Thomas Merton (1815-1968) was a Trappist monk, poet, essayist, activist, and author of some of the most influential spiritual writing of the 20th century. He entered the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in Kentucky as a young man in his twenties, seemingly abandoning the promising literary career that lay before him. But from the silent cloister in which he spent all but the last few weeks of his life, his influence spread throughout the world through his writing, primarily on topics related to the spiritual life--a subject which he demonstrated to be very broad indeed. His life of dialogue led him to explore a range of contemplative practices, particularly Buddhism, and he was one of the pioneers in raising awareness in Buddhist philosophy and practice among Westerners.
Mary Gordon, as a Catholic in critical dialogue with her church, came to explore Merton relatively late in her own journey, becoming fascinated with him through his writing, particularly as a fellow writer. She documents her exploration of Merton though his books--the ups and downs of the experience, areas of disagreement and sympathy, of annoyance and, ultimately, deep connection. It's a profoundly personal view of one of the great spiritual figures of our age, by an interpreter who, while disinclined to go easy on her famous subject, reveals a great admiration and fascination with him.