The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone

The Agony and The Ecstasy is the title of the book but for me it has been mostly agony.

The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone is a biographical novel about Michelangelo, the inimitable Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect and engineer. It was published in 1961.

The book includes a list of Michelangelo’s works & their present whereabouts and a glossary. I enjoyed these extra additions.

The book starts from Michelangelo’s adolescent years and ends with his demise. As Michelangelo lived to be 88 years of age the book ends up being extremely long. More than 700 pages long to be precise.

All that would have been fine if the story and the writing were exceptional. But no such luck!

The story is extremely repetitive. Michelangelo has talent, he gets into trouble with powerful people, he is miserable, he builds/makes/paints something incredible and everything is okay until the next difficulty rears its ugly head. It’s basically the same thing happening again and again.

The writing for the most part is amateurish. Stone would rather tell us about things than show us. The dialogues are stilted, unnatural and sometimes almost comical! For example,

“I am a sculptor.”

“Could you carve me in marble?”

“You’re already carved,” he blurted out. “Flawlessly!”

The book is well-researched and for the most part appears to be based on facts. This wealth of information would not have been wasted if only Irving Stone had been a better writer or if any other hand had written this book. What a waste of a good concept!

I would rather recommend reading the Wikipedia article on Michelangelo. It has all the information without the awful and often cringe inducing dialogues and characters. Enough said!



  1. When I first read this book, I wasn’t sure how much of it was fiction vs how much of it was nonfiction, and I read this book while studying art history in college! Irving Stone makes Michaelangelo come alive and you feel what he does, living his trials and tribulations vicariously through this historical novel.

  2. I haven’t read this one, yet, myself, but I had the idea that the writing was somewhat functional anyhow; many readers seem to be more swept away by the story than the construction of it, so I’m looking forward to reading it, but won’t expect any fancy prose!

  3. I followed your link on the Chunckster Challenge blog because I read this one last year. And I’m sorry to see you didn’t enjoy it. To me, it was one of the highlights of my reading year, so of course I cannot agree with your view. Oh well, to each his/her own! 🙂

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