on September 12, 2003
This is C. S. Lewis's spiritual autobiography and it is a masterpiece. Lewis was raised in a somewhat nominal Christianity, which he threw off as a school-boy. But as Lewis says, "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There were traps everywhere - 'Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,' as Herbert says, 'fine nets and strategems.' God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous." And this book is Lewis's chronicle of God's strategems and nets and the surprises which eventually converted Lewis back to Christianity. Central to this process was Lewis's experience of joy, which he defines as "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction." As a boy and as a man, Lewis was stabbed by this desire, yet never able to satisfy it. By a process of elimination, he came to realize that (as he says in another book) "if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." The desire led him to the Objective Other - the Absolute - Spirit. At first, Lewis viewed this Other as an impersonal and objective absolute. But, God strategically boxed him into a corner (Lewis uses the analogy of check-mate in a game of chess) where he was forced to acknowledge that this Other was God Himself, and beyond that, God enfleshed in Jesus Christ. Woven into the story are the events of Lewis's childhood, education, and intellectual development. Quite a lot of the discussion centers around his reading, from Beatrix Potter as a child, to Keats, Herbert, MacDonald, and Chesterton as a young adult. This is a fascinating book and one cannot quite hope to fully appreciate Lewis without reading it. I highly recommend it!
on February 15, 2002
C.S. Lewis has written a masterpiece on the subject of one man's conversion to Christianity. Not only that, it is a must-read for any fan of Lewis, for it sheds a great deal of light on his early life and biography. It follows Lewis from childhood to his conversion to Christianity as an adult professor, tracing the influences on his philisophical and religious thinking along the way. It is in my mind a modern Augustine's "Confessions". Lewis writes, as usual, with great candor and his usual lucid, easy to follow prose that takes complex issues and makes them understandable to everyone. This style has made him one of the finest Christian authors. His 'Mere Christianity' and 'Screwtape Letters' are other examples of his books that challenge a reader's religious philosophy. Of course, Lewis is more famous in most circles for his 'Narnia' books, which are also great, but it is his philisophical and deeply personal treatment of Christianity that makes him one of the greats.
Highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to see how one man made his journey to belief and/or wants to learn more about C.S. Lewis, the man.
on August 12, 2001
This is the firsthand account of how C.S. Lewis passed from Atheism through to Theism, and onward to Christianity. Lewis says in the Preface that he knew of no autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not by far the most interesting. As such, the entire first half of his own consists of a detailed recollection of childhood and adolescence. The second half is devoted to tracing his adult intellectual interests and particularly to recounting the thought processes which led him in his thirtieth year to a profound conversion experience.
Lewis said "How far the story matters to anyone but myself depends on the degree to which others have experienced what I call 'joy'." By "joy" he was referring to his concept of "sehnsucht" a German word that came closest to the sense of yearning or longing that Lewis felt as early on as six years old. Sehnsucht is an experience difficult to define... it is a longing for an object which is never fully given, coupled with a sense of alienation or displacement from what is desired. Perhaps another way of describing it could be a ceaseless yearning which always points beyond itself. It is this elusive nature of sehnsucht that Lewis had in mind when he (in typical brevity) coined the phrase "our best havings are wantings." At any rate, sehnsucht or "joy" was such a crucial element in the development of Lewis that we find it here in the title of his life story, and the "surprise" for him was in the gradual realization that joy (as such) was not foreign, contrary to, unaddressed by or otherwise OPPOSED to theism. In fact, Lewis began to see that the most religious writers (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil, Spenser, Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, Herbert, Donne, Chesterton, MacDonald) were those in whom he found the most kinship in this respect, while those who did not "suffer from religion" (Shaw, Gibbon, Voltaire, Wells, John Stuart Mill) seemed as nourishing as old dishwater. He concluded that "A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading."
