I’ve been waiting for a long time to tell you about this. Here is my next book, How Dante Can Save Your Life, which will be published on April 14. Pre-order it from Amazon.com here.
I’m excited by the cover design. The image on the right is what’s under the paper sleeve. It’s a facsimile of a 1596 edition of the Commedia, published in Venice. It is a beautiful image — both are, really. The reverse side, which you can’t see here, is too. The cover design, by Richard Ljoenes, is truly a work of art, and I’m grateful to my publisher, ReganArts, for this extraordinary gift.
How Dante is the culmination of a journey I took in public, on this blog, and in private. It is a sequel, or sorts, to The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, but you don’t have to have read Little Way to get into How Dante. And if you did read Little Way, you’ll want to read the second to find out how the conflict that emerged at the end of the Ruthie story was resolved.
How Dante began with a TAC cover story last year. And here are the opening paragraphs of the book:
I don’t much like poetry. never have. which makes what happened to me when I stumbled into Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy all the more miraculous.
Dante’s epic saved my life.
This medieval masterpiece, perhaps the greatest poem ever written, reached me when I thought I was unreachable, and lit the way out of a dark wood of depression, confusion, and a stress-related autoimmune disease that, had it persisted, would have dangerously degraded my health.
Dante helped me understand the mistakes and mistaken beliefs that brought me to this dead end. He showed me that I had the power to change, and revealed to me how to do so. Most important of all, the poet gave me a renewed vision of life.
Maybe you think about the Divine Comedy — if you think of it at all — as one of those great books you ought to have read but never got around to. Or maybe you did read it in high school or college and didn’t really understand what the big deal was. This was me in the summer of 2013: a middle-aged man, lost and struggling, who never imagined a fourteenth-century poem would have anything to do with his twenty-first-century life.
Little did I know that Dante Alighieri, the failed Tuscan politician beggared by exile, knew me better than I knew myself. The Commedia, as his poem is called in the original Italian, is radical stuff. You will not be the same after reading it. How could you be? All of life is in there.
Dante’s tale is a fantasy about a lost man who finds his way back to life after walking through the pits of hell, climbing up the mountain of purgatory, and ascending to the heights of heaven. But it’s really a story about real life and the incredible journey of our lives, yours and mine.
The Commedia is a seven-hundred-year-old poem honored as a pinnacle of Western civilization. But it’s also a practical guide to life, one that promises rescue, restoration, and freedom. This book, How Dante Can Save Your Life, tells the story of how the treasures of wisdom buried in the Commedia’s 14,233 lines gave me a rich new life.
Though the Commedia was written by a faithful Catholic, its message is universal. You don’t have to be a Catholic, or any sort of believer, to love it and to be changed by it. And though mine is a book that’s ultimately about learning to live with God, it is not a book of religious apologetics; it is a book about finding our own true path. Like the Commedia it celebrates, this book is for believers who struggle to hold on to their faith when religious institutions have lost credibility. It’s a book for people who have lost faith in love, in other people, in the family, in politics, in their careers, and in the possibility of worldly success. Dante has been there too. He gets it.
I was so pleased to see these tweets yesterday by Matt Moser, a theologian at Loyola University in Maryland:
Folks, I’ve been reading @roddreher‘s forthcoming book on Dante. It’s phenomenal. You can preorder it today. And you should.
— Matt Moser (@matthewamoser) February 22, 2015
That’s so gratifying to read. How Dante is by no means a work of scholarship. It is a book that shows how the Commedia did for me exactly what Dante said he wanted it to do for his readers: delivered me from a state of misery to a state of happiness. It wasn’t an easy journey, and it wasn’t just Dante who helped me (an Orthodox priest and a Southern Baptist therapist assisted). But because it wasn’t an easy journey, it was an effective journey. A friend in Baltimore who read an advance copy over the weekend wrote to say that How Dante “cloaks the original text in more understandable modern parlance, with just enough personal application to connect the dots from Dante’s journey to yours, and then to the reader’s. I honestly don’t know how you did it.” I did it because I love this poem, and believe in its power to heal. You readers know that I am a Christian, and believe that the Commedia serves as an icon through which God reveals Himself and calls us closer. I talk about this in the book, though I don’t preach. As I said, though, you don’t have to be a Christian to be changed by Dante’s journey, and to find your way out of the dark wood with the help of my book. I tell in the book how Dante led me out of the dark wood, but do so in a way that, if I’m successful, will help all my readers — Christian and otherwise — think in a different and more positive way about their own lives. How Dante Can Save Your Life is a spiritual memoir and a work of bibliotherapy. I think of it as a self-help book for people who need help but who don’t want to buy a self-help book. It’s also a book that I believe will make the glories of the Divine Comedy come alive for high school and college students. Again, this is not a book that tells you everything you need to know about the Commedia. It is a story that shows you what life-changing wisdom exists inside the Commedia, and how, if you open yourself fully to the work, it will transform your life. You will not see the world and your place in it in the same way. I know; it happened to me.
This was a great tweet to see the other day, from an early reader:
Spending an iced-in day reading the galleys of @roddreher forthcoming book “How Dante Saved My Life.” Gut wrenching and beautiful.
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) February 17, 2015
And I have three wonderful endorsements on the back of the book. Here they are:
“Sometimes a book comes along that you want to press into the hands of everyone you know. A brilliant, searingly honest account of one man’s path to real healing, and an invitation to the rest of us to join him.” — Eric Metaxas, New York Times Bestselling author of Miracles and Bonhoeffer.
“We will use ‘How Dante Can Save Your Life’ in our classrooms because it makes the ‘Divine Comedy’ live in a person — and students need to experience this. I look forward to the rest of you finding in Dreher’s book the wit, wisdom, and application of the great poem to a small life.” — John Mark Reynolds, author of ‘When Athens Met Jerusalem,’ founder of Torrey Honors Institute, and provost of Houston Baptist University
“By weaving his own pilgrimage into Dante’s, Rod Dreher makes Dante accessible and, more important, compelling. He has assimilated what is most urgent in Dante and by grafting it to his own story he makes the ‘Divine Comedy’ passionately real. This is certainly the book for those who previously have only come across Dante as a name. Equally important, it provides fresh insights to those of us who are already hooked.” — Ronald B. Herzman, State University of New York at Geneseo and co-teacher of The Great Courses lectures on ‘The Divine Comedy’
Again, the publication date is April 14. Pre-order it now so you’ll have it before anybody else does.
UPDATE: The physician reader who posts as AnonymousDr writes:
About a year ago I was in a dark wood myself and I started to re-read the Commedia after having read the Inferno in high school and college. My reading of the Commedia actually how I found your blog. I studied Medieval history in college, but never really loved Dante ( I know, I know). Your commentary of Purgatorio, along with the Herzman lectures, and some other books that I stumbled upon, have opened up the poem to me in a way that scholars at college never did.
In the meantime a lot has happened in my life, including a trip to Florence (a few weeks before you were there), and the Commedia has become one of the lenses through which I see my life, almost unconsciously. As I walked up to receive ashes last Wednesday, I could only think of Dante and the seven Ps that he received upon arriving to Purgatory. I now see my own sins as disordered love.
Thank you for helping to open up this amazing poem, and I look forward to reading your book. It really is beautiful.
It really is incredible how the poem changes you, and alters your framework for seeing the world.
UPDATE.2: Several readers are asking if the book will be readable to those who have no prior experience of Dante. The answer is yes, absolutely. I wrote it with those people in mind, as well as Dante fans. It was a hard trick to pull off, but the fact that Ron Herzman, one of the country’s top Dantists, says it works for both beginners and experts, tells me that I found the sweet spot.