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Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  48,203 ratings  ·  1,662 reviews
"A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere . . . God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous."This book is not an autobiography. It is not a confession. It is, however, certainly one of the most beautiful and insightful accounts of a person coming to faith. Here, C.S. Lewis takes us from his childhood i ...more
Paperback, 238 pages
Published March 23rd 1966 by Mariner Books (first published 1955)
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Apr 06, 2009 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
Douglas Wilson
Feb 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Great. Finished yet again in November of 2017. And again in January of 2018.
Mark Adderley
May 26, 2009 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 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 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
Courtney Carlson
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
Anna Mussmann
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such a wonderful read! A few thoughts and quotes:

-I was delighted to see that Edith Nesbit and Beatrix Potter had a significant impact on Lewis’ childhood.

-I appreciate Lewis’ discussion of the difference between “wonder” fantasy, and “fantasy” that’s focused on wish-fulfillment. “When the boy passes from nursery literature to school-stories he is going down, not up. Peter Rabbit pleases a disinterested imagination, for the child does not want to be a rabbit. . . but the story of the unpromisin
Apr 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
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
Olivier Delaye
Jan 29, 2017 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.
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: real-life, faith
Second book down of my 2020 reading challenge: read all of C.S. Lewis's published works.

I chose Surprised By Joy as one of the first to read this year as it is, in many aspects, essentially an autobiography. I was hoping to learn more about the author to see how his life and upbringing influenced his writing.

Jack, Jack, Jack. The more I read about him, and from him, the more I feel a connection in my soul. This dude says, in the simplest ways, things I feel personally. Even things I never real
David Sarkies
May 19, 2014 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
That was an epic read! I feel as though I come away with a much greater understanding of C. S. Lewis, and therefore am better suited to understand the Chronicles of Narnia (which I have still not finished...)

The theme woven through this book, bringing harmony to Lewis's autobiography, is a recurring experience he referred to as Joy. Here is his description of it:

"It unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical ter
Jan 16, 2016 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
Michael Perkins
I first read this book around age 20. I proceeded to read most of the Lewis "canon" after that.

The problem with much of his canon is that Lewis changed his mind about many things later in life, especially his approach to apologetics. And then a final wave of change from a real life Joy, came late in life.

There are many references, and complaints, in the reviews here of Lewis constantly citing literary references in his memoir. I think it's a reasonable assumption that he had his friends and col
"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
Demetrius Rogers
Jun 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, memoir
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
Nick Imrie
'I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting.' C.S. Lewis Surprised by Joy

'This book is written partly in answer to requests that I would tell how I passed from Atheism to Christianity […] The book aims at telling the story of my conversion and is not a general autobiography, still less 'Confession' like those of Augustine or Rousseau. This means in practice that it gets less like a general autobiography as it goes on.' C.S. Lew
Lydia Therese
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprised by Joy is by C.S. Lewis.

I really enjoyed this book. I liked learning more about C.S. Lewis's life. I have enjoyed most of the books I have read that are by him, and I enjoyed reading his conversion story.

Many of the references to literature were lost on me, though. He compared an event in his life to some ancient poem that I had never read, and so most of that side of the book was lost on me.

However, even if I didn't understand a lot of the references, I still liked reading the book
Sep 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lewis writes about how he came to faith -- or better put, how he lost his faith as a teenager, became atheist, then became Christian in his later years. He states that this is not an autobiography; he leaves out details he deems unnecessary to the overall scope of the memoir, but there is still plenty of memories he shares that help the reader learn about many aspects of his early life that shaped his later literary genius. His honest and raw writing was in part new and exciting (I am used to hi ...more
Valerie Kyriosity
I read this in high school (discovered a four-leaf clover pressed in it that probably dates from then), but I can't recall if I've ever reread it. I know I couldn't possibly have understood much of it then, and even though I followed relatively more closely now, Lewis's philosophizing and literary copiousness leave me in the dust. Heck, the size of Lewis's brain would leave Jeeves's in the dust. And yet, once he got past his adolescent priggishness (there once was a boy called Clive Staples Lewi ...more
Ian Galey
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The autobiography of C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy outlines the occurrences of Joy in Lewis's life and how these accompanied him from his childhood to his conversion from atheism (or "anti-theism" as Lewis refers to it) to theism to Christianity. Lewis defines Joy as an intense longing or desire that is itself the most desirable desire. As Lewis discovers, it is not the longing itself that he actually desired but the object of the longing which is for something far greater than and not of this w ...more
Though far above my head, I enjoyed reading this book. Mostly for gems like the following.

"And so the great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue." pg 211

"Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side." pg 226

"I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obv
Beth Anne
Apr 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, 2020
Surprised by Joy was my final read for the month of March, a perfect timing book that I just loved. I listened to the audiobook thanks to the free @audible Stories, but often re-read sections in my own copy, underline and marking through the margins.

This is the story of Lewis’s childhood, being an atheist, growing as a young man and academic, and the gradual way that God drew him to Himself. The personal narrative of this book is conversational, the tone light even while the topics are deep. It
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
Have some mixed feelings on this one. I love reading about his conversion and philosophical reasoning processes, but the chapter where he addressed the pederasty (student to student, not adult to student) and other issues going on at one of the schools he attended left me pretty disturbed. I was not satisfied by his exploration of greater vs. lesser moral evils. I'd have to reread that chapter and do some serious pondering/praying, but . . . yeah. Not totally at rest regarding that. I also felt ...more
Sep 22, 2016 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
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very intellectual engaging book for me. I am amazed at the range and quantity of books that Lewis read (and in original languages at that). Had to even look up a few words to get at what he was trying to communicate to the reader. I don't think that one needs to be a Christian to enjoy this book. His search for truth and joy is something that all humans can understand.
Jacob Rush
Jun 13, 2017 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.
David Mosley
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Read in the following years:
2010 (31 May)
2012 (19 September-3 October)
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Clive Staples Lewis 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 at Cambridge

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