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C.S. Lewis: A Biography

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A.N. Wilson's brilliant biography shows how hard Lewis struggled for the wisdom he shared in his books--The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy. Photographs.


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A.N. Wilson's brilliant biography shows how hard Lewis struggled for the wisdom he shared in his books--The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy. Photographs.

30 review for C.S. Lewis: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

    I would recommend this biography as to anyone who wants to know more about C.S. Lewis. Because of the nature of much of Lewis' writing (in favor of Christianity), many biographers have recast Lewis into an image favored by the biographer's own religious beliefs, so an American fundamentalist biographer ignores Lewis' smoking and drinking, and a British Anglican glosses over the fact that the two women who were Lewis' "life partners" were neither acceptable partners by the standards of Lewis' own I would recommend this biography as to anyone who wants to know more about C.S. Lewis. Because of the nature of much of Lewis' writing (in favor of Christianity), many biographers have recast Lewis into an image favored by the biographer's own religious beliefs, so an American fundamentalist biographer ignores Lewis' smoking and drinking, and a British Anglican glosses over the fact that the two women who were Lewis' "life partners" were neither acceptable partners by the standards of Lewis' own Church, the Church of England. Wilson tries, and I think, succeeds admirably, in painting a portrait of Lewis the man, one based on a careful reading of the author's work, of letters, manuscripts, and other artifacts, and of interviews with many who knew Lewis personally. The Lewis that emerges is one worth knowing. The flawed man, deeply hurt by the loss of his mother in early childhood, the man who lived, except for the horrors of the trenches in World War I, a life that many of us could lead, one of domestic chores, reading, writing, teaching, grading papers, is all the more estimable because of what accomplished facing what to many of us are barriers for writing and "getting important things done." For those interested in Lewis' criticism, Lewis' readability, the 'learning worn lightly,' as Wilson puts it, is what gives the critic's work "life" long after its approach has grown unfashionable. It is the fact that Lewis approaches literature AS A READER, and, through his work,' speaks to us as fellow readers, and someone with whom he wants to share his enthusiasm. Lewis the critic never reminds us how smart he is or makes us, the reader, feel foolish. It's more of a conversation, a 'Have you read this' or 'Have you thought of that' that we respond to. Lessons from Lewis the critic are valuable to those of us who love reading and to anyone who teachers, not just because of their content, but because of what they show us about the essential nature of teaching--we want to share what we love with others. For those interested in Lewis' non fiction religious writings, the flawed man is all the more approachable--someone who says, "Yeah, I'm kind of screwed up to, but I hold on to my faith and this is why it helps me through the day." Lewis is not a moralist--he is not one of those prigs who tell others how they should lead their own lives. Rather, he is a fellow sufferer, showing that Chritian virtues are not grand themes to be contemplated on Sunday mornings but rather are meaningful, or not, in how we take out the trash, treat our children, or approach the people with whom we work. Lewis is about faith lived, not faith preached. For those interested in Lewis' fiction, particularly Narnia, there is much of value to learn--about where the stories come from, about Lewis' own faith in children and in childhood, and about why he wrote so much for children. There is also a deft exploration of some of the religious themes of Narnia and of his 'Space Trilogy', one that never gets bogged down in minutiae but still gives the reader food for thought. The criticisms are thoughtful, fair, and not uniformly laudatory. I found myself both understanding the great appeal Azlan had to me when I was a young reader and had no idea what 'allegory' was or that the book was full of Christian symbolism. But the book still spoke to me in some deep way; Wilson helps explore this. Similarly, I have always found That Hideous Strenght, the last novel in the 'Space Trilogy,' unreadable. Wilson explores why the book fails on many levels but still helps the reader understand the many good eleements that are present. The book also, in an afterward, explores the appeal of the book and film 'Shadowlands,' noting, as Lewis would, that, although many of the 'facts' are changed, the story still captures some of the essential 'heart truths' that the book contains. This book is extrememly well done; it helps the reader understand Lewis the real person and it enables a fuller understanding of the author's work. My reasons for not giving a 'five star rating,' for not considering it in, say, the same class as 'Jackson Benson's 'The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer' (regardless of one's opinion of Steinbeck, Benson's biorgraphy of him remains a titanic achievement of literary biography) are perhaps unfair. Becuase if the distance from which Wilson writes, the author was not able to interview many of the people who knew the author personally. Particularly missing are JRR Tolkien and "Warnie," the author's brother. This is not something the biographer can be blamed for, since he took up the topic of Lewis' life after these two men died. But both Tolkien and Warnie lived ten years after Lewis' death, and one finds oneself wishing that a biographer of Benson's caliber, perhaps an older version of Wilson himself, who in early adolescence when Lewis died, would have set her or himself the task of a definitive Lewis biography. Instead, the field was taken up by religious hagiographers or conspiracy theorists such as the author of 'The C.S. Lewis Hoax,' and so the chance of a truly definitive biography about Lewis ever being written probably passed in the time between Lewis' death and the time Wilson took up the pen to write about him. This is as close to a definitive biography of Lewis as will ever be written, probably.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brenton

