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Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt Hardcover – 1 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd; 1st Edition edition (1 Mar. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857860739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857860736
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 16.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 174,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

At a time when the world has urgently needed wise and compassionate leadership, this poignant memoir, written with the integrity, intelligence and wit that we expect from Richard Holloway, lays bare the ludicrous and entirely unnecessary mess we have made of religion. --Karen Armstrong

Leaving Alexandria is many things. It is a compelling account of a journey through life, told with great frankness; it is a subtle reflection on what it means to live in an imperfect and puzzling world; and it is a highly readable insight into one of the most humane and engaged minds of our times. It is, quite simply, a wonderful book. --Alexander McCall Smith

Richard Holloway's memoir is endlessly vivid and fascinating. It's the record of a mind too large, too curious and far too generous to be confined within any single religious denomination. His account of how a passionate, intelligent boy grew out of a poor and deprived background without ever losing touch with the humane values it gave him, will be a delight and inspiration to believers, non-believers, and ex-believers alike. --Philip Pullman

An enlightening walk through a life that encompasses West Africa, the Gorbals, rent strikes, the divided self and the question of grace. --Mark Cousins, Scotland on Sunday

Nobody could fail to be intensely moved by the final chapters of his memoir . . . a deeply lovable man; and what a wonderful book he has written. --Mary Warnock, The Observer

Leaving Alexandria gives a profound sense of the benefits, as well as the difficulties, that accrue from taking a zigzag path through life . . . it summarises an argument that a lot of people will find sympathetic, as well as compelling. --Andrew Motion, Guardian

Captures the bewildering range of churches within the Church . . . Holloway certainly throws down the gauntlet - with a quiet, elegiac passion - to Christians who arm themselves in certainty . . . They should read this wide, erudite book as a matter of urgency. --David Robson, The Sunday Telegraph

Book Description

A powerful memoir about faith and doubt, with a strong meditative and philosophical heart --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 30 Mar. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I greatly admired Richard Holloway's book "Looking into the Distance" (see my review), so was eager to read this his autobiography. It chronicles his religious journey. This began with his entry at the age of 14 into the Anglo-Catholic Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire, a monastic establishment which trained mainly working-class boys and young men for the priesthood. In due course he joined the novitiate. But already he fought internal battles, aware of his spiritual shortcomings. For this and for a variety of other reasons he resigned from the Order in his mid-twenties; but he remained an Anglo-Catholic, was ordained and became a curate in the Gorbals. Here he became aware of appalling social problems and of the call as Christian to engage in a very different kind of fight, not centred on himself but on the world.

More and more he felt that religion was made for man and not man for religion. He became increasingly impatient of doctrine, when it banned marriage between divorced people (and later between those of the same sex); most of all when it divided denominations to the extent that they would not share the Eucharist. And then he began to doubt not only the miracles of the Bible but the very existence of God; and he found it impossible to preach as if he believed in them. He talks about the "presence of an absence". Yet, hard though he found it to refute atheism, he did not want to abandon religion, increasingly beleaguered as it is in the world; and he found faith in those passages of the Bible which speak of Unconditional Love. This enabled him to accept a post as Rector of a church in Edinburgh in 1968.

It is perhaps surprising that, with his views, he was elected Bishop of Edinburgh in 1986.
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80 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Ms. J. Jacobs on 5 Mar. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Holloway always writes lucidly and in this memoir he is always engaging. The overwhelming impression was of someone of unusual honesty and integrity, telling the story of his life without spin and without trying to make a case for the defence. There are no barriers, or none that I could detect, in the issues he tackles, although this is not a blow-by-blow account of his personal life but more of his emotional and intellectual wrestling with the various problems, situations and issues with which he has had to deal - which range widely, encompassing (amongst others) sex, ethics, religion, faith, family, ideals and falling short. Although his personal life, of course, comes into it too.

I was torn between reading this voraciously in one sitting and spinning it out so as not to have to leave the company of such a wonderful man. In the end I couldn't put it down - a fabulous read, highly recommended.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gerry Mac on 3 April 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
No 'bad' reviews, then! Quite right, too; although I often wonder if 'spoiler alert' shouldn't be prefaced in some reviews!

As usual, the 'parts of its sum' have been well documented here already and I can only concur with the vast majority of what's been written.

One (extremely) slight caveat, however,...I know! I know! You saw it coming!...the concept (not the substance) of his 'doubt' can be just a wee bit repetitive. At times I found myself thinking, particularly at the 3/4 thru' stage of the book, 'I get it; I get it'. Having said that, I may be being a might pedantic. The book in its totality is a genuine delight for the mind as well as the heart and 'soul' (whatever that is!) and his imaginative and creative way with imagery is peerless. A wonderfully absorbing, humane and compassionate man leaps out at the reader. We are fortunate, indeed, to have his ilk in our midst. More power to his pen!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lady Fancifull TOP 500 REVIEWER on 20 April 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Holloway, formerly Bishop of Edinburgh has written a biography which is much more than that, examining as it does the clash between the blacks and whites of certainties and the dappled, doubt filled view which may be where `faith' resides.

As Holloway puts it, religion is man made, is God? His conclusion that the fundamentalist certainties - whether theist or atheist miss the ability