A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by Devin Brown

Reporting this review because the kindle version is in sale for $2.99 now $1.99. Also on sale for $1.99 and related is Alan Jacob’s biography of Lewis, The Narnian.

A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by by Devin BrownTakeaway: Lewis really was a gift to the church as a whole.

This year is the 50th anniversary of CS Lewis’ death.  So there have been several new books on Lewis.  Alister McGrath’s new biography was excellent.  But there were two places where I wanted more from McGrath.  One was more about Lewis’ relationship with his two stepsons (Douglas Gresham introduces the book).  The other was more about Lewis’ spiritual development, the focus of this book.

The format of A Life Observed is to use a rough outline of Lewis’ two most biographical books, Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed. Lewis wrote Surprised by joy as a spiritual autobiography.  But it only goes through Lewis conversion to Christianity.  He lived another 32 years after that.  And A Grief Observed is his raw journals after the death of his wife near the very end of his life.

The middle of his life, in between his conversion and his marriage to Joy is really what I wanted most.  There is the chapter on the Inklings, Lewis and Tolkien’s literary club and circle of friends.  And Brown talks about Lewis’ commitment to his local church, not the university church.  In passing, it is mentioned that Lewis had a single spiritual director throughout his life, but only in passing.

Brown resists moving beyond what Lewis actually says about himself.  And mostly I appreciate that.  But it leaves large gaps in the story.  Because Lewis did not write a lot about his Christian life, Brown does not write a lot about his Christian life.

But what is here, is very good.  This is not simply a retelling of Lewis’ own story.  It is an explication of Lewis’ story.  There are quotes and referenced to one of Lewis’ books or one of his letters on virtually every page.  But it does not feel like quote after quote, it feels like Brown is weaving together the fiction and the non-fiction of Lewis into a whole that more completely reveals Lewis.

I am not a huge fan of Surprised by Joy.  In large part because Lewis does not really explain himself all that well.  And Brown says that Lewis regretted not writing Surprised by Joy differently.  But when he wrote it he did not realize that his experience was different from so many other stories of faith.  Now that I have read this, I would like to go back and re-read Surprised by Joy because I think I would understand it much more.

In spite of the holes, this was a well written and useful addition to understanding Lewis.  I think it pairs very well with McGrath’s biography because there is so little overlap in content and they are of such different styles.  Pick up both.

A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by by Devin Brown Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook Audiobook is discounted to $3.99 with purchase of Kindle Book 

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A PDF copy of the book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley for purposes of review.

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