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C.S. Lewis: A Biography

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  504 ratings  ·  57 reviews
A.N. Wilson's brilliant biography shows how hard Lewis struggled for the wisdom he shared in his books--The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy. Photographs.
Hardcover, 334 pages
Published February 1st 1990 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1990)
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Chuck
Jul 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
I would recommend this biography as to anyone who wants to know more about C.S. Lewis. Because of the nature of much of Lewis' writing (in favor of Christianity), many biographers have recast Lewis into an image favored by the biographer's own religious beliefs, so an American fundamentalist biographer ignores Lewis' smoking and drinking, and a British Anglican glosses over the fact that the two women who were Lewis' "life partners" were neither acceptable partners by the standards of Lewis' own ...more
Brenton
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
If this were a drinking party instead of a book, A.N. Wilson's C.S. Lewis: A Biography would be a five-star book. Humorous, light in tone, deftly written, the life of C.S. Lewis told here is engaging, moving, and poignant. Unfortunately, this was not a night around the dinner table, picking and eating and drinking and talking about this Oxford don our new friend Wilson had met one time. It is a book that purports to be a biography but has the unfortunate condition of not being terribly accurate. ...more
Ancient Weaver
Oct 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in C.S. Lewis the man instead of C.S. Lewis the myth.
Great book for Christians and non-Christians alike. Very accessible and interesting.

I didn't know much about C.S. Lewis the man before I read his autobiographical Surprised by Joy. Until then, I just assumed he led the kind of prosaic, upright (i.e. largely boring) existence you might imagine a conservative, Christian apologist/professor might live.

After having read Lewis' SBJ I was surprised to find this professor to be such a Romantic at heart, and while I enjoyed SBJ very much, I could tel
...more
Michael Perkins
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Those who like the stained glass version of C.S. Lewis (which I suspect would have embarrassed Lewis immensely) are not going to find the false mythology they are looking for here. Sorry, no hagiography.

The irony is that this biography is highly sympathetic to Lewis. There are no broadsides here. Instead a portrait of a real person, a scholar, a bachelor Don who had his life radically altered when he married a Jewish convert to Christianity, Joy Davidman. His loss of her to cancer made Lewis mor
...more
Chris Fellows
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
Doubtless I have written many dumb things and on the principle of ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ ought to remain silent. But I am weak.

Here is an extract from a letter quoted in this book:

They keep sheep in Magdalen grove now, and I hear the fleecy care bleating all day long: I am shocked to find that none of my pupils, though they are all acquainted with pastoral poetry, regards them as anything but a nuisance: and one of my colleagues has been heard to ask why sheep have thei
...more
RE de Leon
Jan 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lewisiana, biography
A well written biography of CS Lewis. It should be noted that Lewis' stepson Douglas Gresham, while agreeing that the book is well written and well researched, has noted his disagreement with some of the book's conclusions and depictions.
Sarah Camino
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, biography
I'm inclined to believe one owes quite as much to the biographer of one's childhood hero as to that mysterious figure himself. As it is, I found Wilson quite the gentle adoptive guide through the life of C.S. Lewis, no matter that I could not possibly have a higher opinion of the man than when I set out, a thoroughly indoctrinated child hanging on the mane of Aslan.

Wilson paints a touching, if not particularly charming, portrait the man, and one is struck by the significance of certain episodes
...more
Alyssa
Jun 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
I randomly grabbed this off a library shelf because I am a C.S. Lewis fan. I got about 40 pages into it and decided to quit reading it due to the author's boring and convoluted way of presenting ideas and events. However, I have a bad habit of always having to finish any book that I start, even if I don't like it, so I did finish this (it took me awhile) and I guess I'm glad I read it just for the better understanding of Lewis's life history (although I'm almost positive I could have found a Lew ...more
Dave Maddock
Oct 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, inklings
This bio gets a lot of criticism for what is essentially being open about what the author's biases are, not portraying CSL in a pro-Christianity, fawning light, and occasionally engaging in speculation when necessary (eg. the nature of his relationship with Minto). I for one appreciated that the biographer did not appear to be a Christian. There's a million white-washed, mythologized books on CSL written by the fanboy religious. If that's what you want, it is easy to find. If this book leans a l ...more
Daniel
Jun 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: lives
A.N. Wilson would have profited from seven years of bad luck, had he broken all the mirrors in his home as he was drafting this heavily-criticized work on C.S. Lewis. As it is, the light he sheds is unfortunately angled to provide the glaring reflection of an undulating Narcissus, obscuring the dearly-sought treasure lost beneath the waves in the wake of a great man's death.

