Thomas Berry: A Biography
(New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2019)
Thomas Berry (1914–2009) was one of the twentieth century’s most prescient and profound thinkers. As a cultural historian, he sought a broader perspective on humanity’s relationship to the Earth in order to respond to the ecological and social challenges of our times. The first biography of Berry, this book illuminates his remarkable vision and its continuing relevance for achieving transformative social change and environmental renewal.
Berry began his studies in Western history and religions and expanded to include Asian and Indigenous religions, which he taught at Fordham University, Barnard College, and Columbia University. Drawing on his explorations of history, he came to see the evolutionary process as a story that could help restore the continuity of humans with the natural world. Berry urged humans to recognize their place on a planet with complex ecosystems in a vast evolving universe. He sought to replace the modern alienation from nature with a sense of intimacy and responsibility. Berry called for new forms of ecological education, law, and spirituality and the creation of resilient agricultural systems, bioregions, and ecocities. At a time of growing environmental crisis, this biography shows the ongoing significance of Berry’s conception of human interdependence with the Earth within the unfolding journey of the universe.
Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim teach at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Yale Divinity School, where they direct the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology. They worked closely with Thomas Berry for over thirty years as his students, editors, and literary executors and are the managing trustees of the Thomas Berry Foundation.
Andrew Angyal is professor emeritus of English and environmental studies at Elon University. He has also written biographies of Loren Eisley, Lewis Thomas, and Wendell Berry.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Thomas Berry and the Arc of History
1) An Independent Youth
2) The Call to Contemplation
3) Studying History and Living History
4) The Struggle to Teach
5) From Human History to Earth History
6) From New Story to Universe Story
7) Evoking the Great Work
8) Coming Home
Interlude: The Arc of a Life
9) Narratives of Time
10) Teilhard and the Zest for Life
11) Confucian Integration of Cosmos, Earth, and Humans
12) Indigenous Traditions of the Giving Earth
Praise for Thomas Berry: A Biography
“A tour de force biography: Thomas Berry was one of the most important thinkers on humanity and our trajectory on this wondrous living planet—and indeed in the journey of the universe. This is a book written with love and clarity and belongs on everyone’s required reading list. Read it and you will not only understand one of the most inspiring persons of our time, but also it will change how you think about the future.”
—Thomas E. Lovejoy, University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
“This is a book one has waited impatiently for: some of our finest humanists telling the epic intellectual and human story of Thomas Berry. Most biographies illuminate the past, but this one helps chart the course for our future.”
—Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
“To a bewildered world, Thomas Berry offers a moral compass. To a fragmented world, he offers the convergence of scientific and spiritual worldviews in a new story of the evolutionary unity of humans and the cosmos. For a despairing world, he offers meaning and hope. As Thomas Berry was a brilliant, erudite, joyous person who changed the world, so this biography is a brilliant, erudite, joyous book that will change your life.”
—Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Great Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change
“To read this magnificent biography is to encounter the evolution of greatness, for Thomas Berry was truly one of the remarkable people of the twentieth century. Throughout, Berry’s decency and humanity, as well as his courage, are vividly displayed. I found this book to be a joy and an inspiration.”
—James Gustave Speth, cofounder, Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute, former administrator, United Nations Development Programme
“In my first meeting with Thomas Berry, I sensed a depth of wisdom that was comprehensive and unique. This initial intuition only deepened as we worked together over decades. There is no better pathway into his vision than this profound biography.”
—Brian Thomas Swimme, coauthor, with Thomas Berry, of The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era
“Thomas Berry was a visionary pathfinder for both the 20th and the 21st century. With this splendid biography, we discover how this came to be. It could hardly be more timely!”
—Larry Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, New York City
- Photos of Thomas Berry
- Photos of Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim
- Bio for Mary Evelyn Tucker
- Bio for John Grim
- Joint Bio for Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim
- Book Cover Image (Low-Res)
- Book Cover Image (High-Res)
Excerpts from the Biography:
“Introduction: Thomas Berry and the Arc of History” (You can also read this introduction on the Columbia University Press Blog.)
Selection on Earth Jurisprudence from Chapter 7: “Evoking the Great Work”
Articles by the Authors:
“Thomas Berry and the Rights of Nature: Evoking the Great Work”
By Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, Kosmos Journal, Winter 2019.
“Why Thomas Berry Matters Today: Mary Evelyn Tucker Reflects on Her Latest Book, Thomas Berry: A Biography”
By H. Emerson Blake, Orion Magazine, August 22, 2019.
“Thomas Berry and Columbia University: Reflections from Mary Evelyn Tucker, Columbia PhD 1985”
Columbia University Press Blog, May 29, 2019.
“Q&A: Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim on Thomas Berry: A Biography“
Columbia University Press Blog, April 26, 2019.
“Biography of Thomas Berry”
By Mary Evelyn Tucker, Minding Nature, Vol. 2, No. 3, Winter 2009.
Conference at Georgetown University:
Watch the videos and read the papers from the “Thomas Berry and ‘The Great Work’” conference at Georgetown University on October 30-31, 2019
News Articles and Reviews:
“Thomas Berry: Reflecting on Emotions, Heart and Conservation”
Review by Marc Bekoff. Psychology Today. November 20, 2020.
“The intersection of ecology and theology”
Review by Christiana Zenner. America: The Jesuit Review. September 18, 2020.
“The Cosmic Liturgy”: A Review by Peter Reason
Scientific and Medical Network, Paradigm Explorer, May 2020.
“Lifeways: A Review by J. Milburn Thompson”
Today’s American Catholic, November 2019.
“Pursuing Thomas Berry’s ‘New Story’ with an eye on climate change”
By Jesse Remedios, National Catholic Reporter, November 6, 2019.
“A saint among us: a new Thomas Berry biography”
Review by Thomas Crowe, Smoky Mountain News, October 30, 2019.
Review by Jules Cashford
Resurgence Magazine, Fall 2019.
Review by Ursula King
Times Higher Education, June 13, 2019.
“Pentecost and the language of spring”
By Judith Best, Global Sisters Report, June 6, 2019.
“Thomas Berry: A Biography”
Yale News, June 5, 2019.
“Rooting Rebellion in Nature”
By Liz Hosken, The Ecologist, May 24, 2019.
“Can the Universe Story Bring Us Together?”
By Michael Lerner, Angel of Vision, May 7, 2019.
New Korean Translation:
The biography has been translated into Korean.
Thomas Berry: A Biography
Conversation with Mary Evelyn Tucker and Michael Lerner
The New School at Commonweal, Bolinas, CA, USA (March 17, 2019)
Live Q&A: Mary Evelyn Tucker on Thomas Berry: A Biography
With Jennifer Morgan of the Deeptime Network (May 23, 2019)
Notes about Photos:
See this page for high-res photos and photo credits.
Photos by Lou Niznik may be used with the proper attribution: “Photo by Lou Niznik, Courtesy of the Thomas Berry Foundation”
Photos by Gretchen McHugh may not be used or reproduced in any way without the written permission of the artist’s family