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Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  35,375 Ratings  ·  1,132 Reviews
In this book Lewis tells of his search for joy, a spiritual journey that led him from the Christianity of his early youth into atheism and then back to Christianity
Paperback, 238 pages
Published March 23rd 1966 by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich (first published 1955)
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Apr 06, 2009 Nathan rated it really liked it
C.S. Lewis, the man that "thought his way to God" (according to the back of the book), isn't really all man - he's part reading machine. Everything, every sentence, in his spiritual autobiography is laden with some classical allusion to a work that the normal person hasn't read in Greek or Latin.
After the death of his mother in his youth, Lewis enters a long lasting period of atheism. Although he knew epistemologically that God didn't exist, he still felt that there was something else "out there
Mike (the Paladin)
Okay, I started this today and finished it today, and will probably reread it. This has happened with many of Lewis' books. I've read The Four Loves several times and am getting ready to reread Miracles. There often seems to be a lot that I don't get first time through.

This is a wonderful book with some less than wonderful parts. By that I mean discourses on difficult or unpleasant events and/or topics. I won't try to go over this volume in any kind of detail. I suspect it will "strike" differen
Mark Adderley
May 26, 2009 Mark Adderley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual
There's not much to say about this book, as it is famous, and has been reviewed many times. It's about C. S. Lewis' conversion from atheism to Christianity. He identifies a quality which he calls "Joy," which occurs in what he describes as "a stab of joy." This is the a moment of perfect happiness occasioned by . . . well, it differs. Lewis explains that he got three stabs of joy in his youth: once from the a model garden in a biscuit-tin lid that his brother had made, once while reading Beatix ...more
Oct 11, 2015 Madelyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiogrophies
"Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back....everything is different."

I can easily mark this as my favorite autobiography. It didn't drone on and on as most others do. Starting out in his childhood, spreading through his years at Oxford and when he served as professor, and ending shortly after his conversion to Christianity, there was insight for almost every season of life. I've been a long-time reader of many of the classic Lewis works (Mere Christianity, Narnia, e
Brittany Petruzzi
Jul 10, 2012 Brittany Petruzzi rated it really liked it
Considering all the things we’ve studied at New Saint Andrews—and the way it keeps coming back to one thing—I find it highly interesting that it was essentially C.S. Lewis’ love of story that brought him to Christ. If you think about it, story is what all of his experiences of Sehnsucht have in common. Most of the Sehnsucht took place while reading poetry or literature, and if not, it was because it transported him to the places in those stories. For example, looking up at the night sky took him ...more
Olivier Delaye
Jan 29, 2017 Olivier Delaye rated it it was amazing
C. S. Lewis, one of J. R. R. Tolkien's best friends and creator of the Narnia Chronicles, among others. Pure genius. Period.
David Sarkies
May 19, 2014 David Sarkies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians and Literature Lovers
Recommended to David by: Some guy at church
Shelves: christian
Not quite an autobiography
24 May 2014

It is a little difficult to categorise this book since while in part it is an autobiography, Lewis goes to great pains to exclaim otherwise. One could also suggest that it falls into a category of Christian literature known as a testimony: a story that is told by the author as to how they became a Christian. However this particular book sort of does not follow the two forms that that type of literature takes, which are:

1) I was a really, really, really bad p
Jan 16, 2016 Morgan rated it it was amazing
Interesting to read immediately after The Pilgrim's Regress. I could see how the latter was an allegorical representation of his own conversion. I only wish he'd written a regular autobiography as well, for I'm very interested to hear of his later life in his own words.

Recommended for: Ages 15 to Adult (mentions of sinful behavior by the other boys at school, and mentions of certain temptations)

Many years ago, I read the first few chapters of this book as research for a speech on C.S. Lewis. I
Apr 24, 2013 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This book wasn't what I was expecting. At first, I had expected it to be the story of how Lewis met his wife, Joy, as was portrayed in the movie SHADOWLANDS with Anthony Hopkins. Upon learning that such was not the case, I then expected it to be a straight-forward autobiographical account of Lewis' life. Wrong again. Actually, SURPRISED BY JOY is a memoir about Lewis' formative years. More specifically, it deals with Lewis' early rejection of Christianity and the manner in which he eventually re ...more
Courtney Joshua
This was interesting, but considering the very lengthy and detailed set-up, the denouement was hasty and disappointing. It barely brought together any of the varied strands he'd investigated; especially, his final treatment of “Joy” is relegated to one brief paragraph on the final page, and he fails to explain how Christianity satisfies/fulfills this feeling.

