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The Everlasting Man
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271 of 278 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a book that everyone ought to read two or three times at least. It is a crime that such nonsense as Conversations With God, or better but still relatively shallow introductions to comparative religion like Religions of Man, seem to be better known. Here you will find a description of Christianity and its relation to other faiths strong and fine as aged wine. I don't know of anyone who writes with this much class in the modern world. Having ordered the book for our college library, I tried not to mark it too much, but found myself putting ink dots on paragraph after paragraph of material I wanted to quote. He rambles a bit, but I think there is more wisdom, humor, and insight in a single page of this book than in whole volumes that are better known in our days. Imagine if, after reading David Barry and laughing your head off, you wanted to go out and kiss a blade of grass or be amazed by the water running in the river instead of (say) looking up at the sky to make sure there aren't any mackerel about to fall on you. G.K.Chesterton makes his readers laugh themselves sane. And sanity is a rare and wonderful thing in the modern world.
Chesterton's archeology and contemporary references are a bit dated, of course. But even there, what goes around often comes around. Chesterton leads off with a story about Grant Allen, author of a piece of heresy of that time called "Evolution of the Idea of God." More recently Karen Armstrong wrote a book with an almost identical title and thesis, "History of God," and was greeted in the press as a bold thinker. Chesterton kindly and elegantly refuted her error, and those of many other modern skeptics, decades before they were born. Admirers of Bishop Spong in particular should read this book. Chesterton was not a scholar of comparative religions, of course, and he may have oversimplified a few things, but I think got the big things in true proportion better than anyone.
The plan of the book is simple. In the first half, Chesterton describes man, particularly in his religious aspect. In particular, he explains four universal elements of human religion: mythology, philosophy, demonism, and an awareness of God that one finds in almost every culture around the world. The tendency in the modern world is to ignore the last two elements when they occur outside of Western culture. But I have found in my own studies of Asian cultures and religions that Chesterton's description of human religion fit the facts extremely well.
The second half of the book is about Jesus and the movement he founded. I like what he says about Jesus best, and wish he had spent more time on that and proportionally less on European culture. A few of his racial or cultural assumptions do not come across well in our age. It is worth remembering how the face of Christianity has changed over the hundred years since this book was published. Then Christianity was almost exclusively a Western religion, while now two thirds of the believers in the world live in Africa, Latin American and Asia.
If you are interested in a more detailed discussion of some of the points Chesterton brings up, I suggest Don Richardson's Eternity in Their Hearts, another of the most overlooked works of the 20th Century. I have also just written a book called Jesus and the Religions of Man, that covers in more detail (but undoubtedly with less style) much of the same territory.
d.marshall@sun.ac.jp
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267 of 276 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
I've reread this book after ten years and found it just as astonishing a work as I did the first time around. Chesterton is a consummate apologist, combining a sincere reverence for his subject matter with a devastating sense of humour and a true generalist's erudition. He has a wonderful ability of taking accepted secular dogmas, turning them completely on their heads, and in the process making Catholic dogmas, rejected for their lack of congruence with modernism, look sensible and enlightened. This polemical mastery is one of the enduring qualities of "The Everlasting Man".
Although much of the first part of the book may seem dated (it consists mostly of a friendly attack on H.G. Wells anti-Christian "Outline of History") Chesterton's points are still well taken. Many of his musings on evolution can be put to use today against the adherents of creationism as well as the scientifically arrogant. Although he takes 50 pages to say it (he IS a bit of a windbag, but his blustery style and curmudgeonly wit makes it enjoyable all the while), his point about the anthropology of his day is that it is inherently incapable of explaining the irreconcilable chasm between man and the critters he may have materially evolved from. And this difference is constituted by Mind, or by man's soul, as manifested primarily (for Chesterton) in art and religion. One could add science. His illustrations on this point are hilarious. He draws the silly images of cows writing sonatas, sheep practising an elaborate form of ancestor worship, and dogs in solemn procession wearing canine mitres and swinging censers smouldering with dog-appealing scents. All to show the gap that separates us from the animals.
When he moves to specifically Christian apologetics, Chesterton presents a theory of history that, though it bears an obvious resemblance to Augustine's philosophy of history, is remarkably unique and dramatically compelling. The chapter on the war of the gods and demons will assure that you never again think of the Punic Wars in the same way. It also puts to rest much nonsensical multi-culturalist cant.
And indeed this constant struggle, in history, between two supernatural forces permeates Chesterton's sense of history; another similarity to Augustine. However, he is not by any means a Manichean. He is constantly pointing out the marvels of the salvation story and falls prostrate in stricken awe at the very idea of the Incarnation being a fact.
And this is the point of the book; namely, to reinvigorate the awesomeness of that Idea and, more importantly, that Fact, by trying to tell it anew, and by asserting and demonstrating that nothing in modernity or before has ever been able to contradict it, nor to dissuade the millions who have pinned their hope to and derived their inspiration from it.
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158 of 162 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Everlasting Man had a decisive role in one of the most important conversions of the this century. C.S. Lewis described reading it in 1925 when he was still an atheist:
Then I read Chesterton's Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense . . . I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive "apart from his Christianity." Now, I veritably believe, I thought that Christianity itself was very sensible "apart from its Christianity." (Surprised by Joy p.223)
When asked what Christian writers had helped him, Lewis remarked in 1963, six months before he died, "The contemporary book that has helped me the most is Chesterton's The Everlasting Man." (God in the Dock p.260.)