    If this were a drinking party instead of a book, A.N. Wilson's C.S. Lewis: A Biography would be a five-star book. Humorous, light in tone, deftly written, the life of C.S. Lewis told here is engaging, moving, and poignant. Unfortunately, this was not a night around the dinner table, picking and eating and drinking and talking about this Oxford don our new friend Wilson had met one time. It is a book that purports to be a biography but has the unfortunate condition of not being terribly accurate. If this were a drinking party instead of a book, A.N. Wilson's C.S. Lewis: A Biography would be a five-star book. Humorous, light in tone, deftly written, the life of C.S. Lewis told here is engaging, moving, and poignant. Unfortunately, this was not a night around the dinner table, picking and eating and drinking and talking about this Oxford don our new friend Wilson had met one time. It is a book that purports to be a biography but has the unfortunate condition of not being terribly accurate. You can see a list of errata by Kathryn Lindskoog here: http://cslewis.drzeus.net/papers/wils.... The list is as telling about C.S. Lewis studies as it is about Wilson's work. Many Lewis fans will have rejected the book because it has damning or lurid things in it, and because it drifts toward the Freudian, psychoanalytic view of history. I don't reject it out of hand for these reasons provided there can be sufficient evidence that the author can bring us truthfully into the history of the moment. Wilson's smoking jacket old boys club approach to biographical approach to storytelling, though, left me with no confidence whatsoever that I could either trust his account where biographers differ, or that I could test his hypothesis. The errata is part of it. Even when you take out the protectionistic and interpretive bits, there are just dozens of errors. As Arend Smilde coyly noted in his much more complete review of the book, "Wilson might have been practising a kind of biography which is legitimate in its own way but which I have not yet learnt to appreciate." http://www.lewisiana.nl/definitivebio.... Perhaps, but then Smilde goes on to list pages of errors that we can divide into the rough categories of: 1) error of fact due to sloppiness; 2) error of interpretation due to uncareful weighing of evidence; 3) concerns or errors due to the fact that Wilson's evidence is based on hearsay, gossip, or private conversations; and 4) places where Wilson just simply seems bent against a sensible or evidence-based interpretation. These categories are a bit puzzling to me as I have read Wilson's biographies on St. Paul and Tolstoy. I enjoyed Tolstoy, though I know almost nothing about the figure. I have done a masters degree on Paul, however, and that book made me angry at times. As scholars we make biographical and historical choices based on the best of our reading, and hopefully keep checking our biases. Wilson's bio of Paul simply slalomed through, grabbing the best interpretation from scholars to suit his purposes. It was a frustrating read, but what makes his bio of Lewis so different is that the Paul bio was pretty well researched. This Lewis biography was not well researched, leaving out the most important biography of the generation: Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis by George Sayer, Lewis' student and friend. This makes me wonder if Wilson's Lewis book is a bit of a gap in his must stronger (though still controversial) work. I won't repeat the errors--not simply because others have done that with startling accuracy, but also because I just really enjoyed reading this book. To be fair, this was my "jammed between the seats of the car to read while I'm waiting for things book" book. It is a special category of book, made up of a soft-cover text that can hold a pencil, about 300-350 pages so it sits nicely between the seats, one that I can both hold the story together in my head and one I don't mind taking 2 or 3 years to read. Because I read it in such small segments, and because my expectations were low, I never got really angry at any one point. It was an entertaining read that filled time in the dentist's office or the garage or while waiting for the traffic behind the water main break to flow again. It is not, however, the first or last biography of C.S. Lewis anyone should read. That is, of course, if you are thinking of history. To honour the late-night story feeling of the book, I will put a few quotes that I enjoyed on my review at A Pilgrim in Narnia. Here is the link to the extended review: https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2019/02/....

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ancient Weaver

    Great book for Christians and non-Christians alike. Very accessible and interesting. I didn't know much about C.S. Lewis the man before I read his autobiographical Surprised by Joy. Until then, I just assumed he led the kind of prosaic, upright (i.e. largely boring) existence you might imagine a conservative, Christian apologist/professor might live. After having read Lewis' SBJ I was surprised to find this professor to be such a Romantic at heart, and while I enjoyed SBJ very much, I could tel Great book for Christians and non-Christians alike. Very accessible and interesting. I didn't know much about C.S. Lewis the man before I read his autobiographical Surprised by Joy. Until then, I just assumed he led the kind of prosaic, upright (i.e. largely boring) existence you might imagine a conservative, Christian apologist/professor might live. After having read Lewis' SBJ I was surprised to find this professor to be such a Romantic at heart, and while I enjoyed SBJ very much, I could tell there was something a bit strange about Lewis' version of events. For one thing, the closer Lewis brings you to the time of his conversion from atheism to Christianity,what one might imagine to be the defining moment of his life, the more evasive and silent Lewis's account becomes. In the same way, Lewis scarcely has anything to say about events such as his time in WWI or his father's death. On top of that are Lewis' cryptic allusions to his love life (why bother with the teasers if he wasn't going to say anything further?) - all very strange. Wilson's C.S. Lewis: A Biography provides you with the fuller picture that Lewis left out of his autobiography. Lewis was a more complex and interesting man than you might imagine what with his secret affair with a married woman over 20 years his senior that started when he was about 18, his alcoholic brother, his tendency to supress emotion, his tendency to compartimentalize his relationships and life in order to preserve his secrets, and his his kinky penchant for sado/masochism. Wilson often disagrees with Lewis, but he clearly has a degree of admiration and affection for the man. This biography isn't worshipful of Lewis, but it is sympathetic. It may present embarrassing and scandalous facts, but it is not a hatchet job or an anti-Lewis polemic. I never much cared for the cock-sure, annoying, belligerent, irrational, bully-boy persona Lewis adopts in his Christian apologetical works, but Wilson's biography cuts through that bluster. Now I can see how Lewis was an imperfect but genuine and complex human being, and not just an insufferable bigot. By the the time the book reaches the end of Lewis' life, you feel sad to have to say goodbye to the strange and contradictory man.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    Those who like the stained glass version of C.S. Lewis (which I suspect would have embarrassed Lewis immensely) are not going to find the false mythology they are looking for here. Sorry, no hagiography. The irony is that this biography is highly sympathetic to Lewis. There are no broadsides here. Instead a portrait of a real person, a scholar, a bachelor Don who had his life radically altered when he married a Jewish convert to Christianity, Joy Davidman. His loss of her to cancer made Lewis mor Those who like the stained glass version of C.S. Lewis (which I suspect would have embarrassed Lewis immensely) are not going to find the false mythology they are looking for here. Sorry, no hagiography. The irony is that this biography is highly sympathetic to Lewis. There are no broadsides here. Instead a portrait of a real person, a scholar, a bachelor Don who had his life radically altered when he married a Jewish convert to Christianity, Joy Davidman. His loss of her to cancer made Lewis more completely human through his suffering and grief. I have read most of Lewis's books and other books about him, but I learned a great deal about him from this book. I think part of the value of Joy Davidman is that she opened him to other viewpoints and instilled more empathy in him. Up until then, he was often seen as a bully trying to shove his arguments down the throats of others. Once he accepted the fact that he not changed the minds of any of his friends, including Tolkien, he turned to writing fantasy instead, Narnia, the books he is most likely to be remembered for decades hence. A companion review to this one.... https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chris Fellows

