Review: Kierkegaard – A Single Life

Kierkegaard was one of the original existential thinkers. His work influenced Jean-Paul Satre and Albert Camus. Although his work wasn’t taught as part of my philosophy studies, I read and was interested in Kierkegaard’s work without really understanding where he fitted in the world of existential philosophy.

When I saw this title about Kierkegaard’s life and work available on Netgalley, I eagerly requested it. I wasn’t disappointed.

Backhouse masterfully tells Kierkegaard’s story – his difficult relationships at home, especially with his father and older brother Peter, of his tendency to annoy his teachers with his quick wit and out of the box thinking. Of his romance with and then complicated ditching of the only woman he would love. Of his trials and tribulations due to his physical ailments and disabilities. Of his public battle with and subsequent bullying by one of the main publications in his town. Of the love and affection his nieces and nephews described for this complicated and difficult man. 

The accompanying illustrations also tell a story, particularly those caricatures of Kierkegaard himself, designed to humiliate and shame him.

Backhouse’s book also talks about Kierkegaard’s continuing influence on society today, from musicians like Arcade Fire and Childish Gambino, to the manga Sickness Unto Death and the twitter feed of @Kimkierkegaardashian, which mixes up Kim Kardashian’s words and Kierkegaard’s philosophy.

Backhouse has made me want to do something that I haven’t experienced in reading a biography before, which is to go back and revisit Kierkegaard’s work. 

Whether you are familiar with Kierkegaard or have never heard of him (and if you are the latter, there is a section in the book that lists Kierkegaard’s works with descriptions) this is a wonderful and accessible read.

5 out of 5 churchyards.


  1. I’ve read bits and pieces of Kierkegaard in undergrad. He mostly popped up in my religious studies that were also catalogued as philosophy courses. While I know his writings, I don’t know much about his background beyond the basics. Which if memory serves, if I were to subscribe to his philosophy, he would have rather me know every detail about him personally in order to understand any of his writings. Kind of an anti-Hegelian way of looking at things.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never heard of Kierkegaard but I am definitely intrigued. I will try and read more about him/his works. The memoir also sounds brilliant and I like the fact that there is a section that gives some details about him. I will check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I LOVE the Existentialists myself and Kierkegaard is my favorite of the lot. “The Sickness Unto Death,” “The Concept of Anxiety,” “Works of Love,” and of course “Fear and Trembling” – there are just soooo many good works! I wrote a few papers using him in grad school and read him for pleasure sometimes too. I loved your post! You made me want to go grab some of my Kierkegaard off the shelf and start reading right now!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have heard of Kierkegaard in the past but never really knew anything about him or his works, but just recently I was reintroduced to him in more detail and I’ve become a huge fan of him and his style of thought. I definitely want to check this book out!


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