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Alice von Hildebrand: Memoirs of a Happy Failure

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Alice von Hildebrand is a household name to many who know her from her countless EWTN appearances, her books, and her extensive articles and essays. What is little known is the story of her life, notably the thirty-seven years she spent at Hunter College in New York City. There, despite systematic opposition she left a mark on a generation of studentsthrough her defense of Alice von Hildebrand is a household name to many who know her from her countless EWTN appearances, her books, and her extensive articles and essays. What is little known is the story of her life, notably the thirty-seven years she spent at Hunter College in New York City. There, despite systematic opposition she left a mark on a generation of studentsthrough her defense of truth with reason, wit, and love. By showing her students how truth fulfills the deepest longings of the heart, she liberated countless students from the oppressive relativism of the day, enabling many of them to find their way to God. Now, for the first time, discover the details of Alice von Hildebrand s life as a "Happy Failure," including: . her thrilling escape from Europe that was nearly halted by a Nazi sub . her early days in America and her dedication to education and cultivating wisdom . her marriage to the great philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, . her victories and defeats at Hunter where she combated a culture of relativism . and much more "Memoirs of a Happy Failure "is a fascinating and essential glimpse into the life of one of contemporary Catholicism s most compelling minds. It is the story of courage, faith, and the grace of God acting in the world."


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Alice von Hildebrand is a household name to many who know her from her countless EWTN appearances, her books, and her extensive articles and essays. What is little known is the story of her life, notably the thirty-seven years she spent at Hunter College in New York City. There, despite systematic opposition she left a mark on a generation of studentsthrough her defense of Alice von Hildebrand is a household name to many who know her from her countless EWTN appearances, her books, and her extensive articles and essays. What is little known is the story of her life, notably the thirty-seven years she spent at Hunter College in New York City. There, despite systematic opposition she left a mark on a generation of studentsthrough her defense of truth with reason, wit, and love. By showing her students how truth fulfills the deepest longings of the heart, she liberated countless students from the oppressive relativism of the day, enabling many of them to find their way to God. Now, for the first time, discover the details of Alice von Hildebrand s life as a "Happy Failure," including: . her thrilling escape from Europe that was nearly halted by a Nazi sub . her early days in America and her dedication to education and cultivating wisdom . her marriage to the great philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, . her victories and defeats at Hunter where she combated a culture of relativism . and much more "Memoirs of a Happy Failure "is a fascinating and essential glimpse into the life of one of contemporary Catholicism s most compelling minds. It is the story of courage, faith, and the grace of God acting in the world."

30 review for Alice von Hildebrand: Memoirs of a Happy Failure

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Miller

    When I first came across Alice Von Hildebrand while watching Mother Angelica Live I was rapidly impressed with her. Her quick wit, intelligence, and common sense was a delight. Since then I have been interested in what she had to say. Around the same time I became acquainted with the works of her late husband Dietrich Von Hildebrand. I have by no means fully dipped into all his works, but I want to go further. His Transformation in Christ is a book I dearly love. When her biography of her husband When I first came across Alice Von Hildebrand while watching Mother Angelica Live I was rapidly impressed with her. Her quick wit, intelligence, and common sense was a delight. Since then I have been interested in what she had to say. Around the same time I became acquainted with the works of her late husband Dietrich Von Hildebrand. I have by no means fully dipped into all his works, but I want to go further. His Transformation in Christ is a book I dearly love. When her biography of her husband came out The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand I quickly attained and read it. Such an amazing story and an equally amazing man. You would think somebody who was a named enemy of Hitler would have his story more well known. There is at least a new book out called My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich. When I read Soul of a Lion I wondered about his later years since the story ends, as I remember, after his escape and ultimately ending up in New York. Some of this is covered in Alice Von Hildebrand’s new book Memoirs of a Happy Failure. While this autobiography does go into how she met her future husband and some of her life with him, she is mostly quiet on her personal life in this regard except when there are interactions with her students. What this book does cover is her life growing up in Belgium before World War II and her subsequent move to the United States during the war. The book starts out with her on a ship headed for New York that was threatened by a German sub with orders to evacuate before being sunk. I was quite interested in her descriptions of being raised in a very Catholic culture and the descriptions of her family members including the roles they played during the war. There were differences in both sides of her family that caused some tension. The large majority of this book covers her years as a teacher at Hunter College which is part of the City University of New York. This was to be where she ended up teaching philosophy throughout her career. Now having heard her speak I was aware of the difficulties she had regarding students versed in moral relativism as she taught the objectivity of truth. I just didn’t realize that this was a continual philosophical battle. What shouldn’t have surprised me is that this was rather minor considering even worse problems with the other faculty and those above her. The stories she relates regarding how she was treated by her fellow academics in such a pitiless back-biting manner raises your ire as she relates them. A Darwinian survival of the fittest where the fittest meant you had the right politics and sneer regarding subjective truth. Part of this was due to her being a women, but no doubt a lot of it was due to her being Catholic or really for being a faithful Catholic. Academics have no problem with Catholics just as long as they don’t believe that stuff. She describes how her education as taught by nuns little prepared her for such an atmosphere of prejudice and ill will. What I enjoyed most was her stories of students. It was quite obvious her love of teaching and her love of her students. There are many wonderful stories regarding the opposition she got and when the truth of what she was saying clicked with many of her students. Even stories of students converting to the Catholic Church despite the fact that she never talked about the Church at all in her lectures. Not all the stories regarding her students go well and some are rather sad. Still there were several that came into the orbit of her personal life along with her husband. Despite the opposition she was getting from the school and the many attempts to sabotage her career and to force her to leave, she endured. It must have really annoyed them the number of students who elected to take her classes over other philosophy professors more in tune with the zeitgeist. The title of her autobiography is quite apt. From the measure of the academic world she was mostly a failure. From the measure of her students that was not correct and even ultimately the school had to grudgingly admit this. I enjoyed the good humor she uses as she relates all these episodes. Experiences that might leave many bitter, yet her happiness shines through along with her love of the truth. On a side note this book provides another example to me regarding the cultural revolution of the sixties. In that it was not as if everything was in good condition before then and that this was a sudden revolution. Her examples of attitudes in the 1950’s show just how much the culture was infected with moral relativism and that it was even worse in academia. Cultural termites had already weakened the foundations of the culture.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mary Porter