    Doubtless I have written many dumb things and on the principle of ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ ought to remain silent. But I am weak. Here is an extract from a letter quoted in this book: They keep sheep in Magdalen grove now, and I hear the fleecy care bleating all day long: I am shocked to find that none of my pupils, though they are all acquainted with pastoral poetry, regards them as anything but a nuisance: and one of my colleagues has been heard to ask why sheep have thei Doubtless I have written many dumb things and on the principle of ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ ought to remain silent. But I am weak. Here is an extract from a letter quoted in this book: They keep sheep in Magdalen grove now, and I hear the fleecy care bleating all day long: I am shocked to find that none of my pupils, though they are all acquainted with pastoral poetry, regards them as anything but a nuisance: and one of my colleagues has been heard to ask why sheep have their wool cut off. It is immediately followed by a second extract from the same letter: It frightens me, almost. And so it did the other night when I heard two undergrads, giving a list of pleasures which were (a) Nazi, (b) leading to homosexuality. They were: feeling the wind in your hair, walking with bare feet in the grass, and bathing in the rain. Think it over: it gets worse the longer you look at it. Now, if you knew nothing at all about the writer except that (s)he wrote the first quote as well as the second quote, it would be blindingly clear that (s)he has overheard two pretentious undergraduates, with little experience of life outside the city and in obvious reaction to the early 20th century German cult of Nature, saying that these simple pleasures lead to Nazism and homosexuality. Theundergraduates are saying that bathing in the rain leads to Nazism and homosexuality. But, but, this is the ridiculous thing, A. N. Wilson doesn’t get it! This is what he says: ‘It is twenty-two years since I read that letter ... and on and off I have been thinking it over. At no time have I been able to see anything Nazi or necessarily homosexual in the listed pleasures, which are precisely of the kind which might occur in a George MacDonald fantasy. But the pleasures are, of course, those of youth, and Lewis at the age of forty seems to have forgotten what it was like to be young. He sees exuberant, and perhaps sensual, pleasure in the natural world ... now such stuff seems to him ‘Nazi’.’ Perhaps this would be excusable if Lewis were a minor figure in this book. But it is a biography of him! Elsewhere in the book, it is clear that A. N. Wilson read everything C. S. Lewis ever published, as well as reams of unpublished material and things written about him by people who knew him personally. He ought to have gleaned some vague sense of what the fellow is like. In twenty-two years, how could it not have clicked that his reading of the letter was preposterously wrong? Didn’t he show his manuscript to any friends or colleagues who could have pointed out that his reading of the letter was wrong? If he could misread his subject so badly, what is he doing writing a biography of him at all?

  6. 5 out of 5

    RE de Leon

    A well written biography of CS Lewis. It should be noted that Lewis' stepson Douglas Gresham, while agreeing that the book is well written and well researched, has noted his disagreement with some of the book's conclusions and depictions.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Camino

