Category Archives: Autobiography

The Seven Storey Mountain

The Seven Storey Mountain

by Thomas Merton (1948)

The fiftieth anniversary edition labels itself as “An Autobiography of Faith”. Fair enough, though most people might already know that by 1998. At over 450 pages, this is a long book. It takes time to get through. Some of the comments on Amazon are less than positive or charitable, but many of those refer to typos in the Kindle edition, while others come across as anti-Catholic, and still others as flat out anti-Merton. So be warned. Merton has his detractors.

This book is full of little surprises that I would hate to ruin for you, so I will say very little in terms of details. I will at least give some random vague references of things you might find unique or of interest:

His time at Columbia University in the 1930’s.┬áHis time at St. Bonaventure in Buffalo, NY. His terrible troubles with dental health. His memories of his parents, especially his father. Also his relationship with his younger brother, John Paul. His first visit to America from Europe. Experiences in Harlem. His time spent in old European cathedrals. His literary ambitions. The authors that influenced him. His initial visits to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. And not insignificantly, hints of what would characterize his later writings, a sample of which is found here:

Seven great Merton paragraphs

The above passage falls about one-third of the way through the book and is unique to the book. There is no other passage that is similar in the rest of the 450 pages. I believe that was intentional, but even if it was not, it foreshadowed the best works that Merton would publish over the next dozen or so years.

Personal note: My mother mentioned this work to a friend when I was about 10 years old (mid 1970s), her enthusiasm giving me the impression she had recently read it. While I was reading it a couple years ago and discussing it with her, I learned that she had read it shortly after it first came out, when she was probably a sophomore or junior in high school. Here I was thinking that I had been reading it at approximately same age as she did, but I was quite mistaken.