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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 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 the original work's acclaimed narrative style and combination of biography, intellectual history, and literary criticism, Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time illuminates the writer's works--from his first novel Poor Folk to Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov--by setting them in their personal, historical, and above all ideological context. More than a biography in the usual sense, this is a cultural history of nineteenth-century Russia, providing both a rich picture of the world in which Dostoevsky lived and a major reinterpretation of his life and work. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/897...


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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 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 the original work's acclaimed narrative style and combination of biography, intellectual history, and literary criticism, Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time illuminates the writer's works--from his first novel Poor Folk to Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov--by setting them in their personal, historical, and above all ideological context. More than a biography in the usual sense, this is a cultural history of nineteenth-century Russia, providing both a rich picture of the world in which Dostoevsky lived and a major reinterpretation of his life and work. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/897...

30 review for Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    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 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. A man of great passion and, alas, full of pro-Russian anti-Semitism, he suffered greatly from his exclusion to the Siberia which he immortalised in Notes from the House of the Dead and suffered health wise the rest of his life. That being said, he created an ensemble of books that are one of the greatest pinnacles of literature: Crime and Punishment, The Adolescent, The Demons, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov all of which are beyond description in terms of the incredible writing, level of psychological depth to the characters and capturing of the unique Russian spirit and especially of the very volatile times he lived in. This is an absolute must biography for those who love Dosto's works and wish to understand more about the man and the historical context that made the works possible.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Francisco

