The Three Worlds of Albert Schweitzer Essay - Critical Essays

Robert Payne


The Three Worlds of Albert Schweitzer is appropriate for young adult readers because Payne’s style is interesting and his exposition makes difficult ideas accessible. The book is important because the subject was one of the most influential people of the first half of the twentieth century. Schweitzer was a rare individual who not only articulated a philosophy but also lived it, becoming an illustration of his own teachings.

Although Payne admires Schweitzer and sympathizes with many of his ideas, he avoids hero worship. The author presents his subject as a complex personality who is fully human, with doubts about religion even though he became a famous and controversial theologian: “It was a sign of his profoundly Christian mind that he could be discontented with Christianity.” Payne portrays a white doctor in Africa who was often domineering and impatient and who lacked deep understanding of the culture of the people he was trying to serve. It is clear that Schweitzer never moved easily between his worlds; Europe remained as important to him as Africa, and he often returned there. Payne is frankly critical of much of Schweitzer’s writing, even though he explicates Schweitzer’s principal ideas with understanding and grace. In particular, the young person who reads Payne’s account will receive a good understanding of the guiding principal of Schweitzer’s philosophy, “reverence for life.” Payne shows, however, that Schweitzer was...

(The entire section is 499 words.)