The Seven Storey Mountain

by Thomas Merton

Paperback, 1999



Call number

Adult > Saints/Memoir/Biography


Mariner Books (1999), Edition: First, 494 pages


A fiftieth-anniversary edition of the 1948 spiritual autobiography of Thomas Merton, a young man whose search for peace and faith led him to join the religious order of the Trappist monks.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Joycepa
Thomas Merton was one of the most influential spiritual figures of the 20th century. In his own time, he became a legend; since his death, there have sprung up various foundations and centers devoted to promulgating his ideas. His many books are widely read.

However, as in all things, there is a
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beginning. The Seven Storey Mountain, formally an autobiography until his 33rd year, was published in 1948; it’s multi-
layered book. As William Shannon points out in the excellent Introduction to the 1998 edition, it’s really 3 books in one.

First, it’s a record of his life: his birth in 1915 in France, his early life and schooling, his education at Cambridge and Columbia and so on. But as Shannon points out with great insight, it’s also a memory of his life; while the memories and his interpretations of them lift the book up from a dry accounting, memory is also selective. The third and most useful of Shannon’s explanations is that it’s also a monk’s judgment of his early life, and Merton was harsh indeed on his younger self; Merton is remorseless in documenting his flaws, his sins.

But for most people, what is important is really a 4th book—Merton’s spiritual journey which took him finally to the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky in 1941 at age 26. While it is true that the monk Father Louis was very hard on the young Thomas Merton, it is within this context that Merton struggled with his desperate need to find a meaningful direction to his life, one that led to conversion to Catholicism and eventually to a life as a contemplative. That struggle and the insights and religious/spiritual experiences he had on his way are what make the book a powerful read and an inspiration to so many. As Giroux, an editor, says in his essay, 50 years later, the book is still selling steadily.

Another reason for its popularity is that Merton makes those experiences so accessible. He was a poet as well, and that’s obvious, not just in the ease and smoothness of this prose in his description of his life. It is especially evident in his lyricism in portraying his exaltation, his love for God, Mary and the saints, and his joy, his gratitude for all the mercies and grace bestowed upon him. Because I feel it is nearly impossible to do justice to this aspect by description, I tried to find one of the many passages like that in the book in order to quote them here—but in fact, they really can not be taken out of context. That is the best indication of how integrally Merton’s faith is woven into his story. I suspect that that is one major reason why the book is so popular and why so many people of all faiths have found it so inspirational.

However, this is the early monk, not the later one. Even in the latter part of the book, one can still see the religious intolerance, flashes of smugness, arrogance, and sexism, as well as the judgmental way in which he views “the world”. The Catholic church of 1948 was pre-Vatican II, and Merton definitely shows that in his dismissal of all religious expression except Roman Catholicism. But what is truly ironic about the young monk is that in dismissing what he calls oriental religion and practices, even in this earliest of his works one can see that his insistence on staying with the present moment, his belief in meditation, and many of his observations can be taken right out of Zen Buddhism; it’s the clearest sign pointer to the fact that in his last years, he was indeed drawn to that way of expression—integrated, of course, with his Catholic faith.

Also, there is humor in the book—gentle, sometimes a little difficult to see, but definitely there.

Despite all the flaws, the reason why the book is so powerful is that Merton, like all mystics, penetrates to the heart of the dissatisfaction, unhappiness and longings of everyday people. He is able to express, in terms Westerners can understand, how those yearnings for direction and our fears and denials lead us to lives that are empty and filled with self-loathing. He has also shown, in an accessible and extremely powerful way, how he, a most imperfect person, worked his terribly painful way up the seven storey mountain of this struggle and his gratitude and exaltation to have reached the summit.. Few thoughtful people, especially in today's world, can fail to be affected by his story.
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LibraryThing member steller0707
Merton is most eloquent in describing his soul- searching and the contemplation of his faith. The writing of the events of his life, though very interesting, is choppier. In his Epilogue he is very eloquent. He doesn't call for following his choice of vocation in becoming a monk - he's not a
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"recruiter" and he is not doctrinaire. His message calls for everyone to seek his or her own relationship to God through both action and contemplation, thereby spreading the word of faith.
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LibraryThing member mmillet
I couldn't bring myself to finish this autobiography of a young man raised by very liberal parents who eventually became a trappist monk. Merton never did anything by halves and I think this book is a great representation of that -- everything he explains he goes into GREAT DETAIL about. That's the
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reason I didn't finish it, but my book club's discussion was interesting enough that I'll probably go back to it in the future when I am in the mood.
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LibraryThing member LTW
In 1941, a brilliant, good-looking young man decided to give up a promising literary career in New York to enter a monastery in Kentucky, from where he proceeded to become one of the most influential writers of this century. Talk about losing your life in order to find it. Thomas Merton's first
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book, The Seven Storey Mountain, describes his early doubts, his conversion to a Catholic faith of extreme certainty, and his decision to take life vows as a Trappist. Although his conversionary piety sometimes falls into sticky-sweet abstractions, Merton's autobiographical reflections are mostly wise, humble, and concrete. The best reason to read The Seven Storey Mountain, however, may be the one Merton provided in his introduction to its Japanese translation: "I seek to speak to you, in some way, as your own self. Who can tell what this may mean? I myself do not know, but if you listen, things will be said that are perhaps not written in this book. And this will be due not to me but to the One who lives and speaks in both." --Michael Joseph Gross
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LibraryThing member bsanner
An autobiography of faith, Merton’s story traces his own pilgrimage from childhood to adulthood, from atheism to faith, from conversion to his monastic vocation. Representing traditional, pre-Vatican II Catholic theology, Merton explains the world through the eyes of Catholicism addressing
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subjects as diverse as the Eucharist, devotion to Mary, war, and social service. Sometimes meandering, Merton’s story is nonetheless well written and provocative – especially if interested in the monastic life. A-
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LibraryThing member txorig
Deep; had to read it several times; thought provoking account of Merton's spiritual journey
LibraryThing member ebenlindsey
This autobiography of the early years and conversion to Catholicism of the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton is highly engaging and often quite beautiful in it's descriptions of the value of faith and the the importance of a contemplative life. What I found difficult was the constant condescension toward
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other faiths, which seemed very strange for a man who would become a champion of ecumenicism, and who wold die decades later on a tour of Asia, where he addressed an interfaith conference of monks.