    I'm inclined to believe one owes quite as much to the biographer of one's childhood hero as to that mysterious figure himself. As it is, I found Wilson quite the gentle adoptive guide through the life of C.S. Lewis, no matter that I could not possibly have a higher opinion of the man than when I set out, a thoroughly indoctrinated child hanging on the mane of Aslan. Wilson paints a touching, if not particularly charming, portrait the man, and one is struck by the significance of certain episodes I'm inclined to believe one owes quite as much to the biographer of one's childhood hero as to that mysterious figure himself. As it is, I found Wilson quite the gentle adoptive guide through the life of C.S. Lewis, no matter that I could not possibly have a higher opinion of the man than when I set out, a thoroughly indoctrinated child hanging on the mane of Aslan. Wilson paints a touching, if not particularly charming, portrait the man, and one is struck by the significance of certain episodes all but neglected in Lewis's published autobiographies. Lewis himself asserts that while "truth is always about something, really is about that which truth is about." In this sense, Wilson provides us with "truth," just as other more sanctimonious biographies have provided us with "reality"--a mythological reality that is--in which certain "truths" may be ascertained despite departure from hard facts. This kind of myth Wilson describes both as dehumanizing and (as it was in Lewis's own conversion) a powerful exercise of faith and imagination. Lewis's christianity relied on a fundamental Romanticism, and Wilson makes it clear that his writing suffer and swell accordingly. Accordingly, Wilson attaches to Lewis's famous faith a profound imaginative capacity, and one gets the distinct impression that this imagination is a form of compassion. Indeed, if this is true, both Lewis and Wilson are the supreme executors of compassion. Still, perhaps the highest compliment I can offer to Wilson's profound, compassionate, and comprehensive biography is that like the famous story of Narnia, it is one "in which every chapter is better than the one before."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dave Maddock

    This bio gets a lot of criticism for what is essentially being open about what the author's biases are, not portraying CSL in a pro-Christianity, fawning light, and occasionally engaging in speculation when necessary (eg. the nature of his relationship with Minto). I for one appreciated that the biographer did not appear to be a Christian. There's a million white-washed, mythologized books on CSL written by the fanboy religious. If that's what you want, it is easy to find. If this book leans a l This bio gets a lot of criticism for what is essentially being open about what the author's biases are, not portraying CSL in a pro-Christianity, fawning light, and occasionally engaging in speculation when necessary (eg. the nature of his relationship with Minto). I for one appreciated that the biographer did not appear to be a Christian. There's a million white-washed, mythologized books on CSL written by the fanboy religious. If that's what you want, it is easy to find. If this book leans a little too heavy on Freudian psychologizing, it is redeemed by the fact that the Freudian analysis is so damn obviously relevant--as Lewis himself noticed. For a group that loved mythologizing everything in a religious context (Surprised by Joy, anyone?!), it fascinates me when Inklings and their devotees complain when it is done to them in a secular context.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

    I randomly grabbed this off a library shelf because I am a C.S. Lewis fan. I got about 40 pages into it and decided to quit reading it due to the author's boring and convoluted way of presenting ideas and events. However, I have a bad habit of always having to finish any book that I start, even if I don't like it, so I did finish this (it took me awhile) and I guess I'm glad I read it just for the better understanding of Lewis's life history (although I'm almost positive I could have found a Lew I randomly grabbed this off a library shelf because I am a C.S. Lewis fan. I got about 40 pages into it and decided to quit reading it due to the author's boring and convoluted way of presenting ideas and events. However, I have a bad habit of always having to finish any book that I start, even if I don't like it, so I did finish this (it took me awhile) and I guess I'm glad I read it just for the better understanding of Lewis's life history (although I'm almost positive I could have found a Lewis biography written by someone else that would have been better). Oh well. At the very least, it made me want to re-read some of Lewis's books now that I know the background context for different time periods of his writings. And there are a few more books of his I haven't read yet that I am interesting in reading now.