    A beautiful reflection about being faithful to teaching truth amidst discrimination. I wish I could have had Alice Von Hildebrand as my professor. I enjoyed the small glimpses into her marriage as well. After reading this I want to dive more into Dietrich’s writing and better understand objective truth.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Spech

    I loved this book, but I am already a Dr. Alice fan. I wish that I could have attended one of her classes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Karen L.

    I saw an interview of "Lilly," Alice Von Hildebrand on Socrates in the City ( with Eric Metaxas) . She was brilliant! This book chronicled her early life and her life as a college professor with her doctorate in philosophy in a day when women did not have much headway in that field. She tells some amazing stories of teaching about truth and how that opened the door for many of her students to come to Faith in Christ. Lilly is a truly courageous woman of faith! I saw an interview of "Lilly," Alice Von Hildebrand on Socrates in the City ( with Eric Metaxas) . She was brilliant! This book chronicled her early life and her life as a college professor with her doctorate in philosophy in a day when women did not have much headway in that field. She tells some amazing stories of teaching about truth and how that opened the door for many of her students to come to Faith in Christ. Lilly is a truly courageous woman of faith!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kelli Sanders

    I would have enjoyed her story more if she spoke to how her faith helped her overcome her adversity. I do understand that most of her fight was as an underdog, as a Catholic woman professor in a male dominant Jewish college. I am sympathetic to her story. I was hoping it would end with more about how her faith played an impact.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    It may just be me. It was a good view of the struggles of a female, Catholic professor during the time but it ended up just being whining. Why, one would ponder, did she not just go elsewhere? It could have summed it up in half the pages and still made the point clear.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Meg W

    A short autobiography of an amazingly gifted woman. Dr. Von Hildebrand is truly an inspirational and strong role model for all woman.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emily Friedl

    Amazing. Every woman should read this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    If you're like me, you were probably introduced to Dr. Alice von Hildebrand through EWTN. She appeared on a variety of their shows from "The Journey Home" to "EWTN Bookmark." If you ever watched any of the shows with her on, you could tell that even in her advanced years, she was still a keenly intelligent woman. Despite her brilliance, what she is probably best known for is being married to Dietrich von Hildebrand. Thanks to Saint Benedict Press, we have the opportunity to learn more about her If you're like me, you were probably introduced to Dr. Alice von Hildebrand through EWTN. She appeared on a variety of their shows from "The Journey Home" to "EWTN Bookmark." If you ever watched any of the shows with her on, you could tell that even in her advanced years, she was still a keenly intelligent woman. Despite her brilliance, what she is probably best known for is being married to Dietrich von Hildebrand. Thanks to Saint Benedict Press, we have the opportunity to learn more about her in the book Memoirs of a Happy Failure. Memoirs of a Happy Failure begins when Alice was 17. She was onboard the SS Washington. She was traveling with her sister when they were informed that all passengers had to leave the ship, because it was intercepted by the Germans and was going to be torpedoed. They made their way to their assigned lifeboat, but it was full, so she expected to die that night. Clearly, she did not, but that had to be a very sobering experience at that early of an age. Chapter Two flashes back to her childhood in Belgium and how sheltered of an existence it was. This provided the necessary contrast in the book for her arrival to America. We then learn of her life in New York, going to school and excelling (despite her aunt and uncle thinking she wouldn't), but a bulk of the book deals with her teaching. The bulk of the book deals with her as a teacher/professor at Hunter College, because that is primarily what her life was. After all, she taught from 1947 to 1984. That is nearly 40 years of teaching experience and is impressive no matter what level at which you teach. During her time teaching, we see that she faced many professional hardships from her peers who looked to stab her in the back at every turn. A weaker person would not have survived these attacks, but her love of teaching, her love of her students, and her love of the truth gave her the necessary strength and motivation to continue teaching. She knew that she had to keep "preaching" objective truth in a world of moral relativism. When looking at her career as a teacher, she is considered a "failure" by most accounts, hence the title of her memoirs. One could argue that her students would view her as a happy success instead. She was fiercely devoted to her students and for the most part, the feeling was mutual. There is mention of her husband in this memoir, but he does not overshadow her like he did in real life. Even though, they were published by two separate companies, I believe this book is perfect to pair with her husband's memoir My Battle Against Hitler.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Started off really interesting as Alice’s early life was fascinating, but the majority of the book is bogged down by the hardships she experienced at the school where she taught for 30 or 40 years. Her woes and stories of disturbed students got pretty boring and repetitive. Was disappointed in this book!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Hayes