    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 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 thoughts and beliefs of Dostoevsky's characters to the beliefs that Dostoevsky embraced and those he fervently opposed. Thanks to Frank, I see now the incredible genius of this writer who was able to use his novels to put forth a certain world view and at the same time create such realistic characters, such vivid portrayal of theirs and ours inner depths. If you like to write, you will find this book inspiring and helpful in a very practical way because it shows you how a great writer is able to transform ideas into literature. And then, of course, there is Dostoevsky's life. What did this man not suffer? Imprisonment in Siberia, Epilepsy, Constant, never-ending Debt, Poverty, Gambling Addiction, Bad Marriage, Bad In-Laws, Public Humiliations. I could go on. And he was able to write those books! Most of the time I'd rather not know about an author's life for fear it will affect the way I read his works. Who needs to know that the author of a sublime work is so human? It's different with Dostoevsky. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe because he found a way to pour all of his confusion and all of his longing, all of his remorse and his hope, all of his doubts and all of his faith into his books.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    "One thing that canonization and course assignments obscure is that Dostoevsky is­n’t just great, he’s fun. His novels almost always have just ripping good plots, lurid and involved and thoroughly dramatic. There are murders and attempted mur­ders and police and dysfunctional-family feuding and spies and tough guys and beautiful fallen women and unctuous con men and inheritances and silky villains and scheming and whores." (David Foster Wallace) The writing style of Frank's biography is very pass "One thing that canonization and course assignments obscure is that Dostoevsky is­n’t just great, he’s fun. His novels almost always have just ripping good plots, lurid and involved and thoroughly dramatic. There are murders and attempted mur­ders and police and dysfunctional-family feuding and spies and tough guys and beautiful fallen women and unctuous con men and inheritances and silky villains and scheming and whores." (David Foster Wallace) The writing style of Frank's biography is very passive and wordy. I saw this when I wanted to quote from his book but had to edit the passage down to a third of the words he used and put it in active voice, where appropriate. This did not change the meaning of his point but, rather, made it more accessible. This kind of style defends itself against being read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    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 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 biographer's art that I know. I leave the book with a thorough understanding of the political and intellectual contexts of D's life and the particular elements of those contexts that evoked responses from him in the form of his novels. Franks' criticism of these novels is masterful in the clarity of his exposition and the mappings he makes from novel to context as well as D's particular perspectives on those contexts and his specific responses as documented in his fiction. None surpass his accomplishment. I would rank his work with Holmes on Coleridge and Shelly, Wroe on Shelly, Ackroyd on Dickens, Gordon on Eliot. For those with an insatiable appetite for great biography I would recommend that they read the "condensed" version first and then take on the five volume version. I found it very difficult to remember the "threads" within the larger version over 25 years, reading one volume after the other with intervals of four or five years between the appearance of one volume and its successor. I will say, althought the observation isn't particularly important, that I would not have liked Dostoevsky at all - an insufferable man really, a virulent anti-Semite, a reactionary, a religious zealot, a zenophobe, bigotted in just about every way. Besides that he was irrasible, rageful at times, personally obnoxious, a divo, for whom I would have had no use.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    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 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's so well-written that the 900+ page length shouldn't intimidate readers considering the book. I've read almost all of Dostoevsky's novels (some multiple times) and feel much more capable of understanding the richness of his ideas and intentions. I'm also now more familiar with the ideological debates of his time and his critical role in Russian history. Even if you don't read the whole book, I highly recommended the chapters on each of his novels. You'll definitely gain the most from reading the whole book. Brilliant!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    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 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 influences who I can say without doubt has changed my life. Thus, reading Frank’s account of Dostoyevsky’s life and works was extremely enticing to me, especially as the biography comes with such esteemed acclamations. I honestly don’t even know where to start in my humble attempt to recapture some of the impact Frank’s work produced on me. This is, to date, the longest book I have ever read (a hefty tome of 959 pages in paperback) and it’s been my companion since last January. It has seen me through the triumphs and tribulations of my first year of college. It has witnessed my frantic consultation of its pages for help in citing facts about Dostoyevsky for my emotional final paper on “The Brothers Karamazov” (for which I have also written a Goodreads review, if you would like to share in my gushing over that novel!). It has seen me defend, time and again, my reasons for choosing Dostoyevsky as a favorite author, and my agreement with him, despite what some call naivety, that people, after all things, are inherently good. (In his short story, “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”, Dostoyevsky asserts, “I will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition among men. And yet they all laugh at this faith of mine. But how can I help believing it?”) And Frank’s biography has played its part in my choice to major in Russian Language and Literature. It may sound silly, but I really do think that “companion” is the best word to describe the relationship that I now have with this massive volume, which I have toted with me through ups and downs and changes now for more than half a year. Frank’s “Dostoyevsky” is a condensation of his famous five- volume set detailing the Russian author’s life. Nonetheless, this “short” version cannot be found wanting in its meticulous—and arguably unrivaled—depiction of Dostoyevsky and all that he stood for. Though this work is, of course, non-fiction, it often reads like a novel, and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in its pages. Frank opens with Dostoyevsky’s childhood, and it is endearing to read of the little boy who protected his schoolmates from bullies, a touching detail that I think has quite a bit to say about Dostoyevsky’s character and who he would become. Indeed, while the aforementioned detail may seem trivial out of context, it becomes truly profound when one begins to understand the later events of Dostoyevsky’s life. In the 1840s, the young Dostoyevsky was accused of political subversion—for supporting the freedom of the press—and he was sentenced to four years in a Siberian prison. However, this “lighter” sentence came only after Dostoyevsky and his fellow prisoners were subjected to a “mock execution”; they stood before a firing squad, and were only “saved” at the last moment. Frank unflinchingly illustrates the harrowing experience, and one must respect Dostoyevsky, if for no other reason than fortitude in surviving this horror with his sanity intact. The next four years, during the great novelist’s time in prison, can only be adequately fathomed by reading Dostoyevsky’s haunting semi-autobiographical novel, “The House of the Dead”. Many have speculated about Dostoyevsky’s years in Siberia, including Leonid Tsypkin, in his novel “Summer in Baden-Baden” (which I have also reviewed). Tsypkin believed that Dostoyevsky was flogged while in prison, and while we may never know for certain whether this is true, the awful possibility is entirely plausible. What we can say for sure constitutes one of my principal reasons for caring so deeply about Dostoyevsky: it was only through his suffering in Siberia that he began to regard his fellow prisoners as human beings who had erred but could be redeemed. (Let it be noted that, while Dostoyevsky was a political prisoner, many of the convicts he lived with had committed violent crimes, and some had murdered multiple people). Dostoyevsky’s ordeal in prison arguably became the trial by which he could become an author truly capable of seeing the souls in all people. Frank marvelously sums up Dostoyevsky’s convictions: “Dostoyevsky believed that since man… was capable of remorse and repentance, the hope of his redemption should never be abandoned” (357). As can well be expected, memories of his prison years would haunt Dostoyevsky for the rest of his life, and I applaud Frank for not overlooking this issue. Many people are quick to label Dostoyevsky as rude or arrogant because of his occasional losses of temper over seemingly-trivial issues. Such a judgment, in my opinion, disregards and belittles the traumatic experiences Dostoyevsky endured. While his cruel words were clearly in the wrong, they were likely the manifestations of deep psychological scars which never healed, and which, in the 19th century, were also never fully understood. One of the most unforgettable scenes from Frank’s biography, related through the words of E.P. Letkova-Sultanova’s memoir, comes to mind: “Dostoyevsky’s words came tumbling out in a stream of spasmodic sentences. He evoked the freezing coldness of the morning [of the mock execution], and the horror that overcame [the prisoners] as they heard the death sentence being pronounced. ‘It could not be that I, amidst all the other thousands who were alive—in something like five to six minutes would no longer exist!’… Polonsky (the host of the gathering Letkova-Sultanova describes) approached [Dostoyevsky] to break the tension and said consolingly, ‘Well, all this is past and gone,’ inviting him to drink tea with their hostess. ‘Is it really gone?’ Dostoyevsky whispered” (780). Throughout this masterful work, I admired Frank’s ability to powerfully address various controversial issues from which others would shy away. He does this in describing Dostoyevsky’s own prejudices (most often against Jewish people), assessing them in their 19th century context, when such views were commonplace, without excusing them. Frank also, in describing Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy (from which he suffered seizures about once a month), touches on cultural stigmas which continue to surround the disease even today. Offended by the portrayal of radicals in Dostoyevsky’s novel “Demons”, many protested that the writer’s characters were too psychologically damaged to be taken seriously. And, Frank adds, many were inclined to view Dostoyevsky in the same manner because he suffered from epilepsy. Dostoyevsky’s contemporary Ivan Turgenev is known to have held this opinion as well. Frank skillfully weaves this context into his analysis of Dostoyevsky, and his words carry connotations about the instinctive human fear of that which we do not understand. This thought echoes Dostoyevsky’s own beliefs in his short story, “A Gentle Creature”, in which the inability to understand one another leads his characters to disaster. Certainly a sobering thought in today’s war-ravaged, isolation-based world as well. Of course, I couldn’t finish this review without discussing Anna Snitkina, Dostoyevsky’s second wife (after the death of his first, Marya Isaeva, in 1864 from Tuberculosis). Anna is one of my favorite historical ladies, and often doesn’t receive the respect she deserves. In fact, my one point of contention with Frank arises over this very issue. He, like many others, describes Anna as submissive to her husband’s will. On the contrary, she was a fascinating and complex person. First of all, Anna attended a women’s college (Yay, women’s colleges! Can you tell I go to a women’s college?), which was remarkable in her time because higher education for women was still relatively unheard of. She met Dostoyevsky through his hiring her as a stenographer to help him finish the manuscript for “The Gambler”. Having an independent means of earning money was also revolutionary for a woman in 19th century Russia. The two eventually fell in love and were married, living abroad for several years afterward. Though Anna was perhaps naïve at first, unwittingly enabling her husband’s gambling addiction by lending him money and unfailingly forgiving him for losing it, she quickly matured into a powerful woman in her own right. It was Anna who negotiated (behind her husband’s back at first) with creditors who sought to put Dostoyevsky in debtors’ prison and exposed their corruption. It was Anna who went out alone into a dangerous city (also without Dostoyevsky’s permission) to rescue a lost suitcase which contained an extremely important manuscript of her husband’s. And, overall, it is quite valid to assert that it was Anna who is responsible for making Dostoyevsky the great writer the world knows today, as she eventually took over the family’s finances and organized their own publishing business. One has only to read her remarkable “Reminiscences” to appreciate how smart, capable, and compassionate a soul Anna Dostoyevskaya was. The Dostoyevskys’ marriage, while having undergone many strains in the beginning (Dostoyevsky’s gambling addiction and resulting debt, as well as the horrific tragedy of losing their first daughter, Sonya), grew into a relationship of deep love and mutual respect. It should be known that Fyodor put aside his own crippling grief to take care of Anna when she was shattered after the loss of Sonya. He battled some of his greatest demons for her, eventually giving up gambling after their second daughter, Lyubov, was born. Frank portrays Anna and Fyodor’s love with exceptional skill (and several very entertaining excerpts from their rather “suggestive” letters to each other!). It seems no test could break their devotion, and that no force could destroy their unfailing optimism. In the heartbreaking end, Anna holds her husband’s hand as he dies, and he still manages to console her, beseeching her not to worry. Anna is later said to have exclaimed, “Oh, whom have I lost!” (926) and the reader cannot help but feel the power of the additional words, uttered by Dostoyevsky’s lifelong friend, Appollon Maikov: “whom has Russia lost?” (926). In the final pages of this monumental work, Frank astutely notes that, in the end, Dostoyevsky achieved his ideal of bringing Russia together. Indeed, the unprecedented crowds attending his funeral transcended the divides of class, gender, religion and politics to pay tribute to the man Russians call prophet. I can say for certain that Frank’s remarkable account of Dostoyevsky’s life will remain with me for years to come, as it has helped me gain a greater understanding of the author whose works have shaped the person I have become. I first encountered Dostoyevsky’s novels during a very dark time in my life, from which I had begun to doubt I would ever heal. But Dostoyevsky, through his immortal words and his own life’s example, taught me that the power of compassion and love outweighs the power of negativity. It was he, after all, who said that “compassion is the chief law of human existence”, and, conversely, that “Hell… is the suffering of being unable to love”. We can all learn from Dostoyevsky’s example; once a falsely-imprisoned convict who thought his life would never amount to anything, Dostoyevsky became perhaps the greatest writer to live. As Frank writes, “There is never a moment in Dostoyevsky’s life when we can catch him giving up entirely” (445). And because of him, I didn’t give up. Critics throughout history have remarked that Dostoyevsky’s words have changed the world, but for me, it will always be enough that they changed my life.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    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 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 writing novels: combine a deep fascination with your own time, an interest in human psychology, deep moral convictions, and a concern for the Big Ideas of human life in general. Then work your butt off. I'd like to think someone out there has managed to do that without being quite the twat that Dostoevsky became (yes- Russia (and by 'Russia' he of course means 'Orthodox peasants') will save the world). But I have no evidence of that as yet. If you like Dostoevsky's novels at all, this is well worth the effort. Fun things that Dostoevsky said: "You feel that one must have perpetual spiritual resistance and negation so as not to surrender, not to submit to the impression, not to bow before the fact and deify Baal, that is, not to accept the existing as one's own ideal." (376) "The people are always the people.... but here you no longer see a people, but the systematic, submissive and induced lack of consciousness." (378) "It is necessary to assume as author someone omniscient and faultless, who holds up to the view of all one of hte members of hte new generation." (480) "'it is not worth doing good int eh world, for it is said, it will be destroyed.' There's something foolhardy and dishonest in this idea. Most of all, it's a very convenient idea for ordinary behavior: since everything is doomed, why exert oneself, why love to do good? Live for your paunch." (843)

