Albert Schweitzer

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography


This brief autobiography, written when Schweitzer was mid-50's, summarizes his life and thought up to 1931. He presents illustrative factoids and incidents from his childhood and student years, then briskly covers his development as a minister, philosopher, biblical scholar, musician, and musicologist, all before he reaches Chapter 9 (p. 102), which is entitled, "I Resolve to Become a Jungle Doctor." He greatly enjoyed his life as a scholar, yet was plagued by "the thought that I must not accept this happiness as a matter of course, but must give something in return for it." (p. 103)

He was particularly struck by the fact that so many people in the world were "denied that happiness by their material circumstances or their health." At around this time (1904), Schweitzer came across a publication of the Paris Missionary Society, which described the needs of their Congo mission. This article changed his life. In 1905, at the age of 30, he enrolled in medical school at the University of Strasburg. (Thus, Schweitzer became a forerunner of today's nontraditional applicants who leave other promising careers to enter medicine.)

Schweitzer and his wife began their work at Lambaréné in Gabon, West Africa, in 1913. As a result of the Great War in late 1917, they were sent back to France and detained as enemy aliens until mid-1918. They returned to Lambaréné and rebuilt the hospital in 1924. Between then and 1931 when Out of My Life and Thought was written, Schweitzer devoted most of his time (as he would for the rest of his life) to doctoring at his hospital in Gabon.

This memoir also includes brief intellectual asides describing many of Schweitzer's famous works, such as The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), J. S. Bach (1908), On the Edge of the Primeval Forest (1920), Philosophy of Civilization (1923), and The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930).

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