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C. S. Lewis -- A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet Hardcover – March 1, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 162 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Medievalist, Christian apologist, and fantasist C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) has had exponentially more readers since his death than he enjoyed in his lifetime. Biographies and studies of his work are legion. Despite that copious documentation, Oxford theologian McGrath discovered a major inaccuracy in all previous accounts of Lewis, including his glowing spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955). Diligent combing of Lewis’ correspondence disclosed that his conversion to Christianity—the catalyst for virtually all his creative work—occurred in 1930, not 1929. Well, Lewis admitted he wasn’t good with dates, and a plethora of anxiety-inducing deadlines involved in the major developments in his life rather justify his confusion. McGrath doesn’t speculate about how Lewis’ chronic achronology may have affected his work. Instead, he limns Lewis’ major experiences—early loss of his mother, horrifying schooling, WWI service (about which he never spoke), long Oxford fellowship, BBC-fostered celebrity in the 1940s, creation of Narnia, late-career move to Cambridge, and brief marriage to Joy Davidman (1915–60)—his great friendships (especially with J. R. R. Tolkien), and his books. McGrath does this so limpidly, so intelligently, and so sympathetically that this biography is the one Lewis’ admirers—especially those who, like him, believe that books are to be read and enjoyed—should prefer to all others. --Ray Olson

Review

To the question of whether the world really needs another biography of C. S. Lewis, McGrath's lucid and unsentimental portrait of the Christian champion responds with a resounding "yes." The year 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Lewis's death, and times have changed and evangelical sentiments have matured. McGrath offers a new and at times shocking look into the complicated life of this complex figure, in a deeply researched biography. The author takes us headlong into the heart of a Lewis we've known little about: his unconventional affair with Mrs. Jane Moore; his hostile and deceptive relationship with his father; his curiosity about the sensuality of cruelty. McGrath navigates the reader through these messy themes, ultimately landing us onto the solid ground of Lewis's postconversion legacy. He shows with skill, sympathy, dispassion, and engaging prose that Lewis, like the rest of us, did the best he could with the hand he was dealt. But he got over it, as must all those who would prefer a Lewis without shadows. Publishers Weekly, starred review Many of us thought we knew most of what there was to know about C. S. Lewis. Alister McGrath's new biography makes use of archives and other material that clarify, deepen and further explain the many sides of one of Christianity's most remarkable apologists. This is a penetrating and illuminating study. N. T. Wright Alister McGrath's new biography of C. S. Lewis is excellent. It's filled with information based on extensive scholarship but is nonetheless extremely readable. It not only devotes great attention to the formation and character of Lewis the man, it offers incisive and balanced analyses of all his main literary works. Lewis's impact on me was profound and lasting, and Dr McGrath clearly explains why so many believers and Christians leaders today would say the same thing. Timothy Keller A welcome addition to the biographical literature on C. S. Lewis, which includes several valuable new perspectives. McGrath's book will gain a permanent position in Lewis scholarship for his brilliant and, to my mind, undeniable re-dating of Lewis's conversion to Theism. How we all missed this for so long is astonishing! Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia Alister McGrath sheds new light on the incomparable C. S. Lewis. This is an important book. Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer This biography is the one Lewis's admirers - especially those who, like him, believe that books are to be read and enjoyed - should prefer to all others. Booklist, starred review McGrath's account of Lewis offers much that is fresh and new. It captures his eccentricities, abilities, strengths and perplexities! There is meaning, wisdom, beauty and much understanding made possible throughout. There is a wholeness, complexity and delight to the Lewis that we meet in this majestic work. Language, detail and new territory are well covered in McGrath's work. Fresh insight and new imaginations emerge. The analysis is searing and reflects a close reading of Lewis's work and a maverick, gutsy talent oozes from this title. If you love Lewis and want to know what was really going on, read McGrath first. This is one of the most beautiful volumes ever held. Photos, research, insight and challenge are all powerfully combined. Hodder are to be congratulated on this. Johnny Douglas - Together Alister McGrath writes on The religious symbolism behind the Chronicles of Narnia for the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/24865379 BBC Website Alister McGrath appearance on Songs of Praise to speak about C. S. Lewis: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006ttc5 BBC 1 Spent a number of weeks in the Church Times' Top Books feature The Church Times McGarth has written a key book on Lewis... an excellent job explaining some of Lewis ideas. -- Paul Richardson Church of England Newspaper This work ticks all the boxes by being beautifully written, meticulously researched as well as illuminating and thought-provoking. -- Peter Francis The Newspaper Summer McGarth is a clear-eyed, learned companion. His analysis of the Narnia books is illuminating. -- Philip Womach Telegraph Alister gives us much food for thought in the dutiful, sound and worthy book.' - Paul Johnson The Spectator McGarth's illuminating book has benefited from access to recently released archive of material that throws new light of Lewis's unconventional affair with the Irish divorcee Jane Moore, his life at Oxford and his conversion to Christianity. The Lady McGrath has certainly done as good a job as anyone, and a lot better than many. The Glass --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; 1st edition (March 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781414339351
  • ISBN-13: 978-1414339351
  • ASIN: 1414339356
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 8.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alister E. McGrath is a historian, biochemist, and Christian theologian born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A longtime professor at Oxford University, he now holds the chair in theology, ministry, and education at the University of London. He is the author of several books on theology and history, including Christianity's Dangerous Idea, In the Beginning, and The Twilight of Atheism. He lives in Oxford, England, and lectures regularly in the United States.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
C. S. Lewis--Jack to his friends--looms large in the American evangelical mind.

