlined a therapeutic use for Dante's Commedia. This wasn't quite that book. For the most part it felt like the author's memoirs with Dante as a sideline. The first half of the book had me hooked though. Dreher is a good writer who knows how to tell a story. As the book progressed I became increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of oversharing that Dreher engages in as he talks about his family's problems, especially since most of those family members are still alive; I can't imagine what they think of the book. Dreher increasingly seems like a narcissist who takes himself way too seriously, overthinks everything, and can't let go of any slight, real or perceived, that life has lobbed his way. I understand that some of this is due to his struggles with fatigue, pain, and depression, but to some extent it seems like he just needs to get over it and move on with his life. I stuck it through to the last, and the book ended on a positive note. There's a lot of good stuff here, but I don't know that it's worth what you have to wade through to find it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ginger

    How Dante Can Save Your Life was utterly engrossing. It mixes literature, history, familial life, theology, and philosophy both poetically and practically. While not a perfect book by any means (I disagree with Mr. Dreher on many of his Catholic-leaning views of purgatory, for example), I flew through this in a few days, and already anticipate rereading and revisiting this many times. I have a host of friends I am planning on sending a copy to.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Threlfall

    Unexpectedly poignant, personal, and emotive. Dreher is an excellent journalist, but an even better writer of books that explore the soul. (It reminded me in some ways of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, especially in its more morally didactic passages.) There was less about Dante and the Comedia than I was hoping, and more autobiography of Dreher than I was expecting, so it made for a fascinating reading experience.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gina Dalfonzo

    There were some good and helpful insights here on Dante and the spiritual life. But the things that troubled me in Dreher's previous book were even more troubling in this one. With all due respect to the author, I honestly think it would be a good idea for him to stop writing about his family, for their sakes and for his own. There were some good and helpful insights here on Dante and the spiritual life. But the things that troubled me in Dreher's previous book were even more troubling in this one. With all due respect to the author, I honestly think it would be a good idea for him to stop writing about his family, for their sakes and for his own.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elise

    This is a great memoir. Although the author is Orthodox, this Is not a Christian book per se; although it does focus on The Divine Comedy as a poem filled with great insights to the human condition whether you are religious or not. The author does frequently discuss his own spiritual journey but it offers much to anyone who chooses to explore it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    How Dante Can Save Your Life is one man’s account of how that Renaissance poet’s epic tale of a man who had lost his way helped him survive the darkest time in his life. By way of offering thanks, and reflecting on his journey, Dreher guides readers through Dante’s Divine Comedy, recounting both his and the Commedia’s narrator’s journeys. It’s a profoundly intimate encounter with poetry that moved me like few other books. For Dreher, this is an incredibly personal book; he encountered the Commedi How Dante Can Save Your Life is one man’s account of how that Renaissance poet’s epic tale of a man who had lost his way helped him survive the darkest time in his life. By way of offering thanks, and reflecting on his journey, Dreher guides readers through Dante’s Divine Comedy, recounting both his and the Commedia’s narrator’s journeys. It’s a profoundly intimate encounter with poetry that moved me like few other books. For Dreher, this is an incredibly personal book; he encountered the Commedia during an intensely troubled time in his life, and his six-month slow read of the trilogy (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) happened in tandem with counseling from his priest and a clinical psychologist. The story begins with Dreher’s family background — his status as the odd, bookish duck in a family of rural traditionalists (“bayou Confucians”) who could not understand young Rod’s attraction to the big city, his aversion to hunting, and so on. Torn between love for his folks — especially his father — and their constant rejection of him, Dreher tried to escape the conflict by moving away. But when his sibling-rival Ruthie was stricken with lung cancer at age 40, Dreher was moved by how deeply invested his sister had been in the life of her local community — and inspired by it. There was meaning to be found in the little way of Ruthie Leming. But if he’d expected to be welcomed home like the prodigal son, one who had at last embraced Starhill, he found only pain: despite actively trying to be involved in the lives of his sister’s kids, and to reconnect with his parents, the meaningful connections he longed for remained absent — and he remained the family outsider. The stress and pain of this triggered his dormant Epstein-Barr syndrome, and for two years he was nearly an invalid. Enter Dante. Slowly studying Dante — in conjunction with frequent conversations with a priest and his counselor — granted Dante the vision to understand what had gone wrong in his life. Traveling through the downward spiral of the Inferno, sin by sin, Dreher examined his own conscience and found it wanting. He saw himself reflected in the lives of those in the pit, and ultimately realized that he had made his family into the god of his life, expecting more out of those relationships than they could bear. He realized that sin can be found in loving the right things too much, or in — just as it can be found in loving the wrong things at all. Ultimately, although Dreher doesn’t realize his heart’s desire — to suddenly experience the fullness of southern small-town community like Ruthie — his extensive immersion in Dante and the related spiritual studies finally allowed him to find peace — and make peace with his father. For me, Dreher is an incredibly sympathetic figure — he and I were both the otherworldy freaks in our southern clans, and both tried to come back home only to realize there were some distances that can’t be closed. Like him, I encountered this book at a time when I needed it, though for different reasons. I was frequently and deeply moved by Dreher’s writing here, because his relationship with his family is so complicated — a mutual mix of love and conflict– and because of the depth of his soul-searching to find some answers. It’s less a guide to Dante, though, and more of one man sharing his experience with the literature; the parts that spoke most strongly to him were Inferno and Purgatorio. It’s inspired me to add both of the latter book to my “Classics Club Strikes Back” list, for whenever I do a new CC challenge. One to remember, and must-read for Christians interested in classics.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tim Stafford

    A personal testimony that combines a transformation from bitterness to thanksgiving with an exposition of Dante’s Commedia. Dreher is a very intense individual, and he describes his Louisiana family as more parochial and hidebound than anything I have seen. This idolization of family made Dreher sick (in his resentment for being judged and excluded as “different”), but also in his own inability to let it go because in his own perverse way he had internalized their judgment. Dante led him out (wi A personal testimony that combines a transformation from bitterness to thanksgiving with an exposition of Dante’s Commedia. Dreher is a very intense individual, and he describes his Louisiana family as more parochial and hidebound than anything I have seen. This idolization of family made Dreher sick (in his resentment for being judged and excluded as “different”), but also in his own inability to let it go because in his own perverse way he had internalized their judgment. Dante led him out (with the help of an Orthodox priest and a therapist). I found Dreher’s journey a bit esoteric but there were pieces I very much resonated with, especially his treatment of jealousy.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I read this along with reading The Divine Comedy and really appreciated reading the two together. This book is more of a memoir by Dreher on how reading The Divine Comedy changed his life. I do like memoirs and this one was well written and thoughtful. At times he was a bit whiney about his life, but he also was dealing with his complaints and his transformation was evident as the book progressed. I recommend this to anyone, even if you don't want to read The Divine Comedy. Reading it might just I read this along with reading The Divine Comedy and really appreciated reading the two together. This book is more of a memoir by Dreher on how reading The Divine Comedy changed his life. I do like memoirs and this one was well written and thoughtful. At times he was a bit whiney about his life, but he also was dealing with his complaints and his transformation was evident as the book progressed. I recommend this to anyone, even if you don't want to read The Divine Comedy. Reading it might just propel you along to do so.

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