The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966

Robert Hudson. Eerdmans, $23.99 (260p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7520-4
Hudson (The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style) weaves a fun tale of cross-cultural influence in this exploration of Bob Dylan’s influence on Thomas Merton which never convincingly demonstrates a relationship beyond artist and fan. Though a Trappist hermit, Merton was also a worldly monk who traveled outside the monastery walls at the Abbey of Gethsemani in central Kentucky to meet with such cultural and religious figures as Joan Baez, Jacques Maritain, and Thich Nhat Han, Hudson writes. Merton also listened to jazz and folk (especially Dylan) on the abbey’s record player. Drawing on the well-known details of the lives of these two figures in what’s billed as a parallel biography, Hudson sketches arcs for both men that eventually come together with their separate involvements in pacifist movements of the mid-’60s. Readers are left with Merton’s journals about Dylan as the two men’s only connection since the book’s protagonists never actually met. While Dylan’s music serves as a nice frame for Merton’s activism—chapters conclude with timelines tracking Merton’s biography and Dylan’s discography—the book reveals little new about either man. Newcomers to Merton will find many endearing details here, but general readers will come away wishing for deeper insights into the ways Dylan’s music might have informed Merton’s religious thinking. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/08/2018
Release date: 03/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 263 pages - 978-0-8028-7755-0
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