He believes it does, as he says in Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logic
"Surprised by Joy" este autobiografia intelectuala a lui C.S. Lewis si prezinta trecerea lui de la crestinismul din copilarie la ateism, la teism si apoi la un crestinism matur. In prima parte a cartii descrie copilaria in Irlanda, relatia cu tatal si fratele lui, apoi diversele scoli si internate prin care a trecut, anii petrecuti la Oxford si experienta primului razboi mondial. Intors la Oxford dupa citiva ani, intilneste mai multi intelectuali crestini, printre care si J.R.R. Tolkien. Lecturi ...more
anca dc
Jan 21, 2009 anca dc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008-2009
cel mai ciuda mi'e ca nu imi las notitele proaspete, atunci cand citesc cartea. pentru ca dupa aceea nu mai ii simt pulsul in acelasi fel, nu mai este totul proaspat in mine si apoi nu mai am aceeasi usuratate in exprimarea insemnatatii scrierii respective. asta ii asa, in general, dar si in special pentru cartea asta si lewis...asa ca o sa urmeze niste notite care mie imi par asa seci, serbede..imi pare rau. asta e! invatatura de minte!

mi'a placut:
* franchetea lui de la inceput:) ca aceasta car
"Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side." C.S. Lewis should know, he was one.

It is a rare thing to find a book that speaks to you so thoroughly and on so many levels. This was a complete surprise, something I rather stumbled upon because of a reference to it in another book. And what a surprise! Reading each chapter, each paragraph, each sentence, felt much like catching up with an old and dear friend, someone who understands your
This is Lewis's spiritual autobiography of sorts. It traces his life from childhood experiences in church as the grandson of a clergyman to ignoring God as a youth to the trenches in which he fought in WWI to his Oxford days as a full-out Atheist to his close friendships with JRR Tolkien and a few others that sped along his ultimate conversion. It's written in a very rational and slightly detached way (as is everything Lewis writes). It's interesting to see how his childhood shaped him into the ...more
Jeff Shelnutt
In this autobiographical account of how he tumbled accidentally into the Christian faith, Lewis talks about the first time he went to his alma mater, Oxford. He got off the train and began walking. After a mile or two he turned around, bewildered.

There, behind me, far away, never more beautiful since, was the fabled cluster of spires and towers. I had come out of the station on the wrong side and been all this time walking into what was even then the mean and sprawling suburb of Botley. I did n
Demetrius Rogers
I love The Chronicles of Narnia. I even like The Screwtape Letters. But, I haven't really connected with Lewis' essays as much. I've never really been able to follow his train of thought. Maybe it's his brittishness, or perhaps his discursive mind, but I just can't seem to hang with his discourse. However, I love his imaginative works! And oh man, I love his Till We Have Faces. Anybody who can write such literature deserves further investigation. Well, after reading this autobiography, I'm even ...more
Unlike some of the other Lewis works I've read, this book meandered around for a while and was hard to follow during Lewis' early years. Maybe I just wasn't the type of kid Lewis was -- totally interested in fantasy and mythology. Whatever it was, I was pretty bored and confused for the first 150 pages.

Also, the bullies at British prep schools are downright cruel. Remind me never to send my future kids there.

Then it got much better. As Lewis entered his college years and started reading some of
Mostly, I was charmed by this painstaking account of a spiritual pilgrimage, by CSL's awkward earnestness, if not his logic. It appears that he was led, kicking and trying to wriggle out of Divinity's fierce embrace, pinned by his own scrupulous honesty and reasoning. That he still sympathized with those who still cling to their atheist beliefs was surprising, but when he admitted that he still cringed at their bad arguements,he endeared himself to me forever as a sensitive, scrupulous man of in ...more
Sep 22, 2016 Nick rated it it was amazing
There is so much that I love (absolutely love!) about this book. First of all, it's a book by CS Lewis. Secondly, it's about his life. Thirdly, it's about his life with learning and books. Fourthly, it's a story of a journey of thought from atheism to Christianity. Many of the quotes that people love so much come from this book. This is definitely one to reread many times, and I can't wait to look into some of the books he recommends. There is something about Lewis that makes me think I could ha ...more
Oct 10, 2014 Selim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One can learn so much from C. S. Lewis, feast on the beautiful language and sophisticated literary and historical references, not quite get everything, but still revel in the mysteriousness of it all.
I loved this book for more than one reason. For me, it wasn't only about him becoming Christian; this book is an honest account of Lewis' self-discovery and the series of experiences--pleasant and otherwise--that molded his personality and made him the legend that he was, has been, and continues to
Andy Stearns
Jan 03, 2017 Andy Stearns rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent account of his transition from Atheism, to Theism, to Christianity