Even though the book is never preachy, I believe that the above conclusion applies to any atheist that reads Surprised By Joy through to the end. As with other writings by Lewis, Christianity emerges as something that actually makes a lot of sense. It's not until the last page that Lewis takes this final step, and his theism becomes "not a god, but God." My title for this review is taken from that last page, where Lewis describes what happens when one accepts the Incarnation.
on November 11, 2001
The Lewis admirer will greatly appreciate this book and its depiction of the early life of this Christian genius. He describes his slow transformation from stanch athiest to devout Christian in the complicated simplicity that only Lewis can achieve. However, be weary of this book if you have never previously read Lewis. The development of the story is rather slow and lethargic and the non-Lewis fan may find it difficult to get through the early chapters. Yet, for the Lewis admirer the lax early chapters are well worth the culminating transformation in the late portion.
on November 7, 2003
Lewis says the two families from which he sprang were extremely different in both temperament and origin. On his dad's side there was the Welsh lineage. He describes them as being sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical. While the Hamiltons, on his mother's side were less passionate, more critical and ironic. On both sides, his parents were "bookish" people. He says his brother was a blessing to him, although the two of them were different also.
I love the description of the house full of books in which he grew up. He writes: "My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interest..."
He talks about staking out his claim in the attic and making it his study. Early on he became a reader and writer. It was a love affair with communication. He discovered his gift and pursued it from then on.
This book traces the stages of his spiritual journey as well. He is very straightforward in describing what was going on in his mind at various stages. In reading about his unique experiences one acquires insight that can be beneficial in reflection on one's own life.
on July 5, 2003
"Surprised by Joy" is C.S. Lewis' auto-biographical book about the early, formational years of his life, which began with a vaguely religious upbringing, led into devout Atheism, and ended in Christ's drawing Lewis home. This book is excellent as auto-biographies (Christian or non-Christian) go as C.S. Lewis was one of the 20th Century's best story-tellers and an amazingly well-read professor at Oxford as well. Whether the reader is a Christian or not, C.S. Lewis makes this story entertaining and thought-provoking.
For those readers who have come to believe in Jesus Christ as Man's only possible salvation, this book will leave them marvelling repeatedly at how Christ works in the lives of those he calls. Any Christian reader of "Surprised by Joy" will find numerous similarities in the path C.S. Lewis' salvation took him down, and a Christian reader can't help but want to join him in praising Christ for his awesome goodness in the lives of human beings he touches.
One fascinating element in C.S. Lewis' life, which is so encouraging for Christians in a post-Christian era, is that Lewis was raised by brilliant men to be constantly curious but always logical... always seeking the truth. One of the men Christ used the most in saving C.S. Lewis was a staunch Atheist; a dry, pensive, professor who demanded a rigid adherence to logic in any belief or action. This man, the "Great Knock", as Lewis, his brother, and their father called him, was so influential in Lewis' mental development that Lewis devotes a whole chapter ("The Great Knock") to discussion of him. How fascinating that whereas many today believe a rigorous pursuit of knowledge and facts leads to agnosticism, in the life of the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th Century it led to a belief in the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.
This is a book that I would recommend to anyone, but as "a must" to any Christian. While "Mere Christianity" is C.S. Lewis' best-selling book, and arguably has initiated more paths to Christ than any other book outside the Bible, "Surprised by Joy" presents a more complete understanding of those paths and their ultimate result.
on April 28, 2003
As much as C.S. Lewis hems and haws in his preface about how suffocatingly subjective and uninteresting this book will be to many readers, there are few books in Lewis' corpus that I have gleaned more joy and help from. Lewis takes us on a tour through his adventures in joy, that peculiar longing for something that is itself more enjoyable than the thing longed for, this desire that he found ultimately only has its fulfillment in Christ, as joy is merely a longing for the heavenly. He brilliantly analyzes his earlier life, exposing his childhood follies and rejoicing in his youthful literary loves; several times I found myself laughing out loud about similar mistakes and mishaps I had fallen into. He scatters his typically brilliant social commentary and theological insight throughout the work, and a chapter never goes by without gaining a preciously helpful understanding of some important topic. This book is easily among the top three autobiographies I have ever read.
