Brooding Russian Novelist for the Lighthearted (or Leitharted)?


Thank you to Thomas Nelson for the review copy of Peter Leithart’s Fyodor Dostoevsky. Below is my fair and honest review:

I was interested in this book for three reasons:

1. Dostoevsky is one of the best and most profound novelists whoever lived. Crime and Punishment is incisive in its critique of 19th century European philosophy and insightful on the complexity of the human heart, illuminating both its darkness and its goodness. <The Brother's Karamazov is a classic of Western literature. But what about the man? Before reading this book, my only exploration of what sort of man Dostoevsky was, was Wikipedia and a chapter from a Yancey Book. So I was eager to read more.

2. Peter Leithart is an excellent author and has published books in several genres (theology, historical theology, sermons, literary criticism, cultural criticsm, commentaries and other books about the Bible). He also blogs, A LOT at and has published numerous articles. To use the adjective prolific, may be an understatement. And while I haven’t read everything he’s written and know it can’t all be good, generally he has keen insight and is worth listening to.

3. I fancy myself a history buff and Russian history is incredibly interesting. Dostoevsky lived in 19th Century Russia, a period fraught with growing political unrest and conservative entrenchment. Anything focusing on Dostoevsky and needs to explore these dimensions.

In this thin volume, Leithart gives us an intimate portrait of Dostoevsky, the lover of Russian and lover of Christ. This is not a work of hagiography, Dostoevsky is too real to allow himself be sainted. He drinks to much, he is arrogant and full of rage, he is a gambler and a poor money manager, he is a scoundrel who has a mistress while his first wife is on her deathbed. But he is also somebody who sees with clarity the bankruptcy of European philosophy on Russian soil and that the only hope for his beloved country is Christ.

Leithart’s book is copiously researched as his end notes attest. Though his biography is written in narrative form, many of Dostoevsky’s words come from various of his correspondence and writings.
Having not read another biography on Dostoevsky, this sufficed for my purposes; however I imagine that a better book than this could have been written. This is relatively a brief treatment and while Leithart is fair, this is not him at his most creative or insightful.

But I do recommend it as a short, engaging treatment of a great novelist.

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