For those who want to understand lewis better in his own words, this is a must-red. He walks the reader down the path he trod out of Atheism, and along the way the reader gets to know Lewis. I especially appreciated the book having just finished the Narnia series. Allusions and echoes of elements in the Narnia series are everywhere in the life of Lewis.
Apr 20, 2016 Jamie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-inklings, 2017
An excellent book! For C.S. Lewis fans and more. If interested in the full discussion from the Inklings Series, join in!
Aug 13, 2013 Olubukola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very much liked reading this. I feel as though the more times I read it, the better I will appreciate it.
Feb 13, 2014 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-inklings
I loved this book. I read it about 14 years ago, but still think about the book and the lessons I learned from it.
Stephen Hayes
Jan 26, 2017 Stephen Hayes added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stephen by: My mother
Reading a book a second time a long time after the first reading often means one sees it in a completely different way, and this one is no exception.

It is a spiritual autobiography, an account of how C.S. Lewis abandoned the Christian faith of his childhood, and returned to it in later life.

When I first read it, I had not read many of his books. I was still at school, and so it was the parts of the book where he was a schoolboy that stood out in my memory, comparing the schools he had attended
Jacob Rush
Jun 13, 2017 Jacob Rush rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This man just has a way with words. Many laugh out loud moments as well as honest admissions of his own faults and defects that shaped his early life. A helpful background to the types of characters and issues Lewis incarnates in the stories and essays he writes. Like Lewis, may we follow the signposts of Joy to the city of eternal Joy.
Feb 22, 2010 Cindi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprised By Joy is an account of C.S. Lewis' early life into his adulthood. The thread that ties the writing together is his spiritual life. He went from a kind of Christianity (not taught at home), to stark atheism, to Theism and finally to Christianity. The early chapters of the book were a delight to read (except for the information about his horrible schoolmaster and school conditions). As the book went on, it became more and more intellectual to the point that I could hardly bear to finish ...more
Rachael Miles
I remembered reading an interview carried out with a theologian I find fascinating called Marcus Borg, and reading in his book Putting Away Childish Things, that he describes Lewis’ works with the terms “early Lewis” and “later Lewis”: "I find a much more persuasive sense of the mystery of God and the mystery of life in his later writings, including A Grief Observed, but probably starting with Surprised By Joy, than I do in his early pugnacious, polemical works. So I commonly speak of an early L ...more
Rachel Rueckert
Oct 10, 2011 Rachel Rueckert rated it really liked it
Shelves: religious, biography
After reading so many books by C.S. Lewis, it was really nice to hear in his own words what life experiences he had that made him that unique individual. I am not the biggest fan of autobiographies in general, so I appreciated the companion biographical story told in The Essential C.S. Lewis, but I think Lewis does a pretty good job at honestly representing himself, particularly his childhood and educational career.

Things I did not know before (including bits from class discussion):

Lewis wen
David Woods
This is the autobiography of CS Lewis, chronicling his progression from Atheism to Absolutism, to a belief in Spirit, to Theism to Christianity. It is the story of someone much smarter and better educated than I will ever be, ending up begrudgingly accepting Theism, and then Christianity after every other choice fell away, much to his dismay at the time. It's hard to rate this book with stars, the first part autobiography, the second, more philosophical. The book doesn't actually get to his disc ...more
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Well Trained Mind...: #19 - Surprised by Joy - C.S. Lewis 54 19 Apr 09, 2016 03:21PM  
C.S. Lewis Books: Surprised by Joy 6 40 Aug 16, 2014 01:49PM  
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  • The Everlasting Man
  • The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis
  • Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman
  • How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture
  • The Cost of Discipleship
  • C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet
  • A Severe Mercy: A Story of Faith, Tragedy and Triumph
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  • The Life and Diary of David Brainerd
  • Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis
  • The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends
  • C.S. Lewis: A Biography
  • Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ
  • The Practice of the Presence of God
  • A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael
  • Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther
  • Jonathan Edwards
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

CLIVE STAPLES LEWIS (1898–1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954. He was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature
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“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” 362 likes
“The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.” 76 likes
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