    Very much enjoyed this book, but only gave it 3 stars because it was so frustrating. Here she was married to one of the most famous theologians of the 20th century, and she hardly mentions him in the book. What is the point of writing a memoir, if you are not going to talk about your marriage, at least a little bit? This book really only covers her career at Hunter College. So if that is what you are interested in, you won't be disappointed. She recounts her struggles there in great detail, and Very much enjoyed this book, but only gave it 3 stars because it was so frustrating. Here she was married to one of the most famous theologians of the 20th century, and she hardly mentions him in the book. What is the point of writing a memoir, if you are not going to talk about your marriage, at least a little bit? This book really only covers her career at Hunter College. So if that is what you are interested in, you won't be disappointed. She recounts her struggles there in great detail, and of course we are horrified to read how she was mistreated by that secular institution. There are some inspiring anecdotes about successes with particular students, as well as some amusing, bizarre episodes that reflect the student body of that city school. It reads very quickly and is enjoyable. But the lack of information about her early life, and her adult life with Dietrich, is a major flaw of this memoir.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Thadeus

    What a joy to read stories from the life of a woman who spent her life teaching evening students of Hunter College in New York City the objectivity of truth. She did this in a time where secularism and relativism was becoming the sea in which everyone was swimming. All I could think about through nearly all of the book is how fortunate those students were to have such a person dedicated to teaching them such valuable perspective. All while she endured prejudice and discrimination due to her faith What a joy to read stories from the life of a woman who spent her life teaching evening students of Hunter College in New York City the objectivity of truth. She did this in a time where secularism and relativism was becoming the sea in which everyone was swimming. All I could think about through nearly all of the book is how fortunate those students were to have such a person dedicated to teaching them such valuable perspective. All while she endured prejudice and discrimination due to her faith. What a gift and hidden gem she has been to the people of New York City. I loved this book! Highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I didn't enjoy reading this as much as I'd hoped, though there is much to be impressed by in Dr. von Hildebrand's story. It's fairly narrowly focused on her academic career, and the (rightful) grievances she had against her department. The stories of students who came to faith as a result of her courses were interesting, but I feel I didn't gain much of a sense of her pedagogy beyond "commitment to objective truth" and that she never directly spoke of her Catholicism in the classroom. I didn't enjoy reading this as much as I'd hoped, though there is much to be impressed by in Dr. von Hildebrand's story. It's fairly narrowly focused on her academic career, and the (rightful) grievances she had against her department. The stories of students who came to faith as a result of her courses were interesting, but I feel I didn't gain much of a sense of her pedagogy beyond "commitment to objective truth" and that she never directly spoke of her Catholicism in the classroom.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Adrienne

    Anything by or about Alice von Hildebrand is worth reading!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    It was a very enjoyable read although it would have been more interesting if she talked about her marriage a least a little bit? She mostly focused on her professional career but not much else.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Wow, talk about suffering for your Faith in the workplace! I don't know how she did it for soooo long, but I'm sure she influenced many lives by sticking with it. Inspiring. Wow, talk about suffering for your Faith in the workplace! I don't know how she did it for soooo long, but I'm sure she influenced many lives by sticking with it. Inspiring.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Dunn

  18. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jen

  20. 4 out of 5

    Pauli Bokor

  21. 4 out of 5

    Patricia S Postema

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen L. Rudh

  23. 4 out of 5

    Magaly Alabau

  24. 5 out of 5

    Connie

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  26. 5 out of 5

    Karl Joseph Chetcuti

  27. 5 out of 5

    Heartshome

  28. 5 out of 5

    James F. Barlow

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Berninger

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary DiProperzio

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