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Friday, February 11, 2011

Defiant Joy (book review)

Defiant Joy:  The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton
Kevin Belmonte
© 2011 by Kevin Belmonte
Published by Thomas Nelson

Belmonte’s book is, as he introduces it, a study similar to the one that Chesterton himself wrote about Thomas Aquinas: “This book makes no pretense to be anything but a popular sketch of a great historical character …”  This is a sketch and not an exhaustive work but tells the story of Chesterton’s life in much the same way he would have it told, with wit and sincerity.
This is a chronological account as one would expect from a biography.  However, the book is salted – indeed liberally seasoned – with quotes from Chesterton’s works and critiques others had of his work.  While we start with Chesterton’s birth and early childhood and end with his death, we walk the course of his life by the works that he produced.  He was prodigious in his writing, both in the numbers of works and in the variety.  The novels and detective stories may seem frivolous for such a renowned man of letters but Chesterton always had a higher purpose in his writing.  Belmonte never lets us forget that.  Then there are the “higher” works such as the apologetic volumes that Chesterton left us as well as the literary biographies of greats such as Chaucer, Dickens, and Shaw.  His writing included character studies of others – in addition to the authors he admired –  that Chesterton admired and for whom he provided great insight.  Belmonte provides a glimpse into all of them, just enough to tell us of the man’s works and influences but not so much that we are satisfied in not reading these great works for ourselves.

Acknowledging the biographies of others, including Chesterton’s autobiography, Belmonte has added much to the study of the man.  Chesterton’s Catholicism is always prominent, along with the mysticism that accompanies it.  However, his genuine faith in a risen Christ and the assurance of Chesterton’s own salvation is not diluted by that religious structure.  The contrast with those who did not share his faith – famously George Bernard Shaw – is sharp yet there is never an alienation that Chesterton allowed to taint the agreeable presentation of his faith.

This book is recommended for those who have never heard of Chesterton, those who have read all his works, those who have been influenced by authors whom Chesterton influenced (notably C.S. Lewis), and those who might disagree with him.  In short, this is valuable reading for anyone.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This book was received for free from the publisher but a positive review was not required. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer. This disclosure is in accordance with the United States Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” 16 CFR, Part 255.

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