  8. 5 out of 5

    James Mitchell

    This is one of the best biographies I've ever read. An absolute masterpiece. This is one of the best biographies I've ever read. An absolute masterpiece.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Meher

    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: “August 2 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: “August 2, 1914 - Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.”). But for Dostoevsky it fits perfectly. Many later commentators have sort of made Dostoevsky this existential philosopher who killed God (Nietzsche, Camus for example). But he is merely reacting to the ideologies of his time. He did not intend his heroes like Underground-man, Raskolnikov and Ivan Karamazov to be these sad representations of modern man. That was not his primary intention. In his view, they are the consequence of contemporary radical ideologies which he considered fatal for the moral health of Russia. Biographer Joseph Frank demonstrates this with irrefutable evidence. So now you’ve got this all new perceptive from which you can read Dostoevsky all over again. It certainly inspired me in that direction. I want read him again now. Besides all this, may be because of the Telugu translations of Moscow’s Raduga publications that I’ve read as a child, I am fascinated by everything Russian. I think Russians (at least as they are depicted in those books) are the only people on the globe that come so close to the soul of Indians (Not Americans, not Germans and not even Latinos). When you exclude the mere props like samovars, sledges and steppes, they are us! Their pursuits, passions and emotions are so like ours. So this book – which not only concerns itself with Dostoevsky, but brings us so palpably close to the texture of 19th century Russia – is a very enriching experience for me. Thanks to the book, now I know the social cultural ambience behind those fictional worlds – teeming with titular councilors, serfs and radical youth.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lila