I was glad to learn later that Merton said he regretted much of this book, and for my own enjoyment I will assume it is this over-eagerness of a recent convert that he regretted.

Beyond this one complaint I can say that it is a beautiful book with value beyond the Catholic world, as well a good introduction to Merton.
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LibraryThing member laudemgloriae
I was very impressed with this auto-biography, and I'm not one for auto-biographies. I think they seem too egotistical generally, but this one is different. His life is fascinating, and he writes humorously, really giving all the glory to God for the good things in it.
LibraryThing member universehall
An amazing book. This it's an autobiography, a conversion story, and chock-full of amazingly deep spiritual insight.

This isn't a book, however, that you're going to sit down and read all at one go. It's four hundred and twenty pages long, so that pretty much precludes speeding through the thing.
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Is it ever hard to read? Well, yes. But I'd temper that with the thought that I haven't read a spiritual book that was ever completely easy. And there are times when switching back and forth between philosophical/religious insight and autobiographical stories isn't as smooth as it could be.

However - keep this fact in mind. When Merton wrote this book, he was ONLY THIRTY-THREE YEARS OLD!! I was astounded and a little befuddled by that when I got to the end and discovered it. I thought, as I was reading, that this book was written by a wise old man. Imagine my discomfiture when I found that he was only five years older than me.

And yet - inspite of some minor awkwardness in the sheer writing mechanics - this is an amazing book. As a Catholic and convert myself, I found his story extremely inspiring. However, I don't think that only Catholics should read this book. Anyone who considers themselves spiritual (or would like to) should read it, and consider its contents.
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LibraryThing member Neftzger
This book is essentially Thomas Merton's autobiography of his early life through the time of his conversion to Catholicism and entry into a monastery. Aside from being an interesting story, there are a few additional insights to be gained from this book that make it extraordinary. For example, at
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the end of the book Merton talks about how vices can also be manifested in spiritual forms. It's through his own self reflection that he discovers how a person may display pride over spiritual accomplishments. While the spiritual versions of these sins are disguised as good, they're just as corrupting to the soul as the other forms. Insights like these make the book worth reading and throughout the book Merton also feels like someone worth knowing.
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LibraryThing member Carolfoasia
This is one man's journey of faith. He wrote very beautifully too.
LibraryThing member oldman
A book of Thomas Merton's journey from being an agnostic to being a contemplative Trappist monk. Very deep philosophical passages, but well worth reading through. Almost makes you want to be a monk by the time you get to the end!
LibraryThing member auntieknickers
Although I have learned much and been inspired by Thomas Merton's later writings, I have some difficulty with his young self as reflected in this book. Part of the problem is that it necessarily pulled a lot of punches because, as a monk, Merton was required to omit some of his real sins from the
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book in order to receive the imprimatur. Where he is able to be honest, one can appreciate his self-examination.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
I'm not a Catholic and knew nothing of Thomas Merton, but came across this book by following links of "customers who bought this, also bought..." and by reading Amazon reviews. I was not disappointed. Reading like a novel at times, this book is an autobiography of a faith. I was very impressed with
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the author's search for a faith, his many trials and searches in the wrong place, and his determination to find somthing "bigger than himself." This book written over 50 years ago is dated in ways by theology and politics that seem out of place now; however, the overall impact of Merton's search is well worth the effort to read. This book is for someone who is searching for a deep quiet faith -- one that is found through searching, reading, praying and worshiping quietly and individually.

This book is not in the same category of many popular Christian writings of this time. Thomas Merton's faith is one that was found in an ancient church and many ancient writings. It was a faith found through traditional liturgy and reading. I don't think Merton would have been comfortable in many of the modern churches (both Protestant or Catholic) that attempt to mold worship to meet cultural demands.

