Alister McGrath's biography of C. S. Lewis was highly anticipated. Its release earlier this year raised expectations that the definitive account of Lewis's life had finally arrived.
Very often, when encountering such hype, it pays to be skeptical. J. R. R. Tolkien, quoting G. K. Chesterton, once said that, "as soon as he heard that anything 'had come to stay, he knew that it would be very soon replaced—indeed be regarded as pitiably obsolete and shabby.'" When a biography comes along promising to set the record straight or provide a last word on some prominent public figure, it's easy enough for similar sentiments to arise.
Without a doubt, C. S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet has much to commend it to readers' attention. First, McGrath actually read Lewis thoroughly before setting out to write. One doubts whether A. N. Wilson, the British man of letters who wrote another well-known Lewis biography, ever thought to take this precaution. While Wilson goes down smoothly by virtue of his remarkable writing style, inaccuracies seem to appear on nearly every page. By comparison, McGrath leaves no doubt that he knows his subject. He did due preparation by reading everything Lewis wrote in chronological order. McGrath has a well-earned academic reputation, and it's meticulous endeavors of this sort that help explain why.
Second, McGrath helpfully brings his own biographical background to bear on the subject matter. Like Lewis, he is an Irish-born Oxford scholar, though of a different era. This pedigree gives McGrath a unique vantage point on Lewis's own experience as an Ulsterman living in an English academic environment.
Third, McGrath's own writing ...1