"I have tried so to write the first chapter that those who can't bear such a story will see at once what they are in for and close the book with the least waste of time." Go ahead and read that first chapter. You won't want to stop.
on February 8, 2003
As many have noted, there are parts of this book that tend to drag a bit and are less than gripping. These parts, found mostly in the middle chapters, are the most important descriptions that Lewis gives us in explanation of his conversion. These chapters methodically, if somewhat dryly, layout the thought patterns that Lewis went through in his various stages philosophy. They are the equation of how he got from A to B (including the detours that he took to C, G, and F). If the reader will force himself to read them slowly and methodically, he/she will be rewarded with a much deeper understanding than without.
On the whole, Lewis's account of his conversion is raw and honest. He spares himself no punches in describing his own arrogance and 'priggishness'. The author is upfront in admitting that his memory may be flawed on some items. Some readers may be struck at the author's deep humility at always portraying everyone in his story in the best possible of lights, regardless of any 'deservedness'.
For sheer entertainment value, I found his descriptions of his early childhood, his relationship with his brother and father, and his home and surroundings quite charming. Having never been to Britain, I felt that I was treated to a slice of life I will likely never experience the likes of. His accounts of his life at Wyvern (school) should give all parents pause in considering their own children's education, both academic and social. If there is an "Ah, ha!" moment in this book, for me it is near the end where Lewis proposes that could we (as humans) strip God of all his powers to 'punish' us, that we should still worship and adore, simply because God was God - not because we could be punished (sent to Hell) for doing otherwise. Indeed, Lewis makes clear that Hell is not about geography, but about separation from God, separation from God being the definition of the nature of Hell.
If I have any complaints about this book, it is only one, and is perhaps forgiveable. I was sorely disappointed that Lewis did not include an account of his becoming Christian. While Lewis explains that he felt still too close to explain it, I felt disappointed in some measure. Still, this does not detract from what the book does have to offer, which is quite a lot. There are lessons to be learned and I have little doubt that I will aquire new perspectives upon successive re-readings.
on October 8, 2002
CS Lewis never ceases to amaze me with his sincerity and utter humility. His genuine goodness is clear in all his works, but even more so in this. Surprised by Joy is an autobiographical book in which Lewis relates the events of his early life--particularly those which led to his eventual return to Christianity. As usual, he is frank and very analytical of all that happened as he first lost his faith, and then found it again.
Lewis talks about many events which led him to question the existence of God, and he explores what may have motivated his way of thinking. His candid analysis of these events provides some wonderful insights. He also explains how he gradually was brought back into the fold of Christianity, and how he reluctantly embraced God once again as "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."
Though this is an autobiography and strays considerably from the format of Lewis's theological works, there still is a significant amount of theology involved. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in theology, especially Christianity. For fans of CS Lewis, this is a must have!
on September 15, 2001
I'm a huge C.S. Lewis fan, however like most people who reviewed this book, I did start to trail off when reading the middle chapters of this book. In the first 8-10 chapters of this book Lewis focuses on his life as a child and the pages seem to fly by.
The same thing goes for the last 4-5 chapters where we finally get the details of his coming back to Christianity. However, the few chapters in the middle of the book are filled with Lewis' definitions and opinions on a lot of different topics and though they are relevant to the mindset of Lewis' thoughts, the chapters do not follow along with the story-telling element he so well utilized in the other chapters of the book. Not that that's a bad thing, but for those reader who were expecting to read a certain type of book from beginning to end (myself included), it's kind of confusing to adjust to and is probably a major reason why some people don't recommend this book.
Now don't get me wrong, this book is very touching and is a very worth-while read. However, if you plan to read this book, you may also want to make sure you're ready to read two different types of writing in the same book.
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