Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt” as Want to Read:
Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  374 ratings  ·  74 reviews
The acclaimed writer, respected thinker and outspoken former bishop Richard Holloway recounts a life defined by the biggest questions: Who am I? And what is God? At fourteen, Richard Holloway left his home in the Vale of Leven, north of Glasgow, and travelled hundreds of miles to be educated and trained for the priesthood by a religious order in an English monastery. By tw ...more
Hardcover, 358 pages
Published March 1st 2012 by Canongate (first published February 27th 2012)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Leaving Alexandria, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Leaving Alexandria

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.10  · 
Rating details
 ·  374 ratings  ·  74 reviews

More filters
Sort order
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Given that for the past twenty years I have been an atheist, and am now hesitantly exploring to see if I can find a path into some sort of faith, this was perhaps not the right book to read.

It's a haunting memoir, beautifully written, by someone who has lost his faith....and he had a long way to fall, having once been Bishop of Scotland. It traces his journey from a passion for religion and the monastic life, to his eventual disillusion both with the church and with himself and his aspirations.
A former Bishop of Edinburgh, Holloway is often harsh on himself in this brutally honest memoir. The higher he rose in the Anglican Church – through parish priest positions in a slum area of Glasgow and in Boston, and eventually to the bishopric – the more piercing his doubts about Christianity became. Sainthood seemed an ever more cruelly mocking fantasy to someone who was drifting away from the certainties of orthodoxy. Again and again he confesses that as a churchman he was playing a role he ...more
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
First, full disclosure: I am a religious neophyte, raised an atheist in a religious vacuum, later becoming a hopeful believer in a failed experiment, and now agnostic--and I use the term tentatively, aware of all I know I don’t know. Except that I do. I do know, when it comes to what resonates within.

And what I know from reading this wonderfully well-written, honest book is that on many topics Richard Holloway speaks for me.

It is a hugely entertaining memoir, and an informative one, s
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I remember what I said when Richard Holloway resigned his position in the Church. I was dismissive. Since then I have read some of his most recent works as I've negotiated my own withdrawal from organised Religion. I was very keen to read this memoir because I had unanswered questions of Richard Holloway, so having read it, I am pleased to say that my questions (most of them) are answered. I found the book satisfying, affirming, funny, courageous and moving; and would like to thank Richard for g ...more
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Like the man himself, Richard Holloway’s autobiography is candid, entertaining and delightfully unstuffy. The former bishop of Edinburgh traces a thoughtful path through the byways of his life, beginning with a modest upbringing in Dunbartonshire. It’s here that his lifelong love of the movies was ignited, and he ponders whether Hollywood inspired his search for heroic roles in his own life. Looking back, he suggests the search might have been misjudged. “The tough lesson life teaches is the dif ...more
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
As a person who has had a drastic change in my spiritual direction since my childhood, I found this to be an interesting memoir of an individual who struggled with doubt throughout his religious education and his calling as a priest and then Bishop. His insight in to the positive attributes of Christianity and his conclusions regarding his inability to stay within the confines of an organized religion that defeats these attributes by its dogmatic, hypocritical structure, rang true to me on many ...more
Craig Smillie
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
A smashing, honest book - both in his own self-deprecating self-criticism and also in his searingly acceptant view of what he actually believes. Takes big balls to do this and Holloway obviously has them. I'm just so relieved I haven't had to go through all this agony of dealing with church authorities who often seem more interested in what ceremony should be followed on which saint's day or what colour your vest should be on the third Sunday after advent. Holloway honestly reveals a hankering a ...more
Stuart Macalpine
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What a surprisingly brilliant account of a human life. It is utterly rich in wisdom born of reflection on the things that makes us the complex, contradictory creatures we are. Compulsive reading, and on many pages there are lines you want to paint up on the wall least you forget... the irony is of course that as the regular quotes from Nietzsche indicate, the author distrusts the absolute quality of words and ideas, and their lack of flexibility... but even so... there is a lifetime of wisdom ge ...more
Karen Chung
Jun 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Karen by: A BBC interview
Highly recommended to anybody who has given any thought at all to your own spiritual journey in this world.
Trevor Gill
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Holloway's prose is very readable and this memoir is a memorable one - wise and full of wry, sometimes mischievous humour. The author is a former Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh who once wore, in my view, a badge of honour in that the Daily Mail dubbed him, 'Britain's barmiest Bishop'.

