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Defiant Joy [Paperback]

Kevin Belmonte
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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (3 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595552014
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595552013
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,217,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pick up, Read and Follow 22 April 2011
By James Gallen TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I have been aware of G.K. Chesterton since we studied "The Amazing Adventures of Father Brown" under Fr. Sheridan at Augustinian Academy. In recent years television shows based on his writing have whetted an appetite to know more about Chesterton that "Defiant Joy" has satisfied.

"Defiant Joy" is part biography and part literary criticism. Author Kevin Belmonte provides the reader with a superficial introduction to Chesterton's life and, what is more important, a more in depth survey of his literary canon. Chesterton's work covered a broad swath of literary criticism, novels, poetic ballads and Catholic apologetics. Belmonte devotes a chapter to each of Chesterton's major works. Here we get synopses of his major works, including his critiques of Dickens and Chaucer, his original poems and novels and his biographies of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi. I even got some back ground to "Father Brown" who had introduced me to its author. His "Heretics" and "The Everlasting Man" were religious works that had a significant influence over the thought of others, including C.S. Lewis.

One test I apply to a book is whether it entices me to read more. "Defiant Joy" meets that test. It drew me in and shows me the path to the Chesterton's lore. I had long had an interest in knowing more about Chesterton's work. Now I have a desire to find and read his other books. I think that this is Belmonte's goal. He has done its job well. Pick up, read and follow.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars GKC viewed through his literature 27 Feb 2011
Gilbert Chesterton (1874-1936) is a multi-faceted character. He is a detective writer, a biographer, an apologist, a poet, a cultural critic among many other things. He has been called an 'apostle of common sense' (Dale Ahlquist), 'a theologian' (Aidan Nichols) and 'a prophet for the twentieth century' (Aidan Mackey). Numerous biographies have been written about him. So why the interest in him and why another biography? Particularly as a major biography is soon to be released in 2011 by Ian Ker published by OUP.

What makes this book by Belmonte, stand out? This is not a biography in the normal sense of the word - its first chapters are biographical covering the period form his birth through his 'dark night of the soul' while at the Slade school of Art, his marriage to Frances Blogg and his career as a journalist and writer (chapters 1-4). The rest of the book looks at Chesterton's key work in chronological order and uses them to look at the man and, as the subtitle suggests, his impact. Thus it provides an interesting slant on a biography and we get a fuller look at Chesterton's work than we would in a traditional biography.

Belmonte makes good use of secondary sources - he utilises at least ten other biographies. He also draws upon contemporary reviews and criticisms of Chesterton's work; this serves well to place Chesterton's work in its cultural milieu. It is fascinating to read what H L Mencken, G B Shaw and T S Elliott made of Chesterton.

There is a helpful timeline and bibliography, there are 29 pages of notes, but, unfortunately, no index.

This is a great starting book for those who want to get to know better the life and works of G K Chesterton.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars gutsy wisdom for the journey 4 Feb 2011
G.K. Chesterton was a unapologetic Christian and a giant in the world of literature and criticism. His work influenced many Christian writers including C.S. Lewis and Philip Yancey. Kevin Belmonte's biography of Chesterton, Defiant Joy, is a fascinating look at a man whose impact on literature, criticism, and Christian apologetics is, perhaps, unparalleled. Amid currents of modernity that sought to displace the Christian faith, Chesterton challenged thought leaders of his day with civility, erudition, and wit, contending that faith is the central piece of our humanity.

I thought I would be getting a biography of GK Chesterton. In this I was mistaken. This is a study of his works and the subsequent influence and impact on the literary world, reading audience, and contemporary authors. After a brief discourse on Chesterton's childhood, education and conversion to Christianity, Belmonte goes on to describe some of the major works that Chesterton produced. There are twenty-five chapters and each chapter discusses at length different books Chesterton wrote. Belmonte quotes extensively contemporary critics and biographers as well as Chesterton himself. These quotes and excerpts from Chesterton's literary repertoire feed the soul and invite more!

