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A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis

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  • Posted December 20, 2013

    One of the greatest questions in human life is how we become wha

    One of the greatest questions in human life is how we become what we are. The process has no end, but it does have stages and it is these that we care about in our personal development as well as in all educational practices we design. We seek to find meanings, we ask unanswerable questions, and we aspire to transcend what we are or know at any given moment. This unquenchable thirst that most people experience strongly suggests, as Lewis would say, that there is something that can satisfy it. That thing, in Lewis’s parlance, is Joy. No matter what name you give to it, we’re all questers for it, whether we know it or not. On this road, biographies of exceptional people are some of the best signposts to look at. In them we see our own struggles reflected, surprisingly relevant though they usually happened in very different circumstances. “You too?,” we ask surprised, “I thought I was the only one…”
    This last sentence, by the way, comes from Lewis’s own description of how friendship arises. The way it suggests that friendship involves discovering invisible connections is a very apt description of Devin Brown’s superb achievement in A Life Observed. What this book does is not just shed light on Lewis’s life: it illuminates ours too, reaching across time, space, and circumstances of Jack’s life to connect them with ours. That Lewis’ writings are meaningful and strongly resonate with millions of readers today needs no argument. However, with several books about Lewis’s life out there—including two biographical movies plus, of course, Lewis’s autobiography Surprised by Joy—one may wonder why there’s a need for another biography. And here’s where Brown’s expertise enters the picture. Not to give out too much of the book, which anyone interested in Lewis or human spiritual development should read, here are my three bottom line reasons why I consider it brilliant.
    One: Brown’s focus is on Jack’s life as a quest for Joy. Although it seems common knowledge that all of Lewis’s life and work was part of his own spiritual quest, no one has ever attempted a biography that foregrounds that perspective. Perhaps no one has dared. A Life Observed is first and foremost a spiritual biography. Read it and you’ll see how Brown succeeds in this formidable task.
    Two: Brown speaks Lewisesque. Although I’m way less knowledgeable about Lewis’s oeuvre than Brown is, I’m sufficiently familiar with Lewis’ style, imagery, characterization and logic to see how Brown’s own writing “speaks” Lewis(-esque). This is not just on the level of language or imagery, but also on a deeper level of sharing the quest for Joy and understanding what it means.
    Three: This book is simply fun to read. It’s not scholarly and not hagiographic either; it’s packed with information but not overwhelming. Brown’s conversational style—again, read any essay by Lewis and you’ll see similarities—has a warm, inviting tang to it. This book is a mine of little treasures and Brown helps the reader become its confident explorer.
    C.S. Lewis is one of the most influential authors and Christian thinkers of the 20th century. Devin Brown is perhaps the greatest Lewis scholar writing today. When the two meet, we get extraordinary yet unassuming gems such as A Life Observed. If you’re ever asked about why spiritual development matters, recall this modest looking yet highly recommended biography.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2013

    Dr. Brown presents a marvelous look at the spiritual journey of

    Dr. Brown presents a marvelous look at the spiritual journey of C. S. Lewis.  I especially appreciate how Brown examined Lewis's own words  at face value, rather than imposing his own particular spin on what Jack tell us about himself.  Although it is a brief biography, it kept me reading from page one and it even compelled me to get out of bed at an exceptionally early time for the summer to finish this biography.  

    The most important thing Brown has given me in the biography is that, coming away from it, I feel as if I know Lewis better, on a personal level.  That is crucial for me and therefore why I encountered such joy in reading it.

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