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    A.N. Wilson would have profited from seven years of bad luck, had he broken all the mirrors in his home as he was drafting this heavily-criticized work on C.S. Lewis. As it is, the light he sheds is unfortunately angled to provide the glaring reflection of an undulating Narcissus, obscuring the dearly-sought treasure lost beneath the waves in the wake of a great man's death. The best aspects of Wilson's work are as follows: the clarity of his prose; his evident depth of research; his emphasis on A.N. Wilson would have profited from seven years of bad luck, had he broken all the mirrors in his home as he was drafting this heavily-criticized work on C.S. Lewis. As it is, the light he sheds is unfortunately angled to provide the glaring reflection of an undulating Narcissus, obscuring the dearly-sought treasure lost beneath the waves in the wake of a great man's death. The best aspects of Wilson's work are as follows: the clarity of his prose; his evident depth of research; his emphasis on the backstage life Lewis led apart from his writing and teaching; and the charity and pathos with which he views such elements as the demanding presence of Mrs. Moore and the loneliness that dogged Lewis in such forms as the death of his mother, the alcoholism of both his father and brother, and the eventual loss of such dear friendships as those with Charles Williams (who died) and Tolkien (who removed himself from Lewis's company). However, these virtues are ineluctably marred by Wilson's insistence on turning what would better have been a biography of Lewis into an unasked-for appraisal of Lewis, in which Wilson's prejudice, mistaken judgment, and preference for his own views together conspire in a patronizingly knowing tone which, at its best, occasionally hits upon some aspect of Lewis's work and cries out "Now, this is really all right, even very good! Why couldn't the rest of it have been like this? Well, I'll tell you why–" at which point he launches into one of several ill-considered and presumptuously authoritative remarks about Lewis's psychology, on which Wilson considers himself better qualified to comment than Lewis himself; his conversion, which Wilson insists was not, as Lewis clearly claimed it was, a matter of reasoning in light of evidence; and not least of all, the content of Lewis's religious beliefs, which Wilson (who has lately converted to Christianity himself, and would now likely repudiate many of his own claims in this work) makes the object of special ire, devoting at one point three pages of text to pitiful exhortations to the effect that "Christianity is dead, the gospels are merely mystic texts which claim no such-and-such things about Christ, they cannot be offered as historical documents, and haven't any of you read Wittgenstein?" –-all of which is well and good (and perfectly well addressed by such contemporary scholars as William Lane Craig, Nancy Pearcey, Francis Schaeffer, and even Lewis himself, though Wilson doesn't lend much credence to the theological and philosophical content of Lewis's work, thereby shunting off the majority of his output and the whole of his intent), in its proper place. But Wilson commits the fatal misstep of forgetting the subtitle of his own book: A Biography. Ultimately, this reads less like a biography, and more like a chronicle of Wilson's research, in which the main attraction is his own assessment of C.S. Lewis. Unfortunately for him, most readers seek out a book on Lewis due to their interest in Lewis. Wilson appears to believe that we are interested in his opinion; we are not. His pervasive condescension tempts me to assert that a biographer should be invisible, or that he should devotedly love his subject. Neither seems true to the best biographies I have read, in which the authors do embark on conjecture, and do investigate the worst aspects of their subjects. And yet in those biographies–-John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman, Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, Gilbert: The Man Who Was G.K. Chesterton by Michael Coren, Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life by Adam Feinstein–-I have no sense of the biographer as standing between myself and the man. They stand beside, as onlookers, presenting me with the mass of their research to do with pretty well what I please in terms of opinion. They affirm my fascination and sympathy in their warm exposition of the good and loved aspects; and the bad aspects are laid on the table silently, engendering a kind of privacy in which the salt can sting. Wilson is incapable of containing his criticisms, his insistent psychologese, and his lengthy ideological disagreements. The effect of this axe-grinding's perpetual drone is that one wishes to knock him over and tie him down so he'll stop blocking the frame. While it may not be strictly the province of biography to offer up devotion toward its subject, it is a mark of the better biographies that, if they are incapable of devotion, they are capable of charity: such that, if one is faced with either a distasteful episode or (as in the case of a great and evil man, like Hitler) a deplorable person, the sensation produced in the reader is one of regret that things could not have been better. In contrast to this, Wilson–-perhaps in his zeal to "strip away the image and present the man"-–seems to relish the opportunities (and in Lewis's history, they are frequent) to cut Jack down a notch: "See, see? He's not that pasteboard saint! He was vulgar, he was two-faced, he was intemperate!" But these valid criticisms are always made smugly, never with that sense, found in the best biographers, that seems to murmur: "What a pity, since his achievements were so great, and his spirit so bright beneath those drifts of ash! And doesn't he prove that even a bad man can do great things–and what could a better man have done?" One could almost imagine that the spirit of Lewis, coming out the other end of the book, wipes sweat from his forehead and exclaims "Phew! I'm lucky to have come through in one piece." Perhaps mistakenly, the title of this work is C.S. Lewis by A.N. Wilson, and not A.N. Wilson on C.S. Lewis. Because of its several virtues, I'm glad to have read it; and I look forward to being gladder to eventually have read a better account of Lewis's person, times, and legacy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julie Reed