The best aspects of Wilson's work are as follows: the clarity of his prose; his evident depth of research; his emphasis on
...more
Julie Reed
Nov 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, c-s-lewis
After reading about the "true" C.S. Lewis, I only love and admire this man more. I wanted to hear about his sins, not just that he was a saint as he has come to be known in Christian circles since his death. He was a real person who had real struggles, personality flaws, and bad habits. He readily admitted that he was a sinner. I enjoyed this book although it was clear that the author didn't agree with some of Lewis's apologetics. If you are writing a biography on someone, shouldn't you remain n ...more
Kris
Feb 11, 2019 marked it as to-read
Been on my Lewis list for a while, but I feel some trepidation.
See Brenton’s review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
...more
Longfellow
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: faith-religion
Apparently, a long time ago I read the first forty pages of this book. Recently, I picked it up on a whim, and I’ve been reading it in most spare moments ever since.

The read has been a thorough pleasure for a couple reasons. For one, Wilson is an excellent narrative writer, smoothly mixing in paraphrases of interviews, quotes from letters and published work, and analysis and commentary that all reveal something about who C.S. Lewis was, both outwardly and inwardly. Another part of my enjoyment
...more
Anne Homeschooling-Mama
Jan 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
Didn't like this book at all. Really had to plough through to the end, skipping quite a bit in a few places.
The author is extremely unsympathetic towards Christianity. Why a person with such disrespect for the Christian religion would choose to write a biography of a great apologist for the faith is beyond me.
It tainted the book and I was glad to be able to put it down.
Jeanne
Dec 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Tried too hard to be an intellectual. Spent too much time criticizing C. S. Lewis, and his writing, and not enough time on his life. Made leaping assumptions, and presented them as fact. Only took into account the information that agreed with where he wanted to go.
Trevor Gill
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
C.S. Lewis is someone who provokes hero worship and dislike, even loathing, in equal measure. He has become something of a plaster saint to evangelical Christians over the years and his books still sell in huge quantities particularly in the USA. It's interesting that Wilson's biography was lauded by literary figures as one of the best examples of the art of biography, and slammed on various Christian related websites as being too interpretative of Lewis's motives and the impact of events in his ...more
Neville Ridley-smith
Jan 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christian
You know what I felt after reading this?

Depressed.

The last section of the book talking about Joy and a seeming lack of friends on Jack's part, the cooling of his friendship with Tolkien, and then eventual death etc is just sad.

However I felt like there was something strange going on with Wilson's writing and interpretation. He was not a Christian at the time of writing (he turned back to faith later) and there were certain sections of the book where I was thinking, "this doesn't seem right", kno
...more
Matthew Melton
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must-read bio of C.S. Lewis

No biography is free of flaws, and each C.S. Lewis bio available goes astray in different ways. Each is written on the strength of serious research, including this one. But whereas Hooper & Green were too close to Jack Lewis to be objective and Alister McGrath too objective to be real and Sayer too embedded in the same world to translate it well to the uninitiated, Wilson’s is simply a problem of artistic over-reach and perhaps a breezy overconfidence in reading into
...more
Melanie
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was not quite what I expected. To be honest, I didn't like it much at first. I felt like the author was intentionally painting C.S. Lewis in a unflattering light (my tendency would be to focus on the good and ignore the bad.) I found it hard to reconcile the Lewis who wrote such powerful Christian classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity with the Lewis I found in these pages. It wasn't until the end of the book that I understood the author's intent:

"If we ignore
...more
James P
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting approach when compared to McGrath’s CS Lewis - a life. Contains many interesting tidbits. Both trace his path to agnosticism and atheism without dwelling, but neither answer the question of his faith prior to his mother’s death or leaving for boarding school. May not be any documents to support. Nowhere near as eclectic as his recent bio of Darwin. Well worth reading. Lewis is a fascinating character and Wilson seems to gain Windows into his inner life which are to say the least prov ...more
Emily Parsons
Oct 11, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting insight into the man CS Lewis. It took me a while to get through the book. At first I was put off by the uncovering of Lewis as a less that perfect model of Christianity, like I had come to believe he was. But the more I read, the more I came to understand the tragedy of a man who simply didn't know how to deal with grief and loss, and how that came to weave its way through his whole life.
I have a newfound appreciation for Lewis the man, truly human and imperfect and brilliant.
T
...more
Leanna
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
I went to pick up a book reserved at the library for me and I couldn't figure out why I would have put a hold on this book. I think I may have read only one book by him and as I was figuring out who he was, I think I had mistaken him for another author. Anyway, I didn't want to second guess myself so I started reading this and it was going slooooowly, so I renewed it. Renewing always puts some guilt on me trying to finish a book, so I plowed my way through. I thought his Oxford career was mildly ...more
Steffanie Kamper
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
The author is not as love struck as some biographers but grows in sympathy with his subject as the book goes on. He makes it clear that Lewis was a much more complex human being with more flaws than the Protestant Saint he has become. Has some strong critiques of Lewis' writing that I will think about as I read Lewis for a class I will be teaching this up coming academic year.
Cindy
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
This man was considered one of the greatest conversions of the 20th century. The book spent a lot of time reflecting on his works and tied bits of his life into it. Surprised by Joy is explained in a different format than C.S. Lewis presented.
MJ
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
if you love Lewis's writings, you will love to get to know Lewis in this biography
Mike
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that seemed very good at the time, but which has been shown to be somewhat flawed by Wilson's biases in regard to Lewis.
Malvina
I've read quite a few of CS Lewis' non-fiction books as well as fiction. Meeting the 'real' man was a bit of a surprise. This gives quite a different view from the image I had from his autobiographical books. Interesting.
Ci
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This biography is top-rate, and a deep pleasure to read. Beside it is full of intelligent analysis and solid facts, yet it is devoid of any credulity or easy psychoanalyses, although the life of CSL must be so tempting to be casted in the Freudian light. CSL is portrait neither as a fraud nor a saint, but someone with immense intelligence and emotional depth. By reading such excellent book, one is grateful to be echoed by the sentiment expressed so aptly and touchingly by CSL himself -- (page 28 ...more
Kirk Lowery
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
There are two kinds of Lewis biographies: those that seek to depict the "real" person and hagiographies. Wilson falls into the former category. There is no question that Wilson admires Lewis and gives him due credit for his achievements. Lewis was also human -- like the rest of us -- and Wilson does not flinch to confront Lewis' faults. I was a little uncomfortable with the almost Freudian analysis of Lewis' emotional life, for it is difficult to know the inner life of another person. But he is ...more
Joe
Jul 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is the first biography I have read of C.S. Lewis and I found it both interesting and unsettling. There were some details from the early years of his life that I felt I could have done without! Lewis was a more complicated and even troubled individual than I ever realized but this knowledge gave me a new appreciation for him and a greater desire to read some of his works that I have not yet read. I found the connection between the significant events in Lewis' later life and the books he auth ...more
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Andrew Norman Wilson is an English writer and newspaper columnist, known for his critical biographies, novels, works of popular history and religious views. He is an occasional columnist for the Daily Mail and former columnist for the London Evening Standard, and has been an occasional contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, New Statesman, The Spectator and The Observer.

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