    there is hardly anything more worthwhile to read

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alastair Heffernan

    A thoroughly enjoyable if flawed tour de force, this book - part biography, part literary reader - takes us through the life, times and works of the author Feodor Dostoevsky. What might appear to be an onerous 930 pages is itself a heavily redacted 'reader-friendly' version of a set of five books of almost 2,500 pages. The limitations likely introduced through the editing process, and the still excessive length, weigh on the reader's enjoyment of what is at times an extraordinarily illuminating A thoroughly enjoyable if flawed tour de force, this book - part biography, part literary reader - takes us through the life, times and works of the author Feodor Dostoevsky. What might appear to be an onerous 930 pages is itself a heavily redacted 'reader-friendly' version of a set of five books of almost 2,500 pages. The limitations likely introduced through the editing process, and the still excessive length, weigh on the reader's enjoyment of what is at times an extraordinarily illuminating piece of scholarship. In such a monumental tome, structure is crucial. Fortunately, Joseph Frank and his intrepid editor Mary Petrusewicz have succeeded in this regard. The book is split into five sections which, thanks to the incredible biography of the subject, form neatly demarcated periods of the author's life. Section 1 covers his early life and encounters with the 'subversive' Petrashevsky circle. This leads to his arrest and confinement in a Siberian prison for four years, followed by five years in exile in the now Kazakh city of Semipalatinsk - all covered in part 2. Part 3 details his return to Russian high society in Petersburg and his struggles financially and professionally to (re)establish his career. Part 4 discusses his most famous works and his rise in preeminence while Part 5 discusses his final years as a legendary "prophet" in Russia and the writing of his final masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, in three staggeringly brilliant chapters. Below the superstructure of the book is the key decision to compartmentalise the discussion of the major novels. So, particularly once Dostoevsky returns from Siberia, the book picks up a helpful rhythm whereby Dostoevsky's life is discussed and the circumstances around (say) the creation of The Idiot are outlined, followed by a more detailed chapter on the book itself complete with in-depth literary analysis. This helps place all his works in context while not neglecting discussion of the books themselves. This is why I consider this book as much a 'reader' (in the manner of a guide to an author's works) as a biography. Such analysis is even more impressive when it elucidates understanding of books I have not even read: the chapter on Poor Folks illustrated how Dostoevsky attempts to split the difference between Pushkin’s more sympathetic view with Gogol’s satirical lens on the lower classes, and how he adapts the high-literary epistolary form and interlaces it with commentary on the literary fads of the time. Such insight helped me understand the wider discussion of what vexed Dostoevsky at this point in the book, as well as helping me grasp things I would totally have missed if I were ever to read Poor Folks. And this is to the very great credit of Frank as it is this balanced approach to biography and literary analysis that is where the book shines. From reading this book I feel like I would gain so much more out of reading Dostoevsky's works now, not only for having read a literary analysis of a given novel, but from witnessing how Dostoevsky's life and the context of his writing form the backdrop and motivation of his works. It is this incredible synthesis that justifies Frank's fame in the field of literary biography. What of Dostoevsky the writer: there are a handful of aspects that surface again and again which I will take away from Frank's analysis. Most important is Dostoevsky's belief in human freedom and capacity to choose, entwined with a belief that spontaneous human compassion (Christian love for your fellow man) is the ultimate virtue. This is, throughout his life, opposed to the then-voguish conceptions of improving the lot of mankind purely through the exercise of reason (utilitarianism). As we hear him write in a journal towards the end of his life: all host of evils came from the belief that "science will give ... wisdom; wisdom will reveal the laws ... and the knowledge of the laws of happiness is superior to happiness". A second crucial piece of insight I gleaned from this book is that, while his books invariably play out his belief in the primacy of humankind's instinct for compassion (rooted in Christian belief) over cold, calculating reason, his approach to illustrating that is not to hector readers but to play out the consequences of particular ideological stances in the plot-action of his novels. As Frank describes, "his technique has always been to refute the ideas he was combatting "indirectly", by dramatising their consequences on the fate of his characters". So Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, hewing to a rationalist worldview, 'deduces' that the murder of the money lender will be a net benefit to the world, but ultimately cannot escape his conscience after carrying out the act. Even more revealingly, he finally admits to himself that his true motivation was an "egoistic" desire to enact his will and show dominance and power over the world, rather than his seemingly utilitarian motives we hear about before the murder. A related feature of Dostoevsky's writings that I now have an appreciation for is his capacity to put the best insights into the minds of his ideological foes. The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor - a paean to removing human free will to promote their happiness- is one of the best-known passages in literature, yet encapsulates the point Dostoevsky is trying to refute. Indeed the book in which this is found - The Brothers Karamazov - is described by Dostoevsky as being entirely geared towards rebutting the views of the Grand Inquisitor. Dostoevsky's capacity to walk around in his enemies' shoes no doubt reflects his own struggles with his beliefs, and it is this inner struggle that I now see played out across all his major novels. While, as with Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky is master of playing out the consequences of opposing ideologies, he is willing to submit his own position to such treatment too. As we hear in the chapter on The Idiot: "with an integrity that cannot be too highly praised, Dostoevsky thus fearlessly submits his own most hallowed convictions to the same test that he had used for those of the Nihilists - the test of what they would mean for human life if taken seriously and literally, and lived out to their full extent as guides to conduct ... he portrays the moral extremism of his own eschatological ideal, incarnated in Prince [Myshkin], as being equally incompatible with the normal demands of ordinary social life". No sentence better sums up the many features of Dostoevsky's writing that I now understand and value better than this one. What of Dostoevsky the man? His personal life very much grounds and motivates his writing. Much can be made of his time in katorga (prison camp). We hear of a scene in which he initially agrees with a Polish inmate's condescending view of the behaviour of the Russian peasant convicts - who are often violent and drunk - but is then disgusted that he viewed himself as superior to his fellow man. He returns to the rowdy sleeping quarters to be among his people. This may reflect or motivate his Russian nationalism later on, and certainly drives his desire for Russia to develop its own ways of doing things in future, rather than emulating 'cultured' Europe. Later in life he makes much of a recollection he then has of his childhood, in which a peasant Marey comforts the young Dostoevsky despite their being no one around and - for the peasant - no possible benefit to being kind to his young master. That a person in the, in Dostoevsky's own view, grotesque position of serfdom nevertheless acted on compassion than reason is proof eternal of the overriding role of conscience and love for others that is at the heart of Dostoevsky's philosophy. Dostoevsky had a very nervous disposition, almost paralleling his literary struggles with both his ideological opponents and his own beliefs. As Frank notes: Dostoevsky “reveals his inability to harmonise his true inner sentiments with his outward behaviour. “I remember that you once told me,” he writes Mikhail [his brother], “that my behaviour with you excluded mutual equality. My dear fellow. This was totally unjust. But I have such an awful, repulsive character … I am ready to give my life for you and yours, but sometimes, when my heart is full of love, you can't get a kind word out of me. …” such self-analysis goes a long way to explain Dostoevsk’s genius for portraying the contradictory fluctuations of love-hate emotions in his characters, and his limitless tolerance for the gap between deeply felt intention and actual behaviour in human affairs.” These charming moments of self-awareness on Dostoevsky's part do not, unfortunately, extend across all aspects of his life. He has a deeply unpleasant anti-semitic strain. This reveals itself in a general belief that much that is wrong with Europe pertains to the "yiddish" influence and such racist language peppers his journalistic work, particularly later in life. He also has a penchant for Russian imperial conquest (such as of Turkey or Central Asia) that offended many of his intellectual contemporaries. Lastly, though perhaps more excusable given the clear addiction at play, is his obsession with roulette. In the middle of his life we hear how, time and time again, he would have to pawn his watch or his long-suffering wife Anna's shawl to have enough money to life on after throwing away his last penny at the roulette wheel. He does kick the habit eventually but only after years of self-pityingly throwing himself on his wife's mercy and patience for having literally lost the family silver yet again. These depressing character trains can't help but diminish not only from the author's works but from his personal qualities. Impressively for the time he appears to have been faithful to his second wife, whom he touchingly adored, as well as being a deeply devoted father. Reading his reaction to the deaths of two of his young children is heart rendering. It also explains the realism and pathos he can inject into the death of Ilyusha at the end of The Brothers Karamazov (some of the last words he ever wrote). The ailing Ilyusha "tells his father to "get a good boy" when he dies and "love him instead of me". But the grief stricken father, on leaving the room, [says] "I don't want a good boy, I don't want another boy ..."." Why, given all that I've learned about Dostoevsky as a person and an author, have I only awarded three stars? Simply put, the book is too long and it feels it at times. The simple fact of its length by itself will put off all but the most intrepid readers which is a great shame as anyone reading Dostoevsky's works would benefit from the magnificent insight this book provides. Yet it is not simply a case of 'brilliant, just too long'. There are clear cuts that could be made to shorten and tighten up the book. We are treated to detailed discussions of all the nuances of Russian thought through the middle of the 19th century at a level of detail far beyond what this work requires. There are lots of asides that go nowhere and could totally be removed. An example of this is a tedious discussion of Freud's analysis of Dostoevsky's first epileptic fit. Frank dismisses Freud's take on this, making the reader wonder why bring it up at all. This portends a bigger issue about including much discussion of differing scholarly opinions which simply will not be of interest to anyone but the academics. The title of the chapter "The Aesthetic of Transcendence" gives a clear indication in and of itself that perhaps it contains a level of detail that would better have been cut. Even the literary analysis chapters are not immune from bloating: the discussion of Dostoevsky's Diary of a Writer contains a maddening amount of detail on some relatively insignificant short stories that could easily have been excised. That excisions were precisely the aim of this redacted version of Frank's much larger whole is what makes it so disappointing to see either Frank himself or his editor fail to reduce the book to a size and detail appropriate for the true Dostoevsky novice. The die hards and scholars already have the five-volume maximus opus; this version should have fully carried out its aim of delivering a cut-down version for the masses. Instead we get a brilliant but excessive book that will be enjoyed by too few lovers of Dostoevsky.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Frances Haas

