Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne (Hardcover)
Winner of the 2022 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction
Longlisted for the 2023 Plutarch Award
A Wall Street Journal Top 10 Best Book of 2022
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Named a Best Book of the Year by The New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, and Literary Hub
From the standout scholar Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite presents a sparkling and very modern biography of John Donne: the poet of love, sex, and death.
Sometime religious outsider and social disaster, sometime celebrity preacher and establishment darling, John Donne was incapable of being just one thing.
He was a scholar of law, a sea adventurer, a priest, a member of Parliament—and perhaps the greatest love poet in the history of the English language. He converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, was imprisoned for marrying a sixteen-year-old girl without her father’s consent, struggled to feed a family of ten children, and was often ill and in pain. He was a man who suffered from surges of misery, yet expressed in his verse many breathtaking impressions of electric joy and love.
In Super-Infinite, Katherine Rundell embarks on a fleet-footed act of evangelism, showing us the many sides of Donne’s extraordinary life, his obsessions, his blazing words, and his tempestuous Elizabethan times—unveiling Donne as the most remarkable mind and as a lesson in living.
About the Author
Katherine Rundell is a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, where she works on Renaissance literature. Her bestselling books for children have been translated into more than thirty languages and have won multiple awards. Rundell is also the author of a book for adults, Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise. She has written for, among others, the London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, and The New York Times, largely about books, though sometimes about animals, night climbing, and tightrope walking.
“Finally a biography of John Donne that captures his eccentricities, his contradictions, his fabulous twists and turns, his trickiness . . . Oxford fellow Katherine Rundell does all of this with an engaging spirit not often seen in academic books . . . A deeply sensitive and clear-eyed reading of Donne’s work and life.”
—Jill Peláez Baumgaertner, The Christian Century
“I had many thoughts while reading Super-Infinite, but the most persistent one was this: there ought to be more books like it . . . Rundell is an excellent storyteller, moving ably between anecdote and analysis and never losing track of her purpose, which is to follow Donne from cradle to grave and convince us to come along.”
—Anahid Nersessian, New York Review of Books
“Katherine Rundell brings us a fresh take on the poems, prose, and protean identities of a 17th-century master of the English language. Super-Infinite is both humble and flashy. Humble because John Donne’s life and work lie on a path well-trodden by scholars; flashy because Rundell is a playful, incandescent stylist who brings scintillating insight to her subject.”
—Bob Duffy, Washington Independent Review of Books
“Katherine Rundell titles her new biography of Donne Super-Infinite. It’s an ingenious way of making his difficulty sound exciting as well as formidable . . . [Rundell] writes with both the knowledge of an expert and the friendly passion of a proselytizer."
—Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker
“One of my favorite reads lately is Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne, Katherine Rundell’s dizzyingly fun biography of a poet who lived headlong. Free of charge, it throws in a rollicking snapshot of Elizabethan England.”
—Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune
—Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Rundell offers a rich analysis . . . which rises to the challenge of introducing Donne and his world to the next generation of readers”
—James Shapiro, The New York Times
“If you want to experience Donne anew, or if you have never experienced him before, pick up a copy of Super-Infinite. It’s the best book on Donne in years."
—Micah Mattix, Washington Examiner
“Fresh, delightful . . . [Rundell] nimbly captures Donne in all his guises as well as the historical period in which he lived . . . Written with verve and panache, this sparkling biography is enjoyable from start to finish.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A wonderful, joyous piece of work . . . with fierce, interrogative intelligence. It is fantastic to have this most elusive and mysterious of men brought out into the light, for all to see.”
—Maggie O’Farrell, author of Hamnet
“[An] important new biography of the greatest metaphysical poet who ever lived (and lived, and lived, and lived…).”
—Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub (most anticipated)
“Katherine Rundell makes Donne come alive as a remarkable and extraordinary and almost boundless human being. His life was one of despair and joy, the sacred and the profane, deep love and pain, and this book is filled with such infectious passion and fascinating detail that it shines like its subject. A triumph.”
—Matt Haig, author of the New York Times-bestselling The Midnight Library
“What a delightful book Super-Infinite is: companionable, astute, intimate in tone and clear-eyed in judgment, it brings Donne and his milieu to glorious life. I loved it.”
—Nick Laird, author of Feel Free
“Beautiful, radical, true. The way Rundell brings Donne and Donne’s poetics to life is a joy, shot through with deep readings, compassion, perspective, wit. Super-Infinite revitalizes what a literary biography can be: an urgent, visionary approach but also endlessly intellectually generous, open-hearted, and bold. It’s alive, and it made me feel more alive, as if clamouring to get closer to Donne, mid-sermon, jostled, trampled and completely okay with that.”
—Luke Kennard, author of Transition
“Crackling with gusto and sympathetic intelligence, Super-Infinite places John Donne fairly and squarely in his own times, while making those times feel contiguous with our own. We meet all his closely-entangled selves - wit, poet, lover, husband, soldier, priest – and all of them are cleverly drawn, creating a portrait in which closely-observed details are ingeniously set against a background of long perspectives.”
—Andrew Motion, author of Essex Clay, former Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
“Katherine Rundell’s brave and detailed new biography of John Donne is just the book we need: the life, family, historical background, religious questions and - best of all - the poetry, are imaginatively researched and subtly treated. The result is worthy of its subject - every page sparkles.”
—Claire Tomalin, author of The Young H. G. Wells: Changing the World
“There can be no better companion than Rundell in a bracing pursuit of John Donne. Throughout this sure-footed and eloquent biography, she encourages us to listen attentively to his many voices, and to the voices of those around him.”
—Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of Thomas Cromwell: A Life
“Katherine Rundell has a wonderful touch, light yet profound, which perfectly suits her extraordinary subject. The book combines delight in Donne’s humanity and his intellect, even as it delves into his metaphysics. Unmissable.”
—Simon Jenkins, author of A Short History of London
“This book unravels that knotty, witty, passionate poet John Donne. Completely at home in the middle of this Sacred and Profane Love Machine, Katherine Rundell has produced what is in itself a paradoxical and beautifully crafted work of literature – something much greater than mere critical simple biography.”
—A. N. Wilson, author of The Mystery of Charles Dickens
“What a Super-Infinite delight is this, this is the rich, textured and excellent biography that I have always wanted to read about Donne - it brings the poet, his poetry, his many lives and his turbulent Elizabethan and Stuarts times vividly to life.”
—Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs: 1613-1918
“I was completely absorbed by Super-Infinite, grabbed from the first sentence. Rundell’s erudition helps us understand Donne the thinker, her storytelling genius brings Donne the man to life, in his ‘hat big enough for a cat to sail in’. Vivid, exuberant language pulls this unpredictable, sometimes unreadable man, into our grasp. Her sizzling prose blows away the cobwebs of academia and makes this a deeply satisfying, joyful read.”
—Lucy Jago, author of A Net for Small Fishes
“Super-Infinite is a stylish, scholarly and gripping account of Donne’s ecstatically divided self, ‘hurried by love’ and by man’s ‘inborn sting’: a work super-relevant to our own troubled times.”
—Rose Tremain, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize, author of the Booker-shortlisted Restoration
“Anyone who has been lucky enough to read Rundell’s books (time and again) to their children will be totally unsurprised by this [a] brilliant leap into literary history of a rather more adult flavour. Her skill as a novelist shows us John Donne the man, so real, so eccentric, fizzing with talent, weird as hell; while her attention to detail makes her a historian of the first rank. It is among my proudest boasts, that I was massive Rundell fan before she became a national treasure.”
—Dan Snow, author of On This Day in History