More than several people agree that this is the best Lewis biography to date (see links below). So far I have not read any negative reviews of Alister McGrath’s new biography.
McGrath unlike previous biographers was not a friend, student or family of Lewis. And unlike previous biographers McGrath had access to an enormous library of Lewis’ correspondence which has led to a new understanding of Lewis.
McGrath also is planning a second, more academic evaluation of Lewis, so this book is written as a popular biography. If there is a weakness of the book it is that it does not go into as much depth as I would like it to about several areas. His spiritual development as a young Christian, how Lewis related to his step sons both before and after their mother’s death, and his theology are all areas I would have liked more depth. (Bookwi.se Note: I read A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of CS Lewis by Devin Brown after writing this review and it is a good supplement in this areas.)
This is not a hagiography, I have seen a couple of troll comments about this destroying Lewis’ reputation. But they clearly have not read the book. McGrath does paint Lewis as a whole, complicated person. In some previous biographies, Lewis was heralded for his care of Mrs Moore, the mother of one of his best friends that was killed in WWI. However it is likely that Lewis and Mrs Moore were sexually involved at least initially in their relationship. Although it is true that Lewis did care for her until her death, years after their sexual relationship had ended. There are several other places where previous biographies seem to have just not discussed some events that were less flattering.
McGrath also changes the common view on both the timing of Lewis conversion and Joy Davidman’s intentions at getting Lewis to marry her from the very start. McGrath makes both cases convincingly even though neither make Lewis look better. (Bookwi.se Note: Christianity Today has a good article pushing back on McGrath’s treatment of Joy Davidman. For a more complete look at Joy Davidman read Lyle Dorsett’s excellent biography And God Came In).
I was glad that I had read Surprised by Joy a couple weeks ago (before I realized this biography was coming out), because McGrath spends some time interacting with Lewis’ own memoir as a way of understanding both Lewis’ early life and how Lewis saw himself. I didn’t really like Surprised by Joy that much as an independent book, but in combination with this biography I was glad I had read it.
I think my best recommendation for the McGrath’s biography is that I want to read both more about and by Lewis after having it. I picked up the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity to read over the next couple months and I look forward to the more academic treatment of Lewis that McGrath will write eventually.
Chapter 8 is duplicated on the Audible.com Audiobook (both as the last chapter of the first file and the first chapter of the second file). I reported it and was told that Audible was fixing it. Second, the audiobook opens with an interview on Moody Radio with Alister McGrath (the author) talking about the book. I thought the placement of the interview was a bad idea. I wanted to start the book, not listen to a discussion about the book. I think the interview would be fine (but redundant) at the end of the book. What I did find useful was two short experts of Lewis’ radio lectures that were included at the end of the audiobook. I had heard both before, but they were good to listen to and gave some additional context to Lewis’ work and life.
Bookwi.se Reviewed Books by or about CS Lewis
- A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of CS Lewis by Devin Brown
- Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy #1)
- Perelandra by CS Lewis (Space Trilogy #2)
- That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis (Space Trilogy #3)
- Reflections on the Psalms by CS Lewis
- CS Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath
- Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis
- Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by CS Lewis (Second Reading)
- Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis
- The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis (Narnia)
- The Silver Chair by CS Lewis (Narnia)
- The Magician’s Nephew (Narnia)
- The Last Battle by CS Lewis (Narnia)
- And God Came In: The Extraordinary Life of Joy Davidman by Lyle Dorsett (CS Lewis’ Wife)