    After reading about the "true" C.S. Lewis, I only love and admire this man more. I wanted to hear about his sins, not just that he was a saint as he has come to be known in Christian circles since his death. He was a real person who had real struggles, personality flaws, and bad habits. He readily admitted that he was a sinner. I enjoyed this book although it was clear that the author didn't agree with some of Lewis's apologetics. If you are writing a biography on someone, shouldn't you remain n After reading about the "true" C.S. Lewis, I only love and admire this man more. I wanted to hear about his sins, not just that he was a saint as he has come to be known in Christian circles since his death. He was a real person who had real struggles, personality flaws, and bad habits. He readily admitted that he was a sinner. I enjoyed this book although it was clear that the author didn't agree with some of Lewis's apologetics. If you are writing a biography on someone, shouldn't you remain neutral?

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    Been on my Lewis list for a while, but I feel some trepidation. See Brenton’s review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Longfellow

    Apparently, a long time ago I read the first forty pages of this book. Recently, I picked it up on a whim, and I’ve been reading it in most spare moments ever since. The read has been a thorough pleasure for a couple reasons. For one, Wilson is an excellent narrative writer, smoothly mixing in paraphrases of interviews, quotes from letters and published work, and analysis and commentary that all reveal something about who C.S. Lewis was, both outwardly and inwardly. Another part of my enjoyment Apparently, a long time ago I read the first forty pages of this book. Recently, I picked it up on a whim, and I’ve been reading it in most spare moments ever since. The read has been a thorough pleasure for a couple reasons. For one, Wilson is an excellent narrative writer, smoothly mixing in paraphrases of interviews, quotes from letters and published work, and analysis and commentary that all reveal something about who C.S. Lewis was, both outwardly and inwardly. Another part of my enjoyment has been in receiving a more in-depth knowledge of Lewis’s life than I’ve previously had. I assume a majority of Lewis fans are like me, lovers of The Chronicles of Narnia and readers of a few other works like Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Space Trilogy and maybe some others. But as regards Lewis’s personal and academic life, I’ve known little. Wilson’s biography has given me a much clearer picture of this man, and that glimpse has been fascinating. Wilson is upfront about his purpose of exposing Lewis as a mere human, a contradiction of virtues and vices like the rest of us, and he succeeds in this to a degree that will surely offend some fans of Lewis. Scanning other goodreads reviews of this bio, it’s clear that this is the case, and I don’t think it’s entirely unwarranted. Wilson is not shy about analyzing Lewis’s motives and critiquing--fairly harshly at times--some of his writing and thinking. While I enjoyed this aspect of the book for the most part, I did find myself resisting it to some extent in the second half, as there are times when it feels like Wilson is determined to bring Lewis down more than a mere notch, harping on brief excerpts from letters and reaching assumptive conclusions about Lewis’s thoughts and feelings. He has certainly given a vastly different impression of Lewis than one gets from reading his most popular publications. The truth is, Wilson’s analyses and critiques occasionally approach the caustic, including the book’s closing statement, which sarcastically (I think) suggests that Lewis is a person to be worshiped. And though I appreciate the emphasis on Lewis’s humanness and personal psychology, it’s hard to dismiss the impression at times that Wilson’s tone is affected by some unexplained anger or resentment. Nonetheless, I never received the impression that Wilson’s harsh criticism is anything other than sincere and, for the most part, an honest attempt to analyze documents and testimonies that inform us of Lewis’s life as it was lived. Though I found myself mildly irritated in the last several chapters and rushing to finish so I could be done, I’m still delighted with this read, and I have a curiosity to read another bio or two of Lewis to see other perspectives and come to some kind of informed conclusion of my own regarding Lewis’s character and personality, especially since Wilson comments on the veracity of other Lewis biographers, as have other goodreads reviewers. And because, chronologically speaking, Wilson’s work is now one of the “early” biographical documents, I’m even more curious. Even now, in attempting to review this book, I feel like I’ve been sucked into a debate about the possible presence of some kind of agenda or slant to Wilson’s perspective and have as a result failed to cover the book’s more specific content. But as mentioned, the narrative details of Lewis’s life are highly informative, engaging, and ring of honest attempts at evaluation. And the commentary on his publications, while heavily opinionated, is equally interesting and compels me to want to read some books that have not been on my list, as Wilson reserves the highest praise for some of Lewis’s less popular works: The Discarded Image: an Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, An Experiment in Criticism, and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama. As is obvious from this list, Wilson is much more impressed with Lewis’s writing on literature than he is with Lewis’s fiction and theology.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anne Homeschooling-Mama

    Didn't like this book at all. Really had to plough through to the end, skipping quite a bit in a few places. The author is extremely unsympathetic towards Christianity. Why a person with such disrespect for the Christian religion would choose to write a biography of a great apologist for the faith is beyond me. It tainted the book and I was glad to be able to put it down.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    Tried too hard to be an intellectual. Spent too much time criticizing C. S. Lewis, and his writing, and not enough time on his life. Made leaping assumptions, and presented them as fact. Only took into account the information that agreed with where he wanted to go.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Gill

    C.S. Lewis is someone who provokes hero worship and dislike, even loathing, in equal measure. He has become something of a plaster saint to evangelical Christians over the years and his books still sell in huge quantities particularly in the USA. It's interesting that Wilson's biography was lauded by literary figures as one of the best examples of the art of biography, and slammed on various Christian related websites as being too interpretative of Lewis's motives and the impact of events in his C.S. Lewis is someone who provokes hero worship and dislike, even loathing, in equal measure. He has become something of a plaster saint to evangelical Christians over the years and his books still sell in huge quantities particularly in the USA. It's interesting that Wilson's biography was lauded by literary figures as one of the best examples of the art of biography, and slammed on various Christian related websites as being too interpretative of Lewis's motives and the impact of events in his life. Personally I think that a biography which doesn't attempt to analyse its subjects motives and the impact of his relationships would be a very boring read. Wilson's book on Lewis is worth reading if only for the fact that it's an excellent example of the art of biography - thoroughly researched, easy to read and interesting in itself quite apart from its subject. I ended up liking Lewis a lot more than when I started. He comes across as a decent, kind and loyal man. His love of a drink, his cigarette and pipe addiction and his bluff down to earth, often choice language (he could, unfortunately, be particularly crude when talking about women), hardly chime with the sainted status in which he's held by fundamentalist Christians. However, his theological writings still make me wince. For a man as well read and intelligent as Lewis, it's possible to drive a coach and horses through some of the 'logic' he tries to foist on the reader for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. He also completely misses the point to my mind - God is not there to be 'proven', God is there to be experienced and, if you choose to do so, to believe in. Belief is an act of will and imagination. Lewis himself seems to have come to theism and eventually to CofE based faith through personal mystical experience and imagination. Why he should become a straight laced proponent of flawed logic and 'factual', literalist arguments for the existence of God when lecturing the masses in his books and broadcasts is a mystery. It's tempting to take the view that he thought that, whereas a mystical route to God was available to an Oxford Don, the masses needed a more prosaic approach.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Melton