    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 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 changes, difficult changes, and her idealism seems in retreat from what I have read on the subject. Anyone interested in literature, how it is made, what pressures add/detract from its formation would like this study.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Laura Leaney

    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. 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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    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 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 of both Dostoevsky’s writings and the times and circumstances that throughly influenced it. Seen by many as the father of existentialism, Dostoevsky was passionately connected to the social, political and ideological movements of 19th Century Russia and Frank’s depiction of the man is less an analysis of his works as much as an attempt to (and succeed in) seemlessly intertwine the events of both his individual life (from his unwanted schooling at the Academy of Military Engineers, to his early forays into journalism, to an eventual four year incarceration in Siberia) and the raging philosophical movements of his time (utopian socialism, determinism, Russian radicalism, Nihilism as well as various shades of Christianity) with the output of his career as both a prominent novelist and essayist. Frank purposefully sets out to avoid the ‘purely personal biography’ (which has been covered by numerous others) and seeks to explore and define what he terms the “eschatological imagination”; the fusion of the ever-evolving political and sociological backdrops of the times with the way these philosophies infuse his characters (from his essays and novels including ‘Poor Folk,’ ‘Crime and Punishment’ and the final masterpiece ‘The Brothers Karamazov’) with a zeal that carries his stories out to their ultimate conclusions. The depth and details portrayed by Frank are astonishing in both their breadth and their inalienable connection to the subject at hand. It is worth noting that a project of this scope could not have been accomplished without the insightful editing required to reduce the five volume set to a single (albeit massive) book and still maintain the magnitude and absorbing details of the original works largely intact. In this regard, this work is largely credited to Stanford PhD, Mary Petrusewicz, whose efforts should not go without mention

  15. 5 out of 5

    Luciana Nery

    Five stars do not begin to make justice to this work: monumental in its scholarship; deep in analyses of the original texts, historical & social context; and deeply loving in the image it paints of Dostoevsky. This booked filled in all the blanks I had about D. despite having read his body of work at least twice. I have acquired insights that make me want to reread all the books, now that I have a fuller concept of each one's genesis, personal contexts and their impacts on society at the time. I Five stars do not begin to make justice to this work: monumental in its scholarship; deep in analyses of the original texts, historical & social context; and deeply loving in the image it paints of Dostoevsky. This booked filled in all the blanks I had about D. despite having read his body of work at least twice. I have acquired insights that make me want to reread all the books, now that I have a fuller concept of each one's genesis, personal contexts and their impacts on society at the time. I actually also bought the Kindle edition just so I would not stop reading it on the subway, travelling, waiting in line, etc. It is a page-turner, heavy scholarship and all! But if there is one life in this world that had many ups and downs... it is heart bleeding to imagine what that man suffered, he who had such strong feelings at all times, and the genius to share them with readers in the centuries ahead. Now I'm forever spoiled, as I have given up on two biographies of Tolstoy because I missed so much the depth of knowledge and the love of a writer's work. I cannot recommend this enough as an example of how all writer's biographies should be.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sanchir Jargalsaikhan

    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 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, more strongly than all affects others by his preachments. Such a spiritual leader of the Russian people in recent times was Dostoevsky."