Chesterton was a larger than life man in both his physical presence and in his intellectual abilities. I am came away from Belmonte's biography, Defiant Joy, eager to read more of Chesterton's work and renew my acquaintance with his unique perspective on life and Christianity. If you like Chesterton or are curious to know more about this under-appreciated literary titan who is considered instrumental in leading the likes of C.S.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Huge disappointment 14 Jan 2011
By Jordan M. Poss - Published on
I was pleasantly surprised a few days ago when I spotted this book in a store. I've read dozens of G.K. Chesterton's books, including his Autobiography, but had never read an actual biography of the man before. When I saw that the author was Kevin Belmonte, a name I was familiar with from the Christian Encounters series of short biographies, I snapped the book up. I'm sad to say it wasn't good. A passage from H.L. Mencken, quoted by Belmonte, is perhaps the best summary of what's wrong with Defiant Joy: "If you approach [this book] as biography, you will find it amazing in the things it contains and irritating beyond measure in the things it doesn't contain."

When I think of what the book does contain, the first thing that jumps to mind is block quotations. I remember many admonitions in college writing courses to use block quotations sparingly--if you must. I never questioned this advice but never knew how bad they could make a book, and this book is packed with them. There is almost one per page. I'd guess that fully one third of the entire text is made of up block quotations from other works, some of them running over a page in length. By the end of the book there are even block quotations within block quotations. Belmonte didn't write Defiant Joy, he constructed it around huge, undigested chunks of his source material. The result is that his book feels like a flimsy skeleton hung with flesh from other sources. There's hardly an original thought or sentence in the book, just connecting tissue.

The book also contains an incredible amount of redundancy. Belmonte repeats himself more times than I thought possible in a single book--and by "repeats himself," I mean he uses the same block quotations more than once, sometimes within a few pages of each other.

The other major thing the book contains is information on Chesterton's books. In fact, this is virtually all that the book contains (more on that later). Despite Defiant Joy's subtitle--"The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton"--this book is really more of a literary biography than a life story. With a handful of exceptions, each chapter deals, in chronological order, with a different book by Chesterton rather than an era of his life. Combine this trait with the extensive block quotations and the book becomes an absolute chore to read.

For example, nearly every chapter in the the book follows this outline:

1--Belmonte introduces the book in question, usually giving the precise date of its publication and its publisher.
2--Belmonte summarizes the book's contents.
3--Belmonte quotes gigantic chunks of the book to highlight the book's major points.
4--Belmonte quotes the New York Times review of the book.
5--Belmonte quotes someone who praised the book--usually C.S. Lewis, Garry Wills, J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Yancey, or all of the above.
6--And, in the first half of Defiant Joy, Belmonte almost always comments with astonishment at how young Chesterton was when he published the book in question.

After a dozen chapters of this precise arrangement, over and over, it became clear to me that the research behind this book was superficial at best. Belmonte quotes from the same sources--Wills's Why I am a Catholic, Lewis's Surprised by Joy, Maisie Ward's biography of GKC--over and over again, never ranging far enough afield to really convince me--a Chesterton fan!--of Chesterton's vast influence. The poor research is especially evident in that every single chapter quotes the New York Times--usually more than once--but rarely ever from any other periodical. It seems a search for "Chesterton" in the New York Times's complete online archive was the most intense research put into this book.

These tendencies merge at the end of the book, when Belmonte devotes a chapter to Chesterton's autobiography. I suddenly found myself reading a summary of a book by Chesterton summarizing the events I'd already read at the beginning of a book by Belmonte. At that point, Defiant Joy became surreal.

But I can forgive a sparely-researched, poorly written biography if it at least gives me some idea of what the subject's life was like. Here's where we see the deeper, more serious problems with Defiant Joy--the things this book doesn't contain.

Unfortunately, this biography doesn't contain a biography. Like I said, the book skips from one Chesterton work to another, only rarely alighting on some biographical fact in between. For just one example, Belmonte skips from The Everlasting Man in 1925 to Chaucer in 1932 and describes nothing that happened in the interim. In all the lengthy quotations, New York Times reviews, and appreciations from Lewis and Wills, I can remember a few events from Chesterton's life--he dabbled in the occult, he met his wife, he got sick, he got better, his brother died, he visited America, and he died. As it happens, these are things I already knew about.