    A must-read bio of C.S. Lewis No biography is free of flaws, and each C.S. Lewis bio available goes astray in different ways. Each is written on the strength of serious research, including this one. But whereas Hooper & Green were too close to Jack Lewis to be objective and Alister McGrath too objective to be real and Sayer too embedded in the same world to translate it well to the uninitiated, Wilson’s is simply a problem of artistic over-reach and perhaps a breezy overconfidence in reading A must-read bio of C.S. Lewis No biography is free of flaws, and each C.S. Lewis bio available goes astray in different ways. Each is written on the strength of serious research, including this one. But whereas Hooper & Green were too close to Jack Lewis to be objective and Alister McGrath too objective to be real and Sayer too embedded in the same world to translate it well to the uninitiated, Wilson’s is simply a problem of artistic over-reach and perhaps a breezy overconfidence in reading into Lewis’ internal frame of mind. Critics have made much of a few errors of fact, yet factual purity may elude each bio. There is much in Wilson’s lively and sometimes contentious portrait that recommends it as most human. Here is Lewis, warts and all, deeply respected nonetheless as the towering figure he has become and justifiably revered for the indelible mark he has made. But any reader who desires a hero without clay feet had best stick with the kinder, gentler biographies. Wilson’s narrative approach manages not to get dragged down by minutiae and trivia, rather compelling the reader to keep turning its pages. Serious students of Lewis are wise not to pass it up.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    This book was not quite what I expected. To be honest, I didn't like it much at first. I felt like the author was intentionally painting C.S. Lewis in a unflattering light (my tendency would be to focus on the good and ignore the bad.) I found it hard to reconcile the Lewis who wrote such powerful Christian classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity with the Lewis I found in these pages. It wasn't until the end of the book that I understood the author's intent: "If we ignore This book was not quite what I expected. To be honest, I didn't like it much at first. I felt like the author was intentionally painting C.S. Lewis in a unflattering light (my tendency would be to focus on the good and ignore the bad.) I found it hard to reconcile the Lewis who wrote such powerful Christian classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity with the Lewis I found in these pages. It wasn't until the end of the book that I understood the author's intent: "If we ignore the kind of man Lewis was, in our anxiety to dismiss him as a fraud or canonize him as a plaster saint, we miss the unmistakable and remarkable evidence of something like sanctification which occurred in him towards the end of his days." Lewis was quite rough around the edges. He was abrasive, rude, proud. He fought with his family and friends and made some questionable choices. Some of his theology was iffy. But he was a testimony of God's grace and the fact that he was an ordinary man who God used to bring others closer to Himself. And in the end, isn't that what I want too?

  19. 4 out of 5

    James P

    Interesting approach when compared to McGrath’s CS Lewis - a life. Contains many interesting tidbits. Both trace his path to agnosticism and atheism without dwelling, but neither answer the question of his faith prior to his mother’s death or leaving for boarding school. May not be any documents to support. Nowhere near as eclectic as his recent bio of Darwin. Well worth reading. Lewis is a fascinating character and Wilson seems to gain Windows into his inner life which are to say the least prov Interesting approach when compared to McGrath’s CS Lewis - a life. Contains many interesting tidbits. Both trace his path to agnosticism and atheism without dwelling, but neither answer the question of his faith prior to his mother’s death or leaving for boarding school. May not be any documents to support. Nowhere near as eclectic as his recent bio of Darwin. Well worth reading. Lewis is a fascinating character and Wilson seems to gain Windows into his inner life which are to say the least provocative. Wilson, however, seems to believe the encounter with Elizabeth Anscombe at the Socratic Club in early 1948 where Lewis was defeated in debate represented a significant shift in Lewis’ approach to his readers using imaginative literature as the cornerstone of his approach to Christian apologetic. McGrath arrives at a different interpretation of the data which I share in the highlighted passages from this encounter in his CS Lewis Biography - a Life.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leanna

    I went to pick up a book reserved at the library for me and I couldn't figure out why I would have put a hold on this book. I think I may have read only one book by him and as I was figuring out who he was, I think I had mistaken him for another author. Anyway, I didn't want to second guess myself so I started reading this and it was going slooooowly, so I renewed it. Renewing always puts some guilt on me trying to finish a book, so I plowed my way through. I thought his Oxford career was mildly I went to pick up a book reserved at the library for me and I couldn't figure out why I would have put a hold on this book. I think I may have read only one book by him and as I was figuring out who he was, I think I had mistaken him for another author. Anyway, I didn't want to second guess myself so I started reading this and it was going slooooowly, so I renewed it. Renewing always puts some guilt on me trying to finish a book, so I plowed my way through. I thought his Oxford career was mildly interesting. There were some interesting tidbits about him, but I am still amazed that I finished it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emily Parsons

    An interesting insight into the man CS Lewis. It took me a while to get through the book. At first I was put off by the uncovering of Lewis as a less that perfect model of Christianity, like I had come to believe he was. But the more I read, the more I came to understand the tragedy of a man who simply didn't know how to deal with grief and loss, and how that came to weave its way through his whole life. I have a newfound appreciation for Lewis the man, truly human and imperfect and brilliant. T An interesting insight into the man CS Lewis. It took me a while to get through the book. At first I was put off by the uncovering of Lewis as a less that perfect model of Christianity, like I had come to believe he was. But the more I read, the more I came to understand the tragedy of a man who simply didn't know how to deal with grief and loss, and how that came to weave its way through his whole life. I have a newfound appreciation for Lewis the man, truly human and imperfect and brilliant. The writers style was readable and informative. I think he got the mix of telling Lewis's life story and giving background information right.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    This man was considered one of the greatest conversions of the 20th century. The book spent a lot of time reflecting on his works and tied bits of his life into it. Surprised by Joy is explained in a different format than C.S. Lewis presented.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    A book that seemed very good at the time, but which has been shown to be somewhat flawed by Wilson's biases in regard to Lewis.

