Instead of writing separate book reviews, I’ve decided to commend to your attention two books on Augustine that I think make a great pair. The first is Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown. This book is widely recognized as being the best biography of Augustine; after having read several, I concur. At about 500 pages, it’s no lightweight; yet, it’s the most striking, engaging, and memorable book on Augustine I’ve read. What is portrayed in this book is not primarily a bishop or a theologian, but a man. Brown illuminates Augustine so that the reader can empathize with him, agonizing in his turmoil, participating in his passion. Brown’s training as a historian of Late Antiquity allows him to vivify for us Augustine’s world. Friends, enemies, relatives, and places of residence all have depth; they will remain with the reader as more than names. The revised edition contains an important chapter at the end modifying some of Brown’s judgments. I was delighted to find that several parts of the book that troubled me were dealt with in that chapter.
As good as Brown’s biography is, it does have a glaring omission. The life is treated thoroughly, the philosophy decently, the theology hardly at all. To supplement this Augustine sans theology, I recommend Augustine by Henry Chadwick. At little more than 100 pages, this is the most concise and accessible introduction to Augustine’s thought. It covers his intellectual sources and the major points of his theology, while occasionally touching on Augustine’s legacy in later church history. Despite its brevity, it avoids and even deconstructs simplistic caricatures of Augustine.
Armed only with these two resources, I believe a reader could gain significant insight into Augustine’s life, thought, and significance for Christianity. I suspect, though, that after reading these two books, many will be eager to devour Augustine’s own words. Perhaps they might start with Confessions?