A churchman reviled on all sides at various points in his long career may just, to my mind, be doing something right. The humour is striking. Not many former Bishops would include this observation on being insulted b
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a haunting and evocative appraisal of one man's spiritual journey, but it a also a reflection on modern Christianity. Although I come from a very different Christian tradition to Holloway's, I found much to identify with here, and reading the book was at times a painful experience because of that.

It is also unexpectedly (unintentionally perhaps) an apology for poetry; scarcely a page goes by without Holloway quoting one poet or other, finding that poems can express ideas where prose is
Moira McPartlin
I felt I should have likedthis book more. Richard Holloway is a respected public figure in Scotland, an excellent writer and philosopher, so what was the problem? I think part of it was my expectations of an autobiography even though it is clearly labelled a Memoir of Faith and Doubt. There was too much religion and not enough family, but again the clue is in the title.
I enjoyed the earlier parts of book where the young working class boy left the safety of the Vale to enter a monastery. Bu
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Richard Holloway does not just write; he paints with the quill, a quill that is handled by wisdom that few of us could ever hope to obtain. In the end, I disagree with Holloway on some very weighty issues, but I was continually romanced by his words. His interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan alone is worth reading his book, but he drops knowledge and beauty on almost every page. This man officiated in a homosexual wedding in the early 1970s -- He was way ahead of the curve!
Sep 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
Richard Holloway is a significant person to read and his journey away from Christianity is an important and interesting one. But I found this autobiography fairly average except where he specifically analyses and critiques contemporary Christianity and the issues it faces - including his engagement with those issues. I was pretty bored with what seemed to me an endless commentary on place names, streets, buildings, towns, etc. Clearly Holloway connects with the places and people of his life but ...more
Surprised myself with how much I loved this. Holloway's passages about the theatre and romance of religion really struck home with me and those are the things I miss, even after more than 25 years of atheism (I suspect if I was his age contemporary and had been born into Catholicism rather than a weak and listless 70's CofE family atmosphere, I'd have gone the same way as him). It's powerful writing and the journey he takes through his loss of faith is human, humbling and very recognisable. I wi ...more
Alex Livingston
May 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Not perfect, but very good. I may write more later.
Monthly Book Group
May 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Richard Holloway was the Bishop of Edinburgh, in the Scottish Episcopal Church, from 1986 to 2000.
One way to read this book is to take its main theme to be ‘does God exist?’. But this is too simplistic; the real theme is ‘how does a man of God (or any man) deal with his doubts about the existence of God?’. Or, more broadly, he is trying to find out who he was. Many of us know that struggle. The author points out that theists and atheists have more in common with each other than they do wit
Jack O'Donnell
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I guess I should review these books individually, but it’s my blog, I have god-like powers and can do anything I want. I asked Richard Holloway to sign my book, which is his autobiographical writing, when he visited Dalmuir library. He asked me what I wanted him to write in the flyleaf, I said that book you were talking about earlier, Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just because I wanted to read it. I’m with the Society of Friends on this one, no kowtowing. No bended knee. Books are holy thi ...more
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
"It is the pain of our humanity to know that we are nothing that lasts, like the haar that blows down Jeffrey Street; yet to feel the pity of that because of the dreams we have dreamed, and dreams that sometimes seen to be higher and better than the universe that so indifferently spawns them." I found myself surprised by the similarities of feeling I experienced, over moral questions and the human condition, in this oddly comforting but simultaneously bleak -- and rich -- story of a doubting pri ...more
Richard Thomas
Nov 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fine book from an admirable clergyman (by the skin of his teeth) which recounts his journey from what seems to me to be a tenuous faith to doubt.
Tony Fitzpatrick
The autobiography of Richard Holloway, one time Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Episcopal Church of Scotland. He was born in 1933 in Alexandria, Dunbartonshire in Scotland, and age 14 (!) became a border at Kelham Theological College, destined for Holy Orders. Along the way he did missionary work in the Gorbals, was a Parish Priest in Edinburgh, Boston, and Oxford, and as Bishop was a noted thorn in the side of the Evangelical wing of the Anglican communion. In this book, Holloway explains ...more
Michael Devlin
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is not the book for anyone wanting a chatty, gossipy life story. It is a personal memoir from the controversial Bishop of Edinburgh and it focuses heavily on Holloway's inner turmoil, the constant battle between belief and doubt. It also provides a fascinating insight into the attitudes and changes within the Anglican Church over the last fifty years. Initially interested, I found my concentration waning towards the middle of the book and put it aside. Picking it up again after a month I be ...more
Joseph Sverker
Leaving Alexandria:

First of all I must say that I feel sympathy with Richard Holloway in his reminiscing on his life. There is much that I recognise of what he describes in his journey of doubt. The wish for a more present presence of God and in prayer and the scepticism towards religion and also view of the Bible amongst many Christians who seems to want to leave their critical thinking, that they have been given by God, behind. Furthermore, I think he was brave to so early on bless
Helen Forbes
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Having heard the author speak, I was keen to read it. It is a beautifully written and deeply touching memoir. Richard Holloway is very candid about his faith and his doubts and his shortcomings, the latter so much so that I found myself wanting to shout at him from time to time, as he credited others with acts of charity and love, while almost trying to play down his own role. He articulated many of my doubts about organised religion in a way that I never could.
Vulnerable, h
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An erudite and helpful memoir for those seeking to discern eternal truths away from dogmatic thinking. It doesn't give answers but explores different thought processes and uses poetry to enhance the narrative. At times there is too much overthinking and self criticism which has obviously proved a burden to the Author throughout his life. I felt a strong sympathy for his long suffering wife and admire their joint, forward thinking pastoral work over many years.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, theology
There was a sadness to this book and yet I really enjoyed it. It felt a privilege to be allowed to join Richard Holloway on his spiritual journey. It rang many bells for me even though my own journey has been different. Although the author's track took a different direction than he had originally expected, and there is a strong feeling of loss or disappointment, there is also a strand of faith which runs through it to the end. Very thought provoking.
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An amazing autobiography. It’s fascinating to read about the progression or evolving of the life of the mind. There are many quotations that have me wanting to explore the books and authors and poetry he mentions.
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
powerful, honest, and compassionate reflection made even more poignant by living in the same locations and sharing similar experiences.
Susan Spilsbury
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, honest and challenging.
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Augustine: Conversions to Confessions
  • Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography
  • By the Book: A Reader's Guide to Life
  • The Italian Chapel
  • Blue
  • Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity
  • God Collar
  • The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity
  • Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
  • The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus
  • Land's Edge
  • The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief
  • Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy
  • The Potter's Hand
  • A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation
  • The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return
  • The Book Of Rachael
  • Women and Authority: Re-Emerging Mormon Feminism
See similar books…
Richard F. Holloway (born 26 November 1933) is a Scottish writer and broadcaster and was formerly Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Holloway was educated at Kelham Theological College, Edinburgh Theological College and the Union Theological Seminary, New York City. Between 1959 and 1986 he was a curate, vicar and rector at various parishes in England, Scotland and th
“We know you are going to be enthralled by the mystery of sexuality, which is hardly surprising since it is the energy of life itself. We know it will have the power to take you over for it's own purposes, and we know you won't always be able to resist it. Try at least to think about its possible consequences. Recognise that sex has the potential to hurt and devastate, as well as the capacity to thrill. Understand that it will get all tied up with your need for consolation and acceptance. And never forget the sheer fucking insanity of it all.” 1 likes
More quotes…