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C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  3,023 ratings  ·  500 reviews
Fifty years after his death, C. S. Lewis continues to inspire and fascinate millions. His legacy remains varied and vast. He was a towering intellectual figure, a popular fiction author who inspired a global movie franchise around the world of Narnia, and an atheist-turned-Christian thinker.

In C.S. Lewis: A Life, Alister McGrath, prolific author and respected professor at
Hardcover, 431 pages
Published March 1st 2013 by Tyndale House Publishers (first published March 13th 2012)
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4.11  · 
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 ·  3,023 ratings  ·  500 reviews

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Oct 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. Oh my God. Where to begin?

AN Wilson's biography of CS Lewis is infamous for being 100% entertaining while only about 50% true. This book, while claiming to right the wrongs of Wilson's biography, possibly makes just as many mistakes, and isn't even entertaining to boot.

Ok, let's break this down.

Problem number 1:
McGrath seemed more interested in writing a biography of Lewis The Scholar or Lewis the Author than Lewis the Man.
McGrath is an Oxford don himself, and he points out from the
Natalie Vellacott
This was okay but didn't hold my interest. I had to abandon it towards the end due to time constraints. I hadn't read any other books about Lewis' life so some of the detail was interesting. I think this would really only appeal to serious fans of Lewis (which I am not.) The author devotes an entire chapter to proving that Lewis' conversion to Christianity occurred a year later than most had believed. He opens the biography with an announcement about this stating that he is about to reveal somet ...more
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013, biography
There's an excellent review of this book out in the March/April issue of Books and Culture by Don King (no, not the boxing promoter), and I recommend that for further reading.

As King's review emphasizes, there are a few interesting and somewhat new readings of Lewis advanced in this book.

The most prominent of these new readings is Mcgrath's suggestion that Lewis's memory failed him in his recollection of the date of his own conversion. Lewis's Surprised by Joy gives the date of September 28, 19
Oct 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Scholarly. Articulate. Incredibly well-researched and thorough. This biography is only for the die-hard Lewis fans, who are willing to learn extensive details about Lewis's life, sticking with it through the 400+ pages. There are many shorter biographies that are adequate for the common Lewis-layman, but, to loosely paraphrase a Lewis quote: you can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book on Lewis long enough to suit me. :)

This gets five stars because I absolutely love reading McGrath's wr
Feb 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013-list
I've been fascinated with C.S. Lewis in a arms-length sort of way for quite some time. I read the Chronicles of Narnia in late grade school and loved them. I rediscovered and reread them with my husband when the first movie came out in 2005 and loved them even more.

His fiction has continued to fascinate me since my childhood, though I didn't start really reading it until The Screwtape Letters in 2006 and then following with an immersion in the Ransom (Space) Trilogy, both of which I highly enjoy
Moira Russell
Not as great as I thought/hoped it was going to be at the beginning, but certainly the most academic yet sympathetic biography of Lewis we've had so far (which sadly isn't saying much -- the A.N. Wilson biography is really something. Something awful). Not much literary analysis, tho, and he spends way too much time on the repellent Mere Christianity, but he discusses Lewis's imaginative system the same way Garth did in Tolkien and the Great War -- altho this is nowhere near that book. Also way t ...more
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Growing up in an intellectually engaged, American evangelical home in the 70’s and 80’s made it almost inevitable that C.S. Lewis would be a part of my life. My father first read aloud to me and my brothers The Chronicles of Narnia when I was 11 and before leaving for college I'd read his classics: Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man, The Screwtape Letters (side note: you haven’t truly enjoyed Screwtape until you've listened to the version narrated by John Cleese).

