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.
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.