• The Sinner and the Saint

  • Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece
  • By: Kevin Birmingham
  • Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
  • Length: 15 hrs and 45 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (81 ratings)
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The Sinner and the Saint

By: Kevin Birmingham
Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
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Publisher's summary

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice * One of The East Hampton Star's 10 Best Books of the Year

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Most Dangerous Book, the true story behind the creation of another masterpiece of world literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

The Sinner and the Saint is the deeply researched and immersive tale of how Dostoevsky came to write this great murder story - and why it changed the world. As a young man, Dostoevsky was a celebrated writer, but his involvement with the radical politics of his day condemned him to a long Siberian exile. There, he spent years studying the criminals that were his companions. Upon his return to St. Petersburg in the 1860s, he fought his way through gambling addiction, debilitating debt, epilepsy, the deaths of those closest to him, and literary banishment to craft an enduring classic. 

The germ of Crime and Punishment came from the sensational story of Pierre François Lacenaire, a notorious murderer who charmed and outraged Paris in the 1830s. Lacenaire was a glamorous egoist who embodied the instincts that lie beneath nihilism, a Western-influenced philosophy inspiring a new generation of Russian revolutionaries. Dostoevsky began creating a Russian incarnation of Lacenaire, a character who could demonstrate the errors of radical politics and ideas. His name would be Raskolnikov.

Lacenaire shaped Raskolnikov in profound ways, but the deeper insight, as Birmingham shows, is that Raskolnikov began to merge with Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was determined to tell a murder story from the murderer's perspective, but his character couldn't be a monster. No. The murderer would be chilling because he wants so desperately to be good. 

The writing consumed Dostoevsky. As his debts and the predatory terms of his contract caught up with him, he hired a stenographer to dictate the final chapters in time. Anna Grigorievna became Dostoevsky's first reader and chief critic and changed the way he wrote forever. By the time Dostoevsky finished his great novel, he had fallen in love.

Dostoevsky's great subject was self-consciousness. Crime and Punishment advanced a revolution in artistic thinking and began the greatest phase of Dostoevsky's career. The Sinner and the Saint now gives us the thrilling and definitive story of that triumph.

©2021 Kevin Birmingham (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"With The Sinner and the Saint, Kevin Birmingham has scored a hat trick, delivering three biographies in one book - expertly chronicling the lives of the man who wrote Crime and Punishment and the murderer who inspired the tale, and the fascinating evolution of the novel itself. Birmingham’s ingenious braided narrative offers an inspired new reading to those who already know and love Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, and serves as an indispensable guide for first time readers.” (Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast)

What listeners say about The Sinner and the Saint

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Interesting topic (Dostoevsky, that is)

The conceit of this book is that Dostoevsky was inspired, in part, by the career of the French criminal Lacenaire to write his masterpiece, Crime and Punishment (which is to some extent true), and therefore it might be an entertaining and instructive idea to create a book by interleaving the story of Dostoevsky, the book, and Lacenaire. This sort of works. Lacenaire is interesting (there are the distressingly usual women writing passionate letters to this murderer in jail), but not that interesting. And the instalments of Lacenaire's story are a bit distracting and not always clearly relevant. It is Dostoevsky and Crime and Punishment that are truly interesting. Time spent on Lacenaire is perhaps not time well-spent.

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Probably need a re-read of C&P for full reaction

But for now, this book left me merely whelmed. One-third contextualization, a third Dostoevsky's travails in writing the book, and a third Cliff's Notes. Perhaps another read will provide a new perspective, but I'm not so sure.

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Best book about F.D.'s amazing journey

This was the most moving & insightful /compassionate/heartbreaking/page turning/great works of non fiction I ever experienced.Did not want it to end.Great narrator also especially.However:If you don't want to know about what it's like to live in mid-19th century St.Petersburg ; a primer on publishers; printers & writers ; censorship edicts ;money lenders & debtors & a dozen types of philosophical ideas that spread across Europe ;plus an absolute masterly description of what ;being a prisoner in Siberia really involved..Be warned;you may not like this book..On the other hand..If you are interested in that kind of history then this is IT.An unforgettable listening pleasure.Top Marks.

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Impeccable

I love Kevin Birmingham style and Robert Petkof did a wonderful job reading as well. Cannot recommend this enough for any literary fans.

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Spectacular

Wow. I’ve written more on Dostoevsky on my Substack. But wow. This is a gorgeous, powerful book. The author very clearly values Dostoevsky as the highest of artists. Which he should. I’m currently rereading Crime and Punishment. The Sinner and the Saint truly opens the door to an intimate insider’s look into Dostoevsky’s personal and literary life and struggles. I recently read a biography about Gauguin; this book reminded me of that artist. Do yourself a favor and buy this book. You won’t regret it. It’s written almost like a novel.

Michael Mohr
‘Sincere American Writing’
https://michaelmohr.substack.com/

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Illuminating background

After listening to all of Dostoyevsky’s major works, it was so great to get a context for his writing by learning about his life and times.

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