  17. 4 out of 5

    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 tow "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 toward the ultimate victory over egoism." The world of Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky as vividly describe by Joseph Frank in this meticulously written biography of his life, is like a world subjugated in a cauldron of hot molten lava, steaming with an intensity of heat that could even melt the hardest of rock as it prepares to become the very vacuum from which the current world is to be rightfully molded. This age is the age of intellectual filtering as it is the time of Divine transformation, it is a world on the precipice of change, where the cognitive function of Man reaches its boiling point, precipitating the immaterial consciousness to evolve inwardly thereby unleashing it to the heightened phase of spiritual evolution that stirs the heart and soul of Man into the profound search for the meaning of existence... The Imperial Russia of Dostoevsky's time was on the continuous onslaught of Western influence sparked by the pivotal Age of Enlightenment, which started to flow into the Russian soil at the time of Peter the Great and reaching its summit during the reign of Catherine, paving the way for the emergence of Russia's own intelligentsia, whose existence which included Dostoevsky can be attributed as a direct product of these supreme efforts to bring the arts and sciences into the heart of Russia, which was regarded then as only a Semi-Asiatic region of Europe. Within the boundaries of this "Western" intelligentsia was an ideal Voltairean in nature that became the sheer foreground of the French Revolution from which sweeping aftermath looms destructively over the entire European civilization as it undermines the divine authority of its monarchical autocracy for the sake of the many, the common peasantry in the name of the Utopian dream of Equality. This human desire for beauty seems irrational when the means to obtain it is through an act of violent destructiveness appearing in a somewhat searing justification of a world created by God, presumably of love in which all kinds of evil is permitted as it mirrors the Universal dichotomy that engulfs all of existence that eliminates the thin line that separates good from evil. Dostoevsky's sensibility was stirred by this celestial and abstract formation in the evolving consciousness of humanity that seemed to oscillate between the penumbra of faith and the crystallization of rational reasoning from which sacred fusion gave birth to his unrivaled genius as a writer, transforming him into a prophet for those who seek the true meaning of life. No other writer has provided me a clearer glimpse into this less traveled road of suffering than Dostoevsky, his profound discernment to unravel human consciousness in its rocky path provides an illumination of Divine understanding as the radiance of its inconspicuous aestheticism shines with significance in the continuously evolving human existence caught in the bewildering world wrapped in celestial theodicy. This was perhaps the abstract notion that mesmerized my consciousness when I first read Crime and Punishment, dumbfounded as I was at that time while devouring the book, completely aghast with its thought provoking precepts that somehow stirred my soul from its long and deep slumber. It was as if God had especially ordained him to be my personal prophet, using him as an instrument to communicate with me at the most crucible moment of my life when I needed to find peace in my heart. The awareness that soon opened up through his elaborate works as inspired by his eschatological imagination fed my spirit with much needed nutrients as it contributed to the enlargement of my perspective about the tumultuous condition of human existence that no actual words can truly express. Since then, it has always been a dream of mine to read Dostoevsky's life especially after my complete perusal of all his novels. The burning desire to know more about the brain behind those scintillating philosophical books that somehow provide abstract answers to the most "accursed questions" of man about life that could lead to the bountiful possibilities in our existence as it celebrates the infinity of the Cosmos once pursued to its finality is a Divine curiosity that needs to be revealed as his life as it turns out seems to be the sheer revelation of the Divine, or rather of the Divine "duality" innate and unobtrusive in each and every living consciousness of every man. Dostoevsky was molded with a firm belief in God while bearing witness to their impoverished life on the onset of his childhood, which somehow affected the psychology of his father with a conflicting repercussion in his psyche, whose love and concern for his children was overpowered by worries and uncertainties that translated to the irascible nature of his exterior. This was perhaps the first encounter of the young Dostoevsky to the anomalies in human existence with the prevalence of suffering as if permitted by the invisible presence of God, or in the case of his father, the irrational manifestation of violence in the ideal pursuit for beauty. It is evident that the relevance of this youthful perception signifies the initial honing of his sensibilities, enhancing his natural skill in supreme discernment as these somewhat infantile observations serve as a preview of his adeptness in dissecting human consciousness, which he will soon integrate with the personal to the convoluted social-political and cultural ideologies of his day. Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time is an in depth analysis of his life spanned with a lifelong affliction of sufferings, which include the mystic terror he goes through caused by his epileptic seizures, the near death experience of the mock execution, the eventual sojourn to Siberia, the irrational addiction to gambling and the lifetime struggle with money, which all contributed to his artistic evolution of his transforming consciousness stirred further by the conflicting issues of his day that will soon change the face of Russia and the world at large as Frank intersperses this intellectual history through the sublime creations of this man trapped in his own duality with a tortured spirit tapping the heights of human consciousness into becoming a writer, not only of his time, but for all time. This massive biography is an eye opener for someone like me who revered Dostoevsky as a prophet, who in his own words provided form to what can be considered formless aspects of existence. The disparity in his personality is embossed throughout the book as it appears as a recurring motif in Frank's thematic analysis of his life, a reflection of his own personal struggle to verbalize the iconic battle of heaven and hell in his consciousness. It clearly splits his personality into two equal halves as the sunken face and irascible nature of his exterior appears in contrast to his interior's Divine pursuits of the truth. Even though, this polarity is somewhat undermining the credibility of his divination, it only goes to show the humanness of his true nature, which in a way reflects the duality that we all suffer and struggle all throughout our lives. In all likelihood, we just need to separate his personal weaknesses aside and dwell on his enlightening Universal teaching of acceptance and forgiveness in the sheer image of Christ. ☾☯

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    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 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 and deep anti-Semitism. These aspects of Dostoevsky tarnish the purity of his moral authority and connect him, unfortunately, with current state of nationalism and xenophobia pervasive in Russian political and cultural life. In this way, Dostoevsky personifies, to some extent, what was so frequently true of his characters – their occupying of moral and ideological extremes. Dostoevsky's characters, as Frank explores, are personifications of particular ideological and moral propositions pushed to their logical ends (e.g., Raskolnikov (nihilism, utilitarianism), Ivan Karamazov (secular humanism)). The depraved (e.g Fyodor Karamazov, Pytor Verkhovenksy) and are contrasted with those morally pure and unassailable, such as Prince Myshkin and Alyosha Karamazov. Others, like Dmitry Karamazov and Nastasya Filipovna, vacillate, attempting to chart a journey through spiritual-moral transformation and redemption. Dostoevsky clearly meant his readers to ultimately realize the eschatological damnation awaiting the Ivan Karamazovs of the world – those tottering in their acceptance of spiritually, godly-animated life. We’re supposed to identify with Myshkin and Alyosha. Problem is: Dostoevsky’s damned, lunatic, unstable “underground” men and women -- with their tendencies of "flying into a rage,” insulting, lying, stealing, womanizing, neglecting their children and, fairly often, murdering – are so much more damn interesting and memorable than the hagiographic portraits of moral north-stars like Father Zosima. Though I certainly wouldn’t want to be or become a Dmitry or Ivan Karamazov, I bet it would be a lot more fun to have a beer with one of these two Karamazovs (even Fyodor) than it would with Alyosha.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book is not for everybody. It’s not for many people. Honestly, it’s not for me! I love Dostoyevsky’s novels and the ideas within them. From that, the chapters discussing those novels were the best part of this book. But unless you’re super interested in Russian history from 1840-1880 then this is going to be a slog. Frank ought to get five stars for the accomplishment because he’s thorough and obviously knows both the history and the novels. I’m giving it four because while I admire the wor This book is not for everybody. It’s not for many people. Honestly, it’s not for me! I love Dostoyevsky’s novels and the ideas within them. From that, the chapters discussing those novels were the best part of this book. But unless you’re super interested in Russian history from 1840-1880 then this is going to be a slog. Frank ought to get five stars for the accomplishment because he’s thorough and obviously knows both the history and the novels. I’m giving it four because while I admire the work, it’s not going down as an all time favorite. I do wish he had connected the revolutionary ideas in the air more to the Russian Revolution. Some young admirers of Dostoyevsky in 1880 may have been alive in 1917. This biography sets him in his time and place but not much connection to other time and place. Do you like Crime and Punishment, Demons and The Brothers Karamazov? This one might be worth your time. But unless you’re really interested in lots and lots and lots of context in Dostoyevsky’s life, you may find yourself doing a bit of skimming.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Frank consolidates enormous writing to give the finest window into how Fyodor's book happened. Real life counter-parts to his characters in,. his novels. Nice background Frank consolidates enormous writing to give the finest window into how Fyodor's book happened. Real life counter-parts to his characters in,. his novels. Nice background

