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Publisher's Summary

Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith galvanized audiences with their astonishing Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography, a book acclaimed for its miraculous research and overwhelming narrative power. Now Naifeh and Smith have written another tour de force - an exquisitely detailed, compelling, and ultimately heartbreaking portrait of creative genius Vincent van Gogh. 

Working with the full cooperation of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Naifeh and Smith have accessed a wealth of previously untapped materials. While drawing liberally from the artist's famously eloquent letters, they have also delved into hundreds of unpublished family correspondences, illuminating with poignancy the wanderings of Van Gogh's troubled, restless soul. Naifeh and Smith bring a crucial understanding to the larger-than-life mythology of this great artist - his early struggles to find his place in the world; his intense relationship with his brother Theo; his impetus for turning to brush and canvas; and his move to Provence, where in a brief burst of incandescent productivity he painted some of the best-loved works in Western art. 

The authors also shed new light on many unexplored aspects of Van Gogh's inner world: his deep immersion in literature and art; his erratic and tumultuous romantic life; and his bouts of depression and mental illness. 

Though countless books have been written about Van Gogh, and though the broad outlines of his tragedy have long inhabited popular culture, no serious, ambitious examination of his life has been attempted in more than 70 years. Naifeh and Smith have re-created Van Gogh's life with an astounding vividness and psychological acuity that bring a completely new and sympathetic understanding to this unique artistic genius whose signature images of sunflowers and starry nights have won a permanent place in the human imagination.

©2011 Woodward/White, LLC (P)2019 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"A tour de force . . . an enormous achievement . . . [A] sweepingly authoritative, astonishingly textured book." (Los Angeles Times)

What listeners say about Van Gogh

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Empathy for a True Artist

I could not stop my empathetic tears from flowing as I listened to all accounts of his life. I too, was born into religious family, I too was an exile. I too am a professional artist. I too struggle with addiction (alcohol, drugs, sex). I too struggle with mental illness; I recently was diagnosed with PTSD and mild forms of disassociation to cope with neglect and abuse. Vincent’s life story brings comfort to me, and I have a new found respect and admiration for him always being true to his artistic nature.

I am about his age when he passed away and I feel stronger than ever to continue my art and seize an appreciation for life and the art of expressing ones true self. Thank you Vincent, you inspire millions.

58 people found this helpful

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Excellent biography - well worth the length

I truly enjoyed this biography and learned a great deal about painting, about Van Gogh and about his contemporaries and culture. I also enjoyed MOST of the narration - one can imagine 45 hours of listening would be almost impossible if it were not very good. However, given how much of the story took place in France and how many of the art terms were in French and how much of the letters between Theo and Vincent were written in French there is a great deal of French vocabulary in the text which necessitates either a narrator who speaks French or at least pronounces it consistently - even if Americanized. Unfortunately this reader tries to use a French pronunciation but does not speak or hear French correctly OR consistently making it very difficult to understand what he is trying to say - particularly when using an artistic term like 'plein-air' which sounded like KLEIN air until I finally realized what he was actually saying. This is why I only rated the performance four stars - it would otherwise have truly been a five star performance but it was very annoying if not annoying enough to give up this wonderful book.

35 people found this helpful

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Inside the minds, times and places

This exhaustive, rewarding book puts a reader into Van Gogh's era and surroundings. Using letters between him and family, friends and acquaintances, I could understand the impossible challenges they had with Vincent. His fiery emotions were only tolerable when expressed through the tips of his misunderstood paint brushes. He was a brilliant visionary who really couldn't fit into normal society as he lived before his time.

22 people found this helpful

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Highly recommended. Best Biography on Van Gogh!

Just finished this epic 45 hour audiobook detailing the life of Vincent Van Gogh. Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith concluded with very detailed interviews and deep fact finding that Van Gogh was shot and killed in accident by 16 year old René Secrétan and not by suicide popularized by Van Gogh mythology. However, Naifeh and Smith also conclude that Van Gogh was content to die because of his great life long suffering and mental illness, and so Van Gogh protected René Secrétan. This was one of the best biographies I have ever read. (This Van Gogh biography was so well written that I slowed the narration down to 0.9 speed for a total listening time of 50 hours.) Highly recommended.

19 people found this helpful

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  • Jy
  • 10-14-21

Sad when I was done

Thought about this book all the time while reading. Better for having read it. Interesting. Made me more interested in his work. Excellent

19 people found this helpful

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Incredible research and storytelling

The authors of the Pulitzer Prize winning book on Jackson Pollock have written another in-depth biography on Vincent Van Gogh. They tackle every aspect of Van Gogh's life, describing in detail the effects Van Gogh's mental illness had on his family, friends, and community.
The authors write beautifully about Van Gogh's failed attempts to become a preacher, his failed attempt at creating an artistic community with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, and his life-long relationship with his brother Theo. The authors also provide extensive research on why Van Gogh did not commit suicide.
An excellent book for any lover of Van Gogh and his art, enhanced by the narrator's voice and reading.

14 people found this helpful

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Very boring

I am huge fan of Van Gogh and generally enjoy biographies - but couldn't finish this one. It is very slow and very boring.

14 people found this helpful

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Long but well worth the time

More detail than I thought I wanted but so glad it was there. Learned so much about Van Gogh and his contemporaries. Fascinating. Well written and well read.

13 people found this helpful

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Spectacular writing. Remarkable research.

This book enthralled me from start to finish. All 45 hours of it. The depth of research and the amazing writing tell the story of an artist who remains mysterious to us all. It was great to learn more of the truth about his difficult personality, lifelong struggles with mental health, and deep/complex relationship with his brother. I cannot recommend it more highly. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Vincent and Theo and their unending communication by letter. They tell so much of their own story.

12 people found this helpful

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Passion

Just wow, what a life, what a way to paint I just loved this book

10 people found this helpful