  24. 4 out of 5

    MJ

    if you love Lewis's writings, you will love to get to know Lewis in this biography

  25. 5 out of 5

    Malvina

    I've read quite a few of CS Lewis' non-fiction books as well as fiction. Meeting the 'real' man was a bit of a surprise. This gives quite a different view from the image I had from his autobiographical books. Interesting.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ci

    This biography is top-rate, and a deep pleasure to read. Beside it is full of intelligent analysis and solid facts, yet it is devoid of any credulity or easy psychoanalyses, although the life of CSL must be so tempting to be casted in the Freudian light. CSL is portrait neither as a fraud nor a saint, but someone with immense intelligence and emotional depth. By reading such excellent book, one is grateful to be echoed by the sentiment expressed so aptly and touchingly by CSL himself -- (page 28 This biography is top-rate, and a deep pleasure to read. Beside it is full of intelligent analysis and solid facts, yet it is devoid of any credulity or easy psychoanalyses, although the life of CSL must be so tempting to be casted in the Freudian light. CSL is portrait neither as a fraud nor a saint, but someone with immense intelligence and emotional depth. By reading such excellent book, one is grateful to be echoed by the sentiment expressed so aptly and touchingly by CSL himself -- (page 2898) -- "Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privileged, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do".

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kirk Lowery

    There are two kinds of Lewis biographies: those that seek to depict the "real" person and hagiographies. Wilson falls into the former category. There is no question that Wilson admires Lewis and gives him due credit for his achievements. Lewis was also human -- like the rest of us -- and Wilson does not flinch to confront Lewis' faults. I was a little uncomfortable with the almost Freudian analysis of Lewis' emotional life, for it is difficult to know the inner life of another person. But he is There are two kinds of Lewis biographies: those that seek to depict the "real" person and hagiographies. Wilson falls into the former category. There is no question that Wilson admires Lewis and gives him due credit for his achievements. Lewis was also human -- like the rest of us -- and Wilson does not flinch to confront Lewis' faults. I was a little uncomfortable with the almost Freudian analysis of Lewis' emotional life, for it is difficult to know the inner life of another person. But he is careful, and since Lewis was a prolific correspondent, there is evidence that can be used. The description of the life of an Oxford (later, Cambridge) don was, to this academic, fascinating. I didn't know that Lewis participated in WWI trench warfare in France. That experience certainly had an impact on his thinking and writing. Lewis was one of the last of the 19th century Romantics, which resonates with me.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    This is the first biography I have read of C.S. Lewis and I found it both interesting and unsettling. There were some details from the early years of his life that I felt I could have done without! Lewis was a more complicated and even troubled individual than I ever realized but this knowledge gave me a new appreciation for him and a greater desire to read some of his works that I have not yet read. I found the connection between the significant events in Lewis' later life and the books he auth This is the first biography I have read of C.S. Lewis and I found it both interesting and unsettling. There were some details from the early years of his life that I felt I could have done without! Lewis was a more complicated and even troubled individual than I ever realized but this knowledge gave me a new appreciation for him and a greater desire to read some of his works that I have not yet read. I found the connection between the significant events in Lewis' later life and the books he authored during those years to be very helpful. I think I will appreciate and understand those works better now having read this book. This biography was long (over 300 pages) and very detailed. I would recommend reading a shorter, more "popular" biography prior to tackling this volume if you are looking for general introduction to Lewis and his work.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Keith Bell

    A brilliant insight into Lewis the man. A.N. Wilson gives you an unpolished Lewis. Here is an account of more than just Lewis' Apologetics and Narnia writings. It reviews his academic and personal life. And, much like other books from Wilson, it left me with a truer sense of the man behind the persona. Wilson is not a Christian himself but has written other biographies of Jesus and Paul along with a book called "God's Funeral". His biography of Jesus, which recounts his life and teachings, posit A brilliant insight into Lewis the man. A.N. Wilson gives you an unpolished Lewis. Here is an account of more than just Lewis' Apologetics and Narnia writings. It reviews his academic and personal life. And, much like other books from Wilson, it left me with a truer sense of the man behind the persona. Wilson is not a Christian himself but has written other biographies of Jesus and Paul along with a book called "God's Funeral". His biography of Jesus, which recounts his life and teachings, posited that he was just a man and not a deity. That book first convinced me of the historicity of Jesus, a stepping stone in my journey of Faith. I think my coming to Faith after living as an Agnositic/Buddhist lets me read and study criticisms with an open view.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mark Gibbs

    A Good read - but occasionally Wilson reads as someone who is just determined to prove a preconceived theory. As a result , Wilson gets carried away with describing Lewis' possible love life- at the cost of describing his life as an academic Christian apologist - for example , the relationship with the Inklings as a group, one of the most long - lasting relationships of Lewis' life) is largely confined to a discussion in a single chapter - WHY? - however , his strained but small family relations A Good read - but occasionally Wilson reads as someone who is just determined to prove a preconceived theory. As a result , Wilson gets carried away with describing Lewis' possible love life- at the cost of describing his life as an academic Christian apologist - for example , the relationship with the Inklings as a group, one of the most long - lasting relationships of Lewis' life) is largely confined to a discussion in a single chapter - WHY? - however , his strained but small family relationships are beautifully handled and described - - Good book - but handle with care - I have some slight reservations with this volume

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