Written By: George Marshall and David Poling Reviewed Edition: The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2000 ISBN 0-8018-6455-0 Softcover, 348 pages Quotes Table of Contents
Schweitzer: A Biography is an interesting, scholarly but somewhat outdated biography of Albert Schweitzer. Originally published in 1971, the only apparent revision in the current edition is a short afterword added by David Poling. This results in the omission of information from recent research--such as the recently discovered letters between Albert and his wife Helene--and the discussion of old controversies as if they were familiar to modern readers.
Nevertheless, this book has much to recommend it. Intellectual and scholarly without being obtuse, it is especially strong when discussing Schweitzer's Christian beliefs and motivations. The chapters dealing with Schwietzer's decision to perform service as a doctor in Africa, and his friends aghast reactions, are particularly interesting. Also, George Marshall apparently knew Schweitzer during his later years in Africa, and his firsthand knowledge adds to the descriptions of those years.
While overall I prefer James Brabazon's Albert Schweitzer: A Biography because of its more recent updating, Marshall and Poling's book is also a worthy and interesting biography of a great man.
"The pastor's fifteen-year-old son was confirmed in many ways--in his music, in his studies, and in his quest for service through the Church. He was also confirmed in his faith, in his respect for the power of reason, in dedication to humanity, and all these things would lead him away from the Church to a distant jungle. He would never be satisfied with half answers, with less than the best, whether in music, scholarship or human service. He was confirmed to be himself, not what Herr Munch wanted, not what Uncle Louis wanted, not what Pastor Wennagel believed. There was simply to be no mold into which Albert Schweitzer could be poured."
"The need for absolute truth, for historical and verifiable truth, was a necessity of Schweitzer's intellectual outlook. The more he studied, the more he came to realize how often misplaced zeal for the defense of Christianity had often interfered with the truth of history. He saw clearly that much of the trouble Christianity faced in academic and intellectual quarters came because of its failure to grapple realistically with historical truth. If any one factor marked the course of his studies and writings, it was this love of truth. His approach was objective rather than subjective, but it was the objectivity of one who loved the Christian message rather than one bent on undercutting it."
"What irritated Schweitzer [after he announced his intention to be a doctor in Africa] more than anything else was the unexpected shallowness and conservatism of so many Christian friends and acquaintances. These people were active, concerned churchmen. Yet they were aghast that anyone would seriously respond to the words of Jesus Christ. All the days in conference, prayer and study, all the services of baptism, communion and committal, all the sermons and vespers and carols--all added up to a Jesus that for most was forever distant, beautiful and safe. It seemed frankly irrational to find a man in the twentieth century who actually felt constrained to live the words and witness of Jesus." [emphasis in original]
"In time, the doctors and nurses also came to represent a heterogeneous background, but as late as World War II the staff was composed solely of Alsatians and Swiss. After the war, this was to change and there would be five or six permanent doctors on the staff, coming from three continents: Europe, Asia and America. The dozen or more registered nurses would come mainly from Europe with some from the United States, Japan and Korea. Through the years, they have been under the supervision of Mlle. Mathilde Kottmann, Mlle. Emma Hausknecht, and in Schweitzer's final years, under Mlle. Ali Silver. All three of these women had been with Dr. Schweitzer since his early days. There are also paraprofessional practical nurses at the hospital who are locally trained Africans. There are usually two dozen or more on duty. These nurses are mostly males and are usually married men."
"During his European visits, he preached the necessity of aid to the Africans, not as benevolence but as a duty. Reverence for Life explained his service--and that of others who through medicine or some other means of humanitarian service gave of their lives in careers or self-sacrifice. But to Schweitzer his life in Africa represented not self-sacrifice but self-realization and joy--and the natural consequence of his philosophy of life."
Table of Contents of Schweitzer: A Biography
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