But my encounters with Lewi
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Most excellent! This book contained many insights into the life of CS Lewis that I had never encountered before. Plus, at the end, McGrath looks at the CS Lewis Phenomenon and why he has a lasting legacy with today’s evangelicals. This time I listened to the book on audio and I must say it has two added bonuses that are fantastic: The first is an interview with Alastair McGrath, and the second is two recorded talks by CS Lewis. I grabbed this book from the library, but I definitely want to buy a ...more
David Harris
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
C.S. Lewis: A Life is a carefully researched and well-crafted biography suitable to the stature of its subject. Updated with new findings from Lewis's recently published correspondence and aided by McGrath's engaging style, this book is unique in its mission to connect Lewis's life with his writings, especially for those who have enjoyed his works and want to understand the auto-biographical content in them. This is a must for Lewis fans!
John Pendergraft
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Clive Staple Lewis is one of my heroes. I found this biography literally staring at me while moving slowly through my local book store and much to the chagrin of my wife I brought it home with me. The author, Alister McGrath has given us a consciences and insightful look into the life of one of the 20th century’s greatest men.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898. His father was a solicitor and his mother was the daughter of a clergy man in the Church of Ireland. He grew up in
Adam Shields
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Short Review: This is the best bio of Lewis I have read and one that is well worth reading. It is a popular biography and McGrath says he is going to do a more academic biography later, which I look forward to. This one is highly readable and hits all of the right notes. McGrath had access to newly released letters and that seems to have made a big difference. There are some new details that have come out as a result of this biography and some may take issue with them, but McGrath seems to have ...more
Anne Hamilton
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: christian, fantasy
Four and a half stars.

This gift from my writer friends, Nola Passmore and Adele Jones, is a thoughtful biography of Lewis, which challenges much of the received wisdom about dating when it comes to his conversion. Very interesting to note the over-arching patterns in Lewis' life (which, while not specifically pointed out by McGrath, are there for the reader to discern).
Laurel Hicks
Mar 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well done! I hadn't read a Lewis biography in thirty years or more, so this brought me up to date on new findings from the letters and other sources. I think McGrath handled the facts clearly and fairly, and I appreciate his spending sufficient time on the works.
May 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read a lot of Lewis in my teens and I loved it (and, more recently, I've read "Narnia" for my daughter - she loved it), but over the years, especially during my theological studies, I've "gotten over" him somewhat. He turned out not to be as brilliant a philosopher as I used to think. I've changed my mind now. What I most appreciated about McGrath's new Lewis biography, more than the detailed account of his life, the critical engagement with the form and development of his thought and writing, ...more
Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
By far, Alistair McGrath gives the most comprehensive biography of C.S. Lewis to date. His is a fair and thorough look at a literary giant who has had more impact on people after his death than during his writing career.

Reading this has made me want to go back and read all of Lewis' works again, with a wider knowledge of who the man himself was.
Josh Clemans
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Lewis lived a harder life than I had realized. He was, not all the time, but consistently under serious stress from issues in his personal life (rough relationship with his father, friends dead in WWI, no work after college, murky relationship with Mrs. Moor, caring for troublesome relatives and others, backstabbing university politics, marriage that estranged him from his friends, etc.)

Shortly before he died, Lewis said he figured his work would fall permanently out of public view within five
Julie Davis
Feb 19, 2013 rated it liked it

This is a book written by someone who discovered Lewis through his writings, for others who have come to know Lewis in the same way. …