  21. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    An amazing journey and one of my all-time favorite reads. I recommend accompanying this with Notes From Underground, Idiot and Brothers Karamazov.

  22. 5 out of 5

    N Perrin

    It is not without good reason that this is considered the greatest literary biography. Joseph Frank orchestrates various themes intellectual history, personal correspondence, literary analysis, spiritual testimony, and psychological reflection into a lucid harmony which impresses the reader with the immeasurable significance of Dostoevsky's legacy. Dostoevsky did not need to live through the twentieth century to discern the emerging chasms among decadent Western modernity. Materialism, socialism, It is not without good reason that this is considered the greatest literary biography. Joseph Frank orchestrates various themes intellectual history, personal correspondence, literary analysis, spiritual testimony, and psychological reflection into a lucid harmony which impresses the reader with the immeasurable significance of Dostoevsky's legacy. Dostoevsky did not need to live through the twentieth century to discern the emerging chasms among decadent Western modernity. Materialism, socialism, capitalism, industrialism, liberalism--none of the ideological novelties and activist causes of the West could liberate or free the human spirit. These wrestling, writhing amalgamations can only birth nihilism. As we live 150 years deeper in the wake of modernity, it is only so much more evident that we live and dwell in the nothing. For Dostoevsky, the solution does not lie in scientific progress, civic humanism, or political institutions. The ideas we invent only mutate the problems we have inherited. Instead, we must turn to the simple piety and faith of the common people. It must be acknowledged that Dostoevsky was not a pastoral romantic. He spent years in a Siberian prison camp among the lowest drudges of society. And yet his faith and his resolve held fast that their sincerity, their struggle to overcome , their resolve to survive would form the bedrock of a global renaissance. Rather than conforming to the better educated, The drives and impulses of the rural Orthodox populace should supplant the veilleities of a sycophantic "progressive" intelligentsia. The Russian elite circulated lofty ideas about fixing ideas at their dinner parties, but what did they change? What did their gentrified posturing lead to? 1917. The story of Tsarist Russia bears several parallels to ours. Our isolated social elite may try to dismiss the voice of 46.2% of voters, they may believe themselves the anointed saviors of the everyman, but their progressive pretense creaks from the fragility of the elite's nihilist foundations. Dostoevsky was convinced that "everything is purified by suffering" and one could not write until one has suffered. Why is it that our cultural voices consist of infantilized trust fund kids whose deepest struggle is a dependency on Xanax or Instagram body image issues? Dostoevsky may not have been enchanted with our "deplorables" or their choice for leadership, but he would have seen in them a power, a resolve, and a humanity that our decadent liberal elite could not even begin to imagine. The fears they face as local industries die, as automation usurps their jobs, as their children abandon their homes and values, as their paychecks grow more strained, and as wealthy city-dwellers scoff at their outcry for a return to better days--this is a suffering more real, more devastating than any perceived slights or traumas that are invented in a LA therapist's office at $200/hour. It is in those who support their family on a tenth of that income that Dostoevsky sees the future. It is their faith, their tradition, their sincerity which is our collective hope. It is the post-ironic anecdote that David Foster Wallace saw when he read Frank's biography. And if we can't find hope here, then where else can we turn?

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom Walsh

    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 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 Folk" to the sweeping vision of "Kamarazov" Mr. Frank has researched it all, and has capsulated his gigantic bio into this still huge volume. One can't carry this around, due to its weight, but the weight of its main character would be worth the strained arm muscles.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    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. 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.

  25. 5 out of 5

    TYLER VANHUYSE

    3.5 stars for Joseph Frank’s comprehensive, carefully-crafted biography of Dostoevsky. Frank provides intimate accounts of Dostoevsky’s eventful life, from his childhood to his final days, as well as thorough and thoughtful literary analysis on all of his work, including his feuilletons and other works as an adamant publisher. In the accounts of Dostoevsky’s life, Frank captures the evolving essence of the great Russian author’s beliefs; as one example, Frank traces the compassion Dostoevsky lea 3.5 stars for Joseph Frank’s comprehensive, carefully-crafted biography of Dostoevsky. Frank provides intimate accounts of Dostoevsky’s eventful life, from his childhood to his final days, as well as thorough and thoughtful literary analysis on all of his work, including his feuilletons and other works as an adamant publisher. In the accounts of Dostoevsky’s life, Frank captures the evolving essence of the great Russian author’s beliefs; as one example, Frank traces the compassion Dostoevsky learned from his mother’s treatment of peasants and serfs in his childhood as that compassion developed through his experiences with hard labor in Siberia, interactions with fellow prisoners, and the synthesis of all this with which Dostoevsky imbued his novels; Frank postulates that this compassion, which brought about a unique social sensitivity for the poor and downtrodden, in many ways delivered him to the major innovation of his writing, the innovation that placed him in the center of the post-Gogol generation of Russian writers: “the world as seen from below rather than above.” Frank follows this thread well, and many more, all with great intrigue. However, this biographical content can get bogged down deep deep in the weeds, which made reading slow and soporific at times; it is this drudgery, which was not always, but often overwhelming, that decreased the rating to 3.5 stars for me. Though Frank lost me a few times with the biographical analysis, his literary analysis was exemplar. Frank always introduced the analysis with ample historical background (which is absolutely necessary for reading most of Dostoevsky) and he always produced critical commentary on the major and minor themes of Dostoevsky’s novels. As I read all of Dostoevsky’s extant work throughout the year, Frank facilitated my more profound understanding of each work; it was obvious that Frank read Dostoevsky thoughtfully and consulted extensive, critical understandings of each work. This contributed greatly to my capacity to read and understand Dostoevsky’s literary devices and themes. I am indebted to Frank for this aspect of his biography. If Dostoevsky fascinates you, or you participate in scholarly study of the author, Joseph Frank’s biography is a must.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jackson Cyril