Thanks to all the reviewers who so aptly described this book and caused me to want to read it. I hope others will find it equally as inspiring.
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LibraryThing member ElTomaso
A good message but the writing style is distracting.
LibraryThing member jd234512
This was quite a wonderful book and is especially interesting to read after you have at least read one of his other works. There seem to be some points where the relevance of certain times do not seem fitting, but they all seem to come together at the end where he wraps it up very well. Overall, an
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excellent book and this just makes me want to read more of his others all the more.
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LibraryThing member watson_1
I had read this book about 22-23 years ago and didn't remember much about it. I enjoyed re-reading this, although I did get bogged down in some details. I am still not convinced of the value of the monastic life, but did appreciate the discussion of finding a vocation. It was also clear of the
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authors devotion to God and Love.
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LibraryThing member allenkeith
This is a long spiritual journey from time before and after Merton is drawn to things Christian and from there to things Catholic. It is made longer still with a prospect of a vocation and to that of knowing his vocation and it being denied of which Merton was so convinced. The long journey reaches
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its culminating point with taking vows in a Trappist monastery - "the four walls of my new freedom." The delight to me of this book was Merton's description of the spiritual side of his journey, his interpretation of the world around him, his failings - but also his perspective of men and women pursuing a life full of meaning and purpose.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Merton's description of having seen a vision in which he "saw God" has many similarities to my own "satori." Another one of those books that one can read that opens a person up on many levels. Even if you're not a Christian, one can relate and find substantive advice on awakenings in the spiritual
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LibraryThing member pennsylady
he Seven Storey Mountain was written at the prompting of Thomas Merton's abbott (he was doing some other writings for the Trappist order)
It was published in 1948 and therefore did not include the last 20 years of his life.

I think it was designed to show simply his worldly beginnings and his road
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from secularism to Christ through contemplation.

After World War II and the Great Depression, people were ready for the simplicity of contemplative prayer.
They needed the hope and confidence that could be found in a spiritual approach to life.

Thomas Merton provided that.

"Clean, unselfish love does not live on what it gets but on what it gives.
It increases by pouring itself out for others, grows by self sacrifice and becomes mighty by throwing itself away." (Thomas Merton)
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LibraryThing member debnance
Thomas Merton tells the tale of his life in this book. He was born into a not-especially devout Catholic home in France. He sought to fill the emptiness he felt inside himself with various things, including runs at Communism and intellectualism and youthful pleasure, but it was only after he
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stumbled into Catholicism and life at one of the most restrictive Catholic monasteries that he found great peace.
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LibraryThing member cw2016
A treasured spiritual story of the life of Thomas Merton, monk, mystic, and peace activist. This is the story of the famous journey Merton travelled to reach the path laid out by God. Told in his own words, no matter what your tradition or lack of it, this is an important work to read and study.
LibraryThing member tony_sturges
A modern-day Confessions of Saint Augustine, The Seven Storey Mountain is one of the most influential religious works of the twentieth century. This edition contains an introduction by Merton's editor, Robert Giroux, and a note to the reader by biographer William H. Shannon. It tells of the growing
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restlessness of a brilliant and passionate young man whose search for peace and faith leads him, at the age of twenty-six, to take vows in one of the most demanding Catholic orders--the Trappist monks. At the Abbey of Gethsemani, "the four walls of my new freedom," Thomas Merton struggles to withdraw from the world, but only after he has fully immersed himself in it. The Seven Storey Mountain has been a favorite of readers ranging from Graham Greene to Claire Booth Luce, Eldridge Cleaver, and Frank McCourt. And, in the half-century since its original publication, this timeless spiritual tome has been published in over twenty languages and has touched millions of lives.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Thomas Merton, orphaned by his college years, studied at Columbia and decided to take holy orders. He quickly realized that he really wanted something which would require sacrifice. The Franciscan order he chose cost him very little. He wanted something more. He remembered his friend's visit to the
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silent Trappist Gethsemane monastery in Kentucky and applied for a retreat there. His experience there was profound, but back with the Franciscans in New York, he found himself wanting more. He visited a more urban Trappist monastery, but found his call to Gethsemani. Along the way, we learn a lot about Merton's life and about contemplation. We also learn about God and man's relationship to him. This well-regarded work influences lives of protestants and Catholics seeking a greater intimacy with God. Much of the experience occurs in the build-up to World War II and in the early days of United States involvement in the war. Merton's draft number came up, but he failed a physical at first and was in the process of entering the monastery by his second call.
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LibraryThing member vlodko62
Elements of this autobiography were very moving and insightful, but ultimately I had difficulty with the extreme nature of his conversion. While I understand his rejection of the superficial secular world, the freedom within four walls which he describes seemed like a prison of the mind. I'll keep
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looking for a middle way.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

494 p.; 5.2 inches


0156010860 / 9780156010863
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