Why so? As Lewis emphasized throughout the 1930s, the important thing about authors is the texts that they write. What really matters is what those texts themselves say. Authors should not themselves be a "spectacle"; they are rather the "set of spectacles" through which we as readers see ourselves, the world, and the greater scheme of things of which we are a par
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
A great biography for fans of his books. A nice little bonus with the Audiobook version is a clip of CS Lewis giving one of his radio addresses during WWII that were later converted into the book, “Mere Christianity.”
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have always loved history, especially history that helps me answer the question, "why are things the way that they are?" I have felt this was about CS Lewis since I was first introduced to him sometime in middle school or high school. I knew a few sporadic details about his life and work - he was British, at one point an atheist (thus deepening his apologetic appeal for those weary of atheism), and published a series of novels that were beloved by most - but, aside from these various facts, I ...more
May 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I give it the 5 star rating because it's lucidly written and, clearly, the best biography I've read to date on Lewis. (I threw in the word 'clearly' there because it's my major pet peeve of the book. I just started to see it pop up everywhere. But, indeed, the best I've yet read). I reached a low point in my admiration for Lewis after reading the A.N. Wilson bio (more than a decade ago now), which can be attributed to a possible ingenuousness regarding biographers or life in general.
Now in my m
Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cs-lewis
The difference between what I thought about C.S Lewis' life and what actually transpired is significant. Like many evangelical Americans I have always pictured Lewis as a jolly Oxford Don, lecturing to packed rooms of breathless students, making theological quips over breakfast with his secular colleagues and throwing down a pint while discussing The Lord of the Rings with the Inklings at night. The rest of the time he took long walks, answered letters and casually created brilliant parallel uni ...more
Nov 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
A welcome addition to my shelf of books about C. S. Lewis, just below my shelf of books by C. S. Lewis. While perhaps not a definitive biography, A Life gives the reader insights to how and how badly Lewis was injured during World War One and the enigmatic Mrs. Moore. McGrath also proposes a new chronology of Lewis’ famous conversion to Christianity. Lots of good insights. Did you know Lewis nominated Tolkien for the Nobel Prize in Literature?

McGrath’s thesis is that it is hard for us to know th
Glenn Myers
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to write a detached, cool-headed evaluation of this book and even had thought of some suitably ambiguous ways of describing it: ostrich prose, for example, (covering a lot of ground with great enthusiasm but never quite taking off).

Unfortunately, I can't do it. I shameless and unapolegiticly absolutely loved this book. I have to confess some shared interests. Alister McGrath is a professor at my old college. He's a scientist and atheist who turned to Christ. In some of his other writin
Courtney Mosier Warren
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was deeply thought-provoking for me. Some Christians, Evangelicals especially, view Lewis as a sort of Christian "demigod", stripping away any of his humanity. This book sheds some light on his life and gives him flesh and bones. The life of Lewis was confusing and complex and perhaps not as clean cut as we make him out to be in our heads or in our conversations concerning him. He was a nontraditional Christian even by today's standards, but he was simply a mere Christian.
Overall, the
Troy Lizenby
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Meticulous research of the primary sources has yielded a fruitful account of the development and influence of the life of C. S. Lewis. Additionally, the attention to the chronology and historical context of his writings inform and enrich the reader’s knowledge of the Lewisian corpus. Lewis is successfully portrayed as a self-confessed medievalist who excels in imagination and in logic – a reluctant apologist, untrained in theology, who nevertheless joins the battle for transcendent, yet relevant ...more
Mar 30, 2013 marked it as to-read
Review by Thomas Kidd (also at TGC). One of the major breakthroughs in this book is McGrath's re-dating Lewis's conversion to theism (in 1930, not 1929, as Lewis [supposedly] accidentally claimed).
Mary Cornelius
Jan 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Brilliant. McGrath fangirls a bit which is adorable. Considering the recent publication of Lewis' correspondence, this probably the best biography as far as research base goes.
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Excellent! Really seems to understand and appreciate Lewis. (Without leaving out the few rather small warts one can find, he doesn't overemphasize them either.) Really a good read.
Nov 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, biography
This was a very interesting look into the life/writings of Lewis. I have always loved his writing and I found this book a joy to listen to.
Katheryn Thompson
A fascinating read on a fascinating man. Articulate, entertaining, and highly readable. Brings the magic alive.
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Alister Edgar McGrath is a Northern Irish theologian, priest, intellectual historian, scientist, and Christian apologist. He currently holds the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford, and is Professor of Divinity at Gresham College. He was previously Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at King's College L ...more
“Imagination is the gatekeeper of the human soul.” 11 likes
“On Tolkien: "His fussiness threatened to overwhelm his creativity.” 9 likes
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