    Five stars for Frank's magnificent scholarship; even in this abridged 1,000 page version, his depth of insight into Dostoevsky's works and time is unparalleled. When I first encountered the two great Russian novelists, I admired Dostoevsky's daring technical innovation and psychological acumen and found Tolstoy a bit eccentric, though I admired his works very much. As the years go on however, while Dostoevsky's two great novels "C&P" and "The Brothers K" remain towering monuments in my mental la Five stars for Frank's magnificent scholarship; even in this abridged 1,000 page version, his depth of insight into Dostoevsky's works and time is unparalleled. When I first encountered the two great Russian novelists, I admired Dostoevsky's daring technical innovation and psychological acumen and found Tolstoy a bit eccentric, though I admired his works very much. As the years go on however, while Dostoevsky's two great novels "C&P" and "The Brothers K" remain towering monuments in my mental landscape, whose influence and power only grows in my appreciation, the man who wrote them seems more and more like an utter scumbag; while Tolstoy, the quixotic lion-hearted lunatic, soars high in my imagination. Many of Dostoevsky's works fall apart for me, and rereading "The idiot" or "Demons" is more a chore than anything else, while encountering a new text by Tolstoy--a bit rare, as I spent a summer reading through his complete works in translation-- is always an awe-inspiring experience. He produced not only the greatest works in European literature since Cervantes and Shakespeare, but his social and societal criticism-- which many dislike-- only increases his moral stature for me. Dostoevsky, we learn in this work, shed hot tears when he learned of Tolstoy's excommunication; but it is that very gall to break away from the bounds and shackles of tradition which make Lev Nikolaevich so appealing. There is a Lear-ian rage to his never ending quest for truth, and though he was often wrong, he never stopped searching (cf. Isaiah Berlin's excellent essay "Hedgehog and the Fox" for a good discussion of Tolstoy's restless intellect). Compare this to the later Dostoevsky, who assumed the mantle of reactionary prophet and preached Xenophobia and hatred. Artistically too, Tolstoy was constantly innovating, and the crystalline purity of "Hadji Murad"-- with its striking lack of preaching, is in stark contrast to his earlier works. And his short stories are gems.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    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 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 of Russian intellectuals at the time of the European revolutions of 1848, which had put the tsar on edge. Only through his humbling experience with his peasant inmates did he come to understand the sentiments of the peasantry and so to realize that most of the ideals of those intellectuals were founded on unsound premises. (2) His major works were in reaction to various intellectual currents of his time and place; for example atheism, socialism, determinism, nihilism, anarchism, and utilitarianism. His characters variously exemplified those ideals carried to their logical and dreadful extremes. (3) He believed that the best hope for the future of Russia lay not in further westernization or revolution but rather in active faith in the Russian Orthodox church and loyalty to a tsar interested in the welfare of the Russian people.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mark Bruce

    You don’t climb a mountain by jumping straight to the top. Like a mountain, this 932 page biography of one of Russia’s greatest writers is daunting, but if you put one foot in front of the other and hold tight to the rope line, you’ll conquer this peak. And it’s worth the climb. Frank wrote five separate volumes, from which this distillation is derived, and his scholarship is clear and clean. He delves deeply into the Writer’s difficult life from childhood with a diffident father, to idealistic y You don’t climb a mountain by jumping straight to the top. Like a mountain, this 932 page biography of one of Russia’s greatest writers is daunting, but if you put one foot in front of the other and hold tight to the rope line, you’ll conquer this peak. And it’s worth the climb. Frank wrote five separate volumes, from which this distillation is derived, and his scholarship is clear and clean. He delves deeply into the Writer’s difficult life from childhood with a diffident father, to idealistic youth flirting with 18th Century Socialism, to the Siberian prison camp where the Writer’s character was formed, on to his career as a writer and eventually into his few years as a celebrated hero of Russian Literature. Frank is careful to give full credit to Dostoyevsky ‘s long suffering wife Anna, who emerges as a truly remarkable woman. She was 24 years his junior when they met, yet it’s doubtful he would have reached the heights without her. Frank is not afraid to count how many angels are dancing on the pinhead of the various religious and social arguments Dostoevsky embroiled himself in. Particularly useful are the in depth discussions of the mans major works. All with a readable, flowing style. If you read only one 1000 page biography of the author of “Crime and Punishment,” make it this one. Really.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Aasin Peña

    This book is not a biography of Dostoesvsky. A biography is supposed to be an account of a person´s life. This book is far from that. This book is not a biography, but rather an analysis of Dostoesvky. This is all fine, and well, but in that case do not call it a biography. Far too often Frank puts his own spin on things in an attempt to explain Dostoesvsky´s mindset at different periods of his life. This is not what a biography is supposed to be. At other times the writer goes off topic, and star This book is not a biography of Dostoesvsky. A biography is supposed to be an account of a person´s life. This book is far from that. This book is not a biography, but rather an analysis of Dostoesvky. This is all fine, and well, but in that case do not call it a biography. Far too often Frank puts his own spin on things in an attempt to explain Dostoesvsky´s mindset at different periods of his life. This is not what a biography is supposed to be. At other times the writer goes off topic, and starts talking about other writers. For example, Frank goes way too much into Gogol and the effect that his writing had on the Russian literary world. This is not what a biography is supposed to be. I could go on, and I am sure a lot of people will think poorly of this review, but if this book was marketed as how it should be then it would have five starts absolutely. But this is not a biography is supposed to be. For that I give it two stars.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Durham

    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. 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.

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