The Sanest Crazy Man Who Ever Lived

He was crazy. And he was one of the sanest men who ever lived. That is what is called a paradox, and it is appropriate. If anyone understood paradox, delighted and luxuriated in it like a child splashing in a bubble bath, it was he: G. K. Chesterton.

Chesterton is easily one of the most quotable writers of our time. Epigrams burst from his pages like popcorn. He wrote more than 70 books, hundreds of newspaper columns, essays, and reviews. Yet he consistently wrote with astonishing originality. “You may tap any subject you like, he will find a theme on which to hang all the mystery of time and eternity,” said one of Chesterton’s editors.

But Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who died in 1936, has been too quickly neglected. He is the “master without a masterpiece,” the witty wordsmith who has been forgotten even though his words haven’t (“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly” is Chesterton, for example).

Alzina Stone Dale’s biography comes at a good time, then. Chesterton, one of the supreme columnists of his day, is now liberally quoted by the best of our day, George F. Will. George Orwell’s 1984 is soon upon us; it is well to be reminded that Orwell borrowed the ominous date from one of Chesterton’s novels. The Outline of Sanity does its readers the best favor it possibly could—it informs them of an immensely appealing man and inspires them to get their hands and eyes on his books.

Dale’s book is not a typical modern biography. She leans against the prevailing biographical trends of psychoanalyzing and second-guessing the subject. She is not an intrusive biographer. There are advantages and disadvantages to her approach.

An advantage is that the reader is not forced to second-guess a second-guessing ...

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