Books by and about Thomas Merton -
A Short Bibliography.
by Peter C. King
The problem with reading Thomas Merton is that there is just
so much to read, and with the recent and ongoing publication of his private
journals after their 25 year embargo there is more still ! Often we are asked to
recommend a good place to start reading Merton, and in response to this demand
have decided to produce this (very) short bibliography. Inevitably it is
personal, but I hope not unduly so. Inevitably too it is limited, but hopefully
it offers a beginning. It is based on books available in the U.K. Summer 1997,
although of course many further titles are available from the USA. Any comments
or suggestions are very welcome and will be taken into account in another
edition. Peter C. King on behalf of the committee of the Thomas Merton Society
of Great Britain & Ireland.
Merton the ContemplativeSeeds of Contemplation (Anthony Clarke
Books) represents Merton the contemplative at his most readable. Accessible to,
and read by, those of many varying spiritual commitments and none, it captures
the essential worldview underlying all Merton's huge diversity of writing. (N.B.
In the USA this book is entitled New Seeds of Contemplation. It is not to be
confused with earlier versions of the same work which were everywhere titled
Seeds of Contemplation.)
The New Man (Burns & Oates) is a more theological work, perhaps the
nearest Merton ever got to a theological exposition of his thought.
Contemplation in a World of Action (Doubleday Image USA), the Monastic Journey
(Doubleday Image USA) and Contemplative Prayer (DLT) are written with a more
specifically Monastic readership in mind, but are also of considerable interest
to the general reader.
Merton the Social CriticMy favourite collection is still Faith
& Violence: Christian Teaching & Christian Practice (University of Notre
Dame Press) bringing together as it does essays on nonviolence, the Vietnam war,
and the ‘Death of God’ movement. For a more recent anthology turn to Passion for
Peace: The Social Essays edited by Merton scholar, William H. Shannon
Merton's acute and perceptive awareness of contemporary events is revealed in
his autobiographical Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Burns & Oates), a
rewriting of his journals of the late 50s and early 60s, and also in Raids on
the Unspeakable (Burns & Oates) from the same period.
Merton on MertonAlthough Merton’s private journals are now
being published (Harper Collins, ongoing), volumes such as the groundbreaking
Seven Storey Mountain (SPCK) which started Merton off as a writer back in the
mid-forties, or his final Asian Journal (New Directions), as well as the words
and photos of Woods, Shore, Desert (Museum of New Mexico Press, USA) are still
well worth reading. Conjectures (see above under ‘Social Critic’) is a very
readable way in to Merton's journals.
Merton the Letter WriterMerton’s letters are now available in
five volumes, collected thematically and ranging from social concerns to
monasticism to letters addressed to personal friends. These are published by
Farrar, Straus, Giroux (usually referred to as simply FSG) in the USA, although
some paperback editions are still around here in “remainder” shops. A short and
accessible way in to Merton’s letters is through his 1960s correspondence with
Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, published by Orbis under the title
At Home in the World.
Merton and ZenZen and the Birds of Appetite, a collection of
Merton’s writings on Zen is available both from New Directions and as a
Shambhala Pocket Classic.
The Literary MertonMerton’s poems and his literary criticism
are all published by New York publishers New Directions. His Selected Poems are
listed as available in the UK. The weightier Collected Poems and Literary Essays
are only available direct from the USA.
About MertonA final selection is from books about Merton. The
definitive (and authorized) biography is that of Michael Mott, The Seven
Mountains of Thomas Merton (SPCK). Shorter perhaps for an introduction is Monica
Furlong’s newly reissued Merton - A Biography (SPCK) or Jim Forest's Living With
For discussion of Merton's work as well as his life, Henri Nouwen's Pray to
Live: Thomas Merton - Contemplative Critic (Triumph Books, USA), offers a
selection from, and commentary on, a wide range of Merton's output. A more
specialised study of Merton’s place in the apophatic tradition of Christian
spirituality is to be found in William H. Shannon Thomas Merton's Dark Path
(FSG, USA). Finally, my own Dark Night Spirituality: Thomas Merton, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, Etty Hillesum - Contemplation & the New Paradigm (SPCK) offers
an introduction to Merton in the company of two other significant figures for
twentieth century spirituality.
Ordering BooksThe best source for books relating to Thomas
Bardstown Art Gallery.
P O Box 417,
Get in touch with
Bardstown Art Gallery
The web home-page of
the Thomas Merton Society home-page