This book sketches the development of Schweitzer's ideas and accomplishments in theology, philosophy, musicology, and medicine. The author tends to pick up a theme at one time and then follow further developments on that theme at later points in Schweitzer's life. Thus, the book is not a comprehensive biography and it often departs from a strict chronological approach.

While there is some discussion of Schweitzer's "tortured" childhood and his later world-renown as the "jungle doctor," of Gabon, Bentley focuses on four intellectual and spiritual developments in Schweitzer's life. The first is his theological career, which led to the groundbreaking Quest for the Historical Jesus (1906) and subsequent theological books such as The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930).

The second is his philosophy of "reverence for life, "which was first fully articulated in Civilization and Ethics (1923). The third is Schweitzer's career as a musician, musicologist, and organ designer. Finally, Bentley traces the development of Schweitzer's ministry as a medical missionary in Central Africa.


A biography of Albert Schweitzer deserves a place in the literature and medicine database because he was certainly one of the great physician-writers of the 20th century. Most of his writing, of course, was not strictly literary, although his memoir, On the Edge of the Primeval Forest (1919) was very popular among the general reading public. In this age of progressively narrow specialization, the diversity of Albert Schweitzer's interests and accomplishments is staggering.

In recent decades his image of saintliness has predictably been punctured by accusations of paternalism (which are surely true), racism (which are surely false), and providing inadequate medical care at his hospital at Lambarene (which is a complicated issue). In any case, Schweitzer's eccentricities and personal limitations make him a more interesting character and should not detract from his accomplishments.


Harper Collins

Place Published

New York



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