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Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

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  • Posted April 1, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Amazing Grace ¿.. By Eric Metaxas is a good contribution to the

    Amazing Grace ….. By Eric Metaxas is a good contribution to the history and work of British MP and slave abolitionist, William Wilberforce. This work is an engaging, popular history where the primary focus is on the inner life and personality of Wilberforce, and less on the broader events of the era. As a biography, it is personal, and the writing is at times witty and mirthful, and very sympathetic to Wilberforce as a man.

    Metaxas, a popular writer and historian, does a fine job of drawing the reader into the life of Wilberforce and showing its connection and relevance to his contemporary times. Showing and taking the reader through Parliamentary maneuvering of the era, in a relatable and relevant way is hard to do, yet Metaxas has a light touch with the procedures and highlights the human connections, with Wilberforce at the center of the text. For Wilberforce, the central aims of his life, abolishing slavery and its trade and reforming the manners (ethical practices) of his day was driven by his evangelical Christian faith, and Metaxas brings to this work a sympathy and understanding of how Wilberforce's faith drove him in reaction to the "Amazing Grace" he believed in and relied on. Metaxas does occasionally, critically evaluate Wilberforce on occasion and does touch on how Wilberforce changed and altered and grew as his life went along, such as his support of the Whigs in 1830, even though he was not entirely a backer of the 1832 Reform Bill, which Metaxas is not particularly clear why.

    This is not a comprehensive biography, but certainly a worthy introduction into the life of Wilberforce, particularly on a personal level. It is a decent, popular biography that builds off much of the work of others. There is no index or bibliography of sources cited, which does place this entirely as a reaction and secondary work. Wilberforce's main published work, "Real Christianity …." is hardly cited, which would have been helpful to trace Wilberforce's thought. The reader really will not get an in depth understanding of how Parliament and British society of that time period functioned, and the economic and social issues that drove slavery, and later its popular rejection, is barely discussed.

    The need for ethical reform, Wilberforce's other great mission, is barely touched upon. For a perspective on Wilberforce from a Parliamentary view, William Hague's biography perhaps would be a better choice, and the 1977 Pollack biography is certainly more comprehensive, showing how all the individuals of the "Clapham Sect" worked and interacted with one another. There are times when "Amazing Grace" does come close to being hagiographic, but that author does back away when that line is approached.

    Yet as an introduction to the life of someone who was moved to organize and actually carry off one of the great, and original human rights campaigns, and as someone in modern politics moved by his evangelical Christian faith, Wilberforce should come off as a real inspiration and a likable, endearing person, and Metaxas illustrates this with great skill. This is a decent biography to read and enjoy on a popular, introductory level.

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    Posted July 29, 2011

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    Posted March 23, 2013

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    Posted February 18, 2011

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