Many people may be unfamiliar with one of the foremost British authors of the earliest 20th century so I am thankful for a new biography which might introduce Gilbert Keith Chesterton to a new generation of readers. I was introduced to Chesterton through the work of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias several years ago and have been bettered as a result. In fact, Chesterton’s works were influential on many in the English speaking world with many apologists for the Christian faith finding rich soils in Chestertonian writings. Both CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien were influenced by Chesterton who preceded them in the British literary world.
I have read (and reread) Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy to the point where I have many sections of it put to memory. I also deeply enjoyed his short biographies on St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas the latter having the delightful subtitle The work is by Kevin Belmonte who has done Chesterton studies a great favor with this book.
Belmonte’s biography begins with the typical early life information one expects with books of this kind but then he takes you on a fascinating journey throughout the rest of the book. As Chesterton was a man of letters, Belmonte’s work proceeds by unfolding the biography along the lines of his major works. Each chapter is focused on one of Chesterton’s literary achievements and then covers life details which surrounded the production of that work. So this book is not only a good introduction to Chesterton the man, it is also a well suited orientation to each of his major works. Each chapter gives us the background to what was happening in the thought world of Chesterton’s day, his interlocutors and the major thrust of his book, poem or collection of essays. I particularly enjoyed the interactions which Chesterton had with his ideological opponents George Bernard Shaw and HG Wells. You can learn much about a man in how he treats his friends. Even more how he treats friends whose ideas he most vigorously opposes.
The only drawback I found in the work is that due to the aforementioned strength I wish I knew a little more of the man apart from his letters. Yes, there is mention of his marriage to Frances but I found myself wanting to hear more about his family life and what made him tick. Yet as I am sure Belmonte would say, to know the man we must look to his writings.
Chesterton has indeed left a profound literary legacy in our world and I can only commend his work to you even more after reading Defiant Joy. My own journey into his books has just begun as I soon while dive in to his The Everlasting Man, a book once commended by CS Lewis as the best popular apologetic to the Christian faith he knew of.
With the proliferation of electronic books it is amazing to see just how much of Chesterton is available free of charge for the Kindle and other ebook formats. If you must begin anywhere with Chesterton I recommend Orthodoxy as it lays forth his wonder filled view of mere Christianity in strident colors. One warning if you love quotations and reading a book with a highlighter. You may soon find yourself highlighting so much that the effort may leave little uncovered print. My hard copy of Orthodoxy is well worn, marked up with many colors of pen and ink. One caveat as you begin to read GK. He is a master of paradox and turning of a phrase. Many of my friends “get him” right away while others have to read each paragraph really slowly to follow his creative dance of thought. Whether you find reading him easy or slow going, I promise you the work is well worth your time.