I did not read this book to find out what the New York Times was writing about Chesterton during his lifetime (or to be reminded, every time, how huge Chesterton's stature must have been to be featured in the New York Times). I read it to get some idea of what Chesterton's life was like as he lived it--the stuff that came between his publication dates. What was his relationship with his wife like? Belmonte only really describes her at the very beginning of their relationship and at his death. What about that dark period of his life in which he experimented with ouija boards and lost almost all hope? I really wanted to know more about that than the oblique references in his Autobiography. And what about his friendships? We learn a little about his friendly rivalry with George Bernard Shaw, but little else of that ilk. I was astonished to find only two mentions in the entire book of Hilaire Belloc, a friend so close to Chesterton that Shaw referred to the pair as "the Chesterbelloc." This book doesn't just miss the mark of biography, it missed the target.

I'll end with one other major feature of Chesterton's life that is almost wholly missing from Defiant Joy. Having read a huge amount of Chesterton's work, I recognize that there are two major events in his life that he regarded as the most important: his conversion to orthodox Christianity, and from there his conversion to Roman Catholic Christianity. Chesterton was very fervently Catholic and wrote several long books about this important aspect of his life, but Belmonte sidesteps nearly all of it. There is no chapter-length treatment, for instance, of The Thing: Why I am a Catholic, Where All Roads Lead, or The Well and the Shallows. Belmonte mentions only in passing that Chesterton converted to Catholicism, that it comforted him, and that Catholic priests gave him the last rites.

I don't know how much someone unfamiliar with Chesterton would appreciate this book. It covered nothing biographical that cannot be found on Wikipedia, and it isn't really satisfactory as an introduction to Chesterton's work, incomplete and derivative as it is. The best thing I can say about it--and I've tried very hard to find something to praise--is that it pointed me toward Maisie Ward's biography Gilbert Keith Chesterton. I'll be reading that sometime soon.

Not recommended.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This is a 280-page book-spoiler. 3 May 2011
By Braden E. Bost - Published on
This book is sub-titled "The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton." The back cover starts out, "You may be aware that G. K. Chesterton authored influential Christian biographies and apologetics. But you may not know the larger-than-life Gilbert Keith Chesterton himself--not yet."

Nor will you after reading this book.

A good biography, upon its end, will have you walking away feeling like you really got to know the subject. I'm currently on the first page of the epilogue of "Defiant Joy" and I know a great deal about the content of his writings (including the ends and plot twists of books I have yet to get to), the historical figures which he studied, and a general idea of the critical praise he received during his life, but I know so little about Chesterton himself. This fact is enraging me.

I began to have a sneaking suspicion that something was "off" with "Defiant Joy" when the author, Kevin Belmonte, quoted a long passage from Chesterton's own autobiography and then another long passage from someone else's biography all within the first couple pages. "Does this guy not have any original insight? Can he not summarize?" So on it went, and we breezed through six chapters in under 60 pages, lightly touching on key biographical landmarks such as the death of Chesterton's older sister while in childhood and his dark spiritual days as an adolescent. We rush through all that "boring" stuff to get to talking about nearly every . . . one . . . of . . . his . . . essays . . . critiques . . . biographies . . . plays . . . and . . . novels. Chapter by chapter. I'm forcing myself through excerpts from his books and from published reviews on his books all in hopes of getting some insight into Chesterton the man. Those insights are few and far between. In fact, if you remove the inordinate amount of block quotations taken from other works, you'd quite seriously be left with maybe 50 pages of original material (and I'm not including the times when Belmonte leaves his citations in the middle of the paragraph he's written). Plus, you'll have made your way through a page-and-a-half "excerpt" from something, and you'll notice you recognized that last paragraph. Well, it's because Belmonte put it somewhere else, sometimes in the same chapter, referencing it the same way both times. Complete redundancy.

So what will you get from this "biography" (which it scarcely is one)? You'll learn that the character Father Brown is based largely on a priest with whom Chesterton and his wife were very close--but the chapter on Father Brown is the only chapter this priest is mentioned. You'll learn that Chesterton's celebrated play "Magic" came about because his close friend George Bernard Shaw hounded him (and other notable writers of the time) for years to write a play--but you don't learn how he and Shaw even met. You learn that "The Man Who was Thursday" was based out of his strong distaste for the pessimism and nihilism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries--but that's all you learn about it: he had a distaste, and nothing is given to you to help understand that day and age better.

I tossed up my hands in frustration when in the EPILOGUE Belmonte mentions that Chesterton converted to Catholicism in 1915. IN 1 9 1 5 !? Why am I learning about this at the END of the book? He wrote "Heretics" and "Orthodoxy," two of this three most celebrated works of Christian Apologia, in the 19-aughts! Where's the story of him committing to Christian teaching but "not quite yet" Catholicism?

For a few brief chapters, I decided that "Defiant Joy" is not a biography but an over-arching synopsis of Chesterton's works because the guy is remembered for being such a brilliant writer. Therefore it stands to reason that the (vast, vast) majority of the book be dedicated to reviewing his books and writings. But there are two problems with that, which I shortly learned. First, Belmonte is not giving us anything of value regarding G.K.'s books. As I said before, a HUGE portion if this book is block quotations from other works, both from Chesterton himself and reviews of his books as well as other biographies on the man. So what's the point of wasting my time with THIS book, Mr. Belmonte?

The second problem is that THERE IS SO MUCH MORE TO CHESTERTON THAT IS INTERESTING OUTSIDE OF WHAT HE WROTE!!!!! Seriously! Just go read the WIKIPEDIA page on Chesterton and tell me that this guy doesn't sound intriguing. This is the guy who, when asked during WWI why he was not "out at the front," he told the woman asking, "My dear woman, if you'll step here to the side you will see that I am." He was not only a Christian, but one that could easily and logically defend its teachings, yet he was close friends with hugely passionate atheists and agnostics. He held public debates with some of the most renowned thinkers of his day (and ever) and was apparently noted for his gigantic personality and jolly demeanor. Where is that stuff? Not in "Defiant Joy." Not one mention of debating George Shaw, let alone Bertand Russell. No stories as to how he came to know those men. No synopsis of the world-as-it-was and how Chesterton defied it. Oh, you are told that he stood out with his thinking, but you're given no context to put it against.

I give the book two stars because it's not an entirely useless read, but if you're after actually KNOWING Chesterton at the end of a book, look elsewhere. Chesterton wrote an autobiography, and the author of this book regularly references a biography by Maisie Ward, so maybe those are better bets.

I keep thinking of the time when I was in high school and had to write a 5+ page paper on something in history that had a profound impact on American culture. I chose the original (and then, only) Star Wars movies--yet since I did not know how to write about their influence in any great depth, I spent the majority of the essay summarizing their plots and talked a little about how people really liked the movies. In effect, that's what Belmonte has done with Chesterton, but I had the excuse of being 15.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Defiant Joy 24 Jan 2011
By Andrew - Published on
Defiant Joy is what I would call an exhaustive summary, two words that seem to contradict each other. Kevin Beltmore moves from phase to phase in G.K. Chesterton's life at an astonishing speed. Each chapter is covered rapidly, with some of his great works receiving very little attention. It's my opinion that the author took a life that couldn't be recorded in 100 books and tried to shove it all into 281 pages. I felt the book read very slow and was borderline boring.

With that said, I believe the author's intention was to pay tribute to the life of Chesterton, and that really did shine through. But, in order for a biography to be effectively readable I think the author must take into consideration that people are reading about the author, not reading the author's work. I felt this piece was more focused on quoting Chesterton than weaving the story of the man's life.

I would not recommend this book to anyone to read. I think you learn more about G.K. Chesterton by reading his actual books than you do reading this biography. All-in-all it was not the worst book I have ever read, but it was definitely not the best.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...]: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big, Bold, and Beautiful Man 15 April 2011
By Terra Hangen - Published on
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Big Bold Beautiful Man
This book looks at "the remarkable life and impact of G. K. Chesterton." Chesterton was a writer of great insights and gifts. C. S. Lewis credited Chesterton's "The Everlasting Man" with a central role in bringing him to Christianity, George Bernard Shaw successfully urged him to write a play which he did, and Orson Welles produced his book "The Man Who Was Thursday" as a radio play.
"That joy of living which was ... so conspicuous a trait [in Chesterton]. New York Times 1936
"[Chesterton] was in most respects an unusually kind and generous man". New York Times 1987
This book inspired me to buy "The Complete Father Brown", set of mysteries written by Chesterton.
I love what he wrote about prayer. "You say grace before meals All right. But I say grace before the play and the opera, And grace before the concert and pantomime, And grace before I open a book, And grace before sketching and painting, Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing; And grace before I dip the pen in the ink."
I think he would have been a grand person to talk to, and this book is a great way to get to know him a bit and I highly recommend "Defiant Joy".
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Basic biography focusing on Chesteron's writings, but missing out on Chesteron the man 8 Feb 2011
By Jeffrey Miller - Published on
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As a fan of G.K. Chesterton I was happy to review Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton a new biography by Kevin Belmonte. The author notes that this book is not a comprehensive or definitive study, but to introduce a life and legacy. I am all for introducing Chesterton to a wider range of people.

The book mostly allows Chesterton to speak for himself as there are numerous paragraphs from his books and other writings within. The basic framework of the book is to go sequentially through his books with chapters devoted to milestones of his publishing life. I would start of with Dale Ahlquists' books instead and it does remind me that I need to read Joseph Pearce's biography of GKC.

This book was not meant to be a comprehensive biography, unfortunately often it is hardly even a sketch biographically of Chesterton. If this had been the only book I had read on Chesterton I would hardly have any idea about the man other than some of the barest details. This is a book mainly on Chesterton the author, and not Chesterton the man. Major milestones in his life and the effect on his writing are covered in brief - often in just a sentence. His spiritual life is barely covered. The darkness he descended to in art school is covered, but nothing on the effect his wife had on him and his return to Anglicanism. His conversion to the Catholic Church got a sentence and his friendship with Hilaire Belloc was mentioned in passing. Rather odd considering that the author appears to be a Protestant who takes spiritual themes seriously in GKC's writings. There are so many great stories about Chesterton and especially his legendary absentmindedness, yet this isn't even mentioned or one of those famous stories told. Of course GKC called absentmindedness, presentmindeness on something else. GKC as a personality was seemingly bigger than life - you would learn none of that here. Though you do get some idea of the interplay between George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and G.K. Chesterton and how they retained their lifelong friendship despite their opposing views.

Where the book succeeds is with Chesterton the author and you do get a good summary of his writings and the reactions to them then and now. From his early literary criticism to milestones such as The Napoleon of Notting Hill, Heretics, Orthodoxy, The Man who was Thursday, Father Brown, his poems, his essays on America, plays, etc. These chapters revolve around extensive quotations of the works. Literary criticism that appeared in response to these works and what effect Chesterton's writings had on others is a part of these chapters. The author has done his homework from other biographies and of course Maise Ward's biography of GKC is quoted throughout. Though the author makes a major gaffe in referring to her husband as publisher Frank Ward. That should be Frank Sheed one of the great Catholic apologists and later publisher with his wife -- Sheed & Ward.

I was a bit disappointed on the chapter on Orthodoxy and thought it deserved much more than just the view of it from Gary Wills and Philip Yancey. While testimonials to the impact of Orthodoxy are fitting, I would have liked to see more of an outline of this book and some of the major themes within. Though I also suspect that I would hardly be satisfied with any chapter on Orthodoxy in that I try to reread this book every year.

This book has spurred me on to wanting to read Chesterton's literary criticism. I was aware of his works concerning Dickens and Chaucer and while reading literary criticism is not my thing, I think GKC's take will be. I do love Dickens and I really need to learn more of Chaucer.

This book reminds me of Chesterton's quip on George Bernard Shaw comparing him to Venus de Milo in that what is there is good. I read through the book fairly quickly since I enjoyed it, it is just that I was constantly aware of what was missing. Missing was any mention of Manalive, Lepanto, or so many other of his books. Certainly in a book of this type you can't devote a chapter to such a prolific author, but I so love Manalive and I consider it a key to understanding Chesterton the man and his philosophy.

As a supplementary biography Defiant Joy is somewhat worthwhile, just don't make the mistake of getting this book as a primary biography of Chesterton.
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