On the one hand, this is surprising. A communicant in the Church of England, Lewis was generically orthodox but not specifically evangelical in theological or spiritual emphases. His closest lifelong friends were a homosexual Unitarian (Arthur Greeves) and a traditionalist Roman Catholic (J. R. R. Tolkien). And he drank and smoked prolifically, at one point having a barrel of beer in his rooms at Oxford for the use of his students.

On the other hand, Lewis's influence on American evangelicals is not surprising. After World War II, American neo-evangelicals shook off their Fundamentalist separatism and irritability and began to actively engage culture with an eye toward changing it. Lewis--the Oxford don who wrote well-regarded studies of medieval English literature, well-written works of Christian apologetics, and well-loved children's stories--modeled the kind of influence evangelicals wished to exercise on culture high, middlebrow, and popular.

Writing about Lewis is thus something of a cottage industry among American evangelicals, with new titles on this or that aspect of his thought or life appearing regularly. Alister McGrath's new biography of Lewis is part of that cottage industry--though McGrath is a British evangelical--but nonetheless a welcome addition to it.
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Format: Hardcover
Let's get the first question out of the way by asking another question: Can there really be a "perfect" biography of anyone? While it's true that a person could compose a imperfect book, to do the total opposite actually asks the wrong question. That's because you have to consider the target audience of a book, what approach is used and what the credentials of the writer are. For those not familiar with Dr. McGrath, he is a historical theologian who is currently Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education at King’s College London, UK. This fact may make some people think he has written a rather "dry" biography that would only be of interest to other professionals. This is not the case at all. The book is a well organize volume covering the life of Lewis without being overly concerned with providing every detail possible (which would make for an impossibly long book if it tried). Yet in the 400+ pages you do get an adequately detailed look at his life. In a recent interview by Will Vaus on the HarperOne C.S. Lewis blog, McGrath stated his biography was aimed at individuals who mostly know about Lewis from the recent Narnia movies or have just heard about him without knowing much at all. Thus his aim was to "show why this man was so interesting." Is this just another work to mindlessly applaud Lewis? Not at all, as McGrath states in the book itself, "This biography sets out, not to praise Lewis or condemn him, but to understand him."

Consider the subtitle of the book, "Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet." While it provides a nice takeaway line that does reflect a positive view of Lewis, McGrath doesn't hesitate to show Lewis's warts. Prior to a return to the faith, Lewis treated his father very poorly and McGrath admits there likely was a sexual relationship with Mrs. Moore.
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Format: Hardcover
Two of the most influential voices in evangelicalism were not evangelicals themselves, though they have been claimed for evangelicalism and many younger thinkers can't imagine their not being evangelicals. Those two are Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an orthodox Lutheran, and C.S. Lewis, an Anglican with the sensibility of a "mere" kind of Christianity. In their day neither was claimed by the kind of evangelicalism that then existed, which was more like the very conservative side of evangelicalism today. One could probably tally up a lengthy list of folks who are "claimed" by some group but who in their day were not in that group.

What cannot be denied though is that C.S. Lewis has become a saint for evangelicalism. The focus of his biography is not on that dimension of Lewis, even if he has one of the better sketches of that story, but on the life, development, theology, and career of C.S. Lewis. I'm speaking of Alister McGrath's exquisite new biography of C.S. Lewis. I can't say McGrath's two categories (eccentric genius and reluctant prophet) are addressed head-on but these two expressions certainly form deep structure themes in this book. Lewis was eccentric and he never did want the attention he garnered.

I have read four other biographies of Lewis -- Green, Wilson, Sayer, Jacobs -- and McGrath. McGrath is now the best of the lot because it provides more perspective and critical interaction than the others. Wilson's remains too critical and suspicious while Green's is now the dated volume. Jacobs set out to do more of an examination of imagination but offered more of a biography than a thematic exploration.

McGrath spent 18 months reading everything from Lewis in chronological order.
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