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Augustine Conversions and Confessions by Robin Lane Fox

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Joint Winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2016.

Augustine is the person from the ancient world about whom we know most. He is the author of an intimate masterpiece, the Confessions, which continues to delight its many admirers. Robin Lane Fox follows Augustine on a brilliantly described journey, combining the latest scholarship with recently found letters and sermons by Augustine himself to give a portrait of his subject which is subtly different from older biographies.

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation said: "The Wolfson History Prize has for almost half a century recognised historical writing of the highest quality: books based on brilliant scholarship that are written with compelling readability. Robin Lane Fox and Nikolaus Wachsmann bring incisive new perspectives to histories we thought we already knew. They are both worthy winners in this long and eminent tradition, and tackle one of the great perennial issues: the nature of evil."

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Augustine Conversions and Confessions by Robin Lane Fox

This book offers a major new interpretation of how one of the great figures of Christian history came to write the greatest of all autobiographies. Augustine is the person from the ancient world about whom we know most. He is the author of an intimate masterpiece, the Confessions, which continues to delight its many admirers. In it he writes about his infancy and his schooling in the classics in late Roman North Africa, his remarkable mother, his sexual sins ('Give me chastity, but not yet,' he famously prayed), his time in an outlawed heretical sect, his worldly career and friendships and his gradual return to God. His account of his own eventual conversion is a classic study of anguish, hesitation and what he believes to be God's intervention. It has inspired philosophers, Christian thinkers and monastic followers, but it still leaves readers wondering why exactly Augustine chose to compose a work like none before it. Augustine's heretical years as a Manichaean, his relation to non-Christian philosophy, his mystical aspirations and the nature of his conversion are among the aspects of his life which stand out in a sharper light. For the first time Lane Fox compares him with two contemporaries, an older pagan and a younger Christian, each of whom also wrote about themselves and who illumine Augustine's life and writings by their different choices. More than a decade passed between Augustine's conversion and his beginning the Confessions. Lane Fox argues that the Confessions and their thinking were the results of a long gestation over these years, not a sudden change of perspective, but that they were then written as a single swift composition and that its final books are a coherent consummation of its scriptural meditation and personal biography. This exceptional study reminds us why we are so excited and so moved by Augustine's story.


'Confessions is so perfect that one can't help wondering why anyone would accept the challenge of writing a biography of its author. What could a historian possibly add to this unforgettable story? Fifty years ago we learned how much more there was to say when Peter Brown published his magnificent life, Augustine of Hippo. ... Robin Lane Fox, a British historian retired from Oxford, has now done Brown one better. The author of Pagans and Christians, a superb and accessible study of late antiquity, he has now given us a massive book on roughly the first half of Augustine's life, running from his youth to the writing of Confessions. Brown managed to tell the whole story, from birth to death, with great economy and flair. Fox aims for full immersion, and he conjures the intellectual and social life of the late Roman empire with an almost Proustian relish for detail. Augustine left behind dozens of books and hundreds of letters, all of which Fox seems to have consulted. He also provides vivid sketches of the saint's friends, acquaintances, correspondents, patrons and spiritual enemies. At points I had the sense of being in an American restaurant where each portion is large enough to feed an entire family. But Fox is such a good writer that interest never flags and you always feel that you are there.' -- Mark Lilla New York Times Book Review

'Lane Fox's book is undoubtedly a watershed in Augustinian studies, close in significance to Peter Brown's great biography in the 1960s. ... the magisterial and compellingly readable narrative ... makes full and creative use of all the best recent scholarship, especially from France ... this is a well-presented book, and a substantial contribution to the field.' -- Rowan Williams New Statesman

'Any reader interested in one of the early church's most influential figures, a saint we know more about than any other from the ancient world, will find this stimulating biography a pleasure to read.' -- Peter Jones Times

'Augustine's Confessions vividly makes present to us the world of the late Roman empire. And Lane Fox, with the power of his writing and deep familiarity with the huge circuit of Augustinian texts, reveals with remarkable enthusiasm and sympathy the spiritual and intellectual drama of his remarkable subject.' -- John Cornwell Financial Times

About the Author

Robin Lane Fox is Emeritus Fellow of New College, Oxford, and was until 2014 Reader in Ancient History in Oxford University. He is the author of Pagans and Christians (1986), The Unauthorised Version (1992) and many books on classical history, including Alexander the Great (1973), The Classical World (2005) and Travelling Heroes (2008), all of which have been widely translated. He has been the gardening correspondent of the Financial Times since 1970.

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Book Info

Publication date

3rd November 2016


Robin Lane Fox

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Penguin Books Ltd


672 pages


Biography / Autobiography
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