The book has two parts. The first is titled "On the Creature called Man." It uses the available evidence from paleontology, an! cient history, comparative religions, etc. but brings it together in remarkable ways. The questions he asks (and to some extent, answers) are the ones we continue to brood over: How is man different from other animals? Why are there so many religions? How do we make some sense out of our long and tumultuous human history?
The questions raised in the first part receive a more definitive answer in the second: "On the Man called Christ." It is not that Jesus gives a step by step response to each of the queries. Rather he begins by throwing us into an even more perplexing quandary. Chesterton asks what it would really be like to read the Gospel free of all preconceptions. The effect would not be "gentle Jesus, meek and mild," but rather someone who jars our sensibilities. As Chesterton points out, the most honest response might be "stark staring incredulity." Did he really do that? How could he say something so preposterous?
Chesterton's genius ! is to help us face the paradox, the seeming contradiction. ! Really there are only two possible responses to the riddle of the Gospel. Either Jesus is a blashemer (as Caiphas charged) or he is who he claimed to be--and the apostles professed him to be. In that claim Jesus is unique. Mohamet did not suggest equality with Allah. Moses was never placed on a par with Yahweh. Buddha, Zoroaster, Confucius never made assertions of divinity. Those who did were megolomaniacs like Caligula or the unfortunate people we confine to insane asylums. Yet few consider that Jesus was that kind of person. Chesterton, like C.S. Lewis after him, helps us confront the incredible implications of this greatest of all paradoxes.
He then asks the next logical question. Is the Church a continuation of Jesus or a breaking away from him? The first might seem hard to accept, but the second involves even greater difficulties. As a help to making the correct choice, Chesterton asks us to reflect on the analogy of a key. Its truth depends on whether it fits the lock! . You won't get very far analyzing its seemingly odd shape. What you have to is see if it opens the door.
In reflecting on the key (the creed) Chesterton uses what he calls "the witness of the heretics." (a.k.a. dissenters) Each one tried to reshape the key. The church has constantly resisted that. As Chesterton brilliantly illustrates, only if the key retains its shape will it unlock the door.
In the final chapter Chesterton gives one of the most remarkable arguments for the truth of faith: the "five deaths" of the Church. We are not the first ones to live in an age which has concluded the church was moribund, passé. But it has experienced some remarkable resurrections like a phoenix rising from its own ashes. Chesterton analyzes five times when that happened and offers his reflection on what that means for us today.
I say "today" because even tho Everlasting Man was written almost 75 years ago, it addresses many concerns which are stil! l current: evolution, feminism, historicism, cultural relati! vism, economic and social determinism, etc. It is salutary to see that back in the 20's these issues were already "old stuff." TV programs and magazine articles meant to be bold or shocking all of a sudden seem hackneyed.
In addition to its other merits, this book has the value of being immensely entertaining. Not that it is an easy read. In fact it requires a lot of concentration. Chesterton sometimes piles paradox upon paradox in a way that one can feel dazzled and conclude he does not have substance behind his words. But that is a hasty conclusion. To read Chesterton requires a patience which is perhaps more difficult in our age. Yet to read him slowly and meditatively will bring great rewards.
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80 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This may have been a fine work in its original form, but this edition (Wilder Publications, 2008) is so shoddy, it isn't worth the effort to try to read it. Based on my own experience with OCR software, I would guess that this publisher scanned an old copy, translated it to text, then reformatted it, and printed it. There is no evidence that anyone proofread it prior to printing. It it doubtful that it was even run through a spell-check program. Periods are missing at the ends of sentences; words are left out; "d", "h", and "b" are confused; apostrophies are inserted randomly (probably fly-spots on the original), "and" repeatedly appears as "an", "modern" almost always appears as "modem", etc. ad infinitum.
I read through about a fourth of the book before giving up in exasperation.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2003
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Chesterton traces the development of religion from cave man to Christian in this comprehensive and compelling work of Catholic apologetics. He begins by convincingly (if somewhat repetitively) taking apart the theory of evolution, demonstrating that the evolutionist's coldly secular, sociological explanations of prehistoric man's religious development have no basis in fact. He next turns to the pagan world with a mesmerizing analysis of the supreme conflict between the Romans, who represented the best of paganism, and the Carthaginians, who represented the worst. A victorious Carthage would have plunged humanity into an abyss of devil-worshipping inhumanity; Rome, by fighting against all odds for an ennobling vision of man, family and society, established a civilization human enough to receive Jesus Christ. Upon turning to our Lord, Chesterton elegantly dismantles a variety of arguments against His divinity, showing how all interpretations of Jesus that are less than the Gospels are, in the end, less believable and less rational than the Gospels. The Church is then compared and contrasted to Hinduism, Confucianism, Islam, and Buddhism. In Chesterton's view, Islam is "militant but no church", and these other belief systems are essentially pagan mythologies; the critical point is none of these systems rises to the level of Christianity in terms of spiritual relevance and truth. He then delves deep into the Eastern mind, rooted in a changeless, cavernous past, contrasting it to Western mind, profoundly and utterly recast by the relatively recent Incarnation. His analysis culminates with magnificent insights on Christianity as a story: philosophies are static and circular, ending where they begin, whereas Christianity stands alone as a philosophy that moves, initially with the journey of Christ, and then with the spiritual journeys that we ourselves must make. Thus Christianity alone can inspire us and teach us how to move forward and upward, spiritually and in all other ways. It is a greater philosophy than all other philosophies for this reason, and it is a greater story than other stories because it is true. Great ideas and historical insights abound in this work. I can't imagine anyone, regardless of his religion or non-religion, reading this and not being moved somewhere, somehow.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
While Chesterton is truly a monumental figure, this edition of The Everlasting Man is an underhanded scam of some group or individual calling themselves "Feather Trails Press" publishing via CreateSpace, basically the MySpace of publishing.

The thing is riddled with typos. Honestly, I was hard pressed to find a page without one. I was furious with the lack of editing and resolved that the moment I finished the book I would write the publisher.

Turns out the publisher does exist. It is just some guy in his basement copy/pasting from Gutenberg project and charging $9 for a book that he hasn't even taken the time to proofread, much less do legitimate scholarly work on.

A disgrace and a fraud.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Everlasting Man is a book that anyone wishing to be truly educated should read. But this Wilder Publications edition, no one should read. It is absolutely full of typographical errors, several to a page. Wrong letters switch words into different words. Punctuation randomly disappears from where it should be and appears where it should not. Whole sentences are missing. Half sentences are missing! Chesterton's introduction, a dozen pages long in another edition, ends abruptly six and a half sentences into the second paragraph with a question mark.

Clearly the publisher did little more than scan another version into his computer, run OCR software, and click the print button. How can any publisher have so little respect for himself as to sell such an embarrassment? How can any literate human being have so little respect for G.K. Chesterton as to publish The Everlasting Man without so much as a single thorough reading? It is disgraceful.

Buy another edition. If you try to read this, you will suffer the jarring experience of stumbling over sudden gibberish or silent omissions while trying to wrap your mind around Chesterton's deep arguments - again and again and again.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
The Everlasting Man should be read by anyone who would like an understanding of the Christian worldview. The central point here is that the Incarnation is the central event of human history; it allows us to joyously celebrate the good of creation and nature, as God has blessed matter with His very being. For Chesterton, true, vigorous Christianity is simultaneously incarnational (embodied) and spiritual, historical and eternal.
This book also displays Chesterton as a clever stylist with a penchant for aphorism and the unexpected turn of phrase. His wit and clarity are a model for English prose.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
Chesterton is one of the great authors of our time and this book is no exception to the rule. Though I prefered the book St. Thomas Aquinas: the Dumb Ox, by him, The Everlasting Man is none-the-less a fantastic book.
As an answer to G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells, Chesterton skillfully defends the Catholic and Christian against the modernist attacks which claim that Science and Religion are in conflict. Aquinas would be proud himself of Chersterton's use of Aristotle, who even Darwin claimed to be "the greatest biologist in history".
I highly recommend any Chesterton book to any reader interested in the history of philosophy, theology and man's origens. Also, you don't need a doctorate or a thesaurus to read Chesterton's witty writing.
Adam
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
I won't attempt so summarize this book, as other reviewers have done a very thorough job and anything I add will be superfluous. I can say that, having read HG Wells' Outline of History, it is thoroughly out of date, almost ridiculously so, while this book, equally old, is just as new in terms of ideas as the day it was published. Chesterton is simply the most amazing writer in terms of his originality that I have ever read. No wonder it has been so influentual over the years. Chesterton is extremely enjoyable to read just for the sake of reading. I remember having to read Chesterton in high school (St Francis of Assisi, I believe) and hating it, mostly because it was assigned work and not pleasure. If you read Chesterton, you have to enjoy great writing, as well as his great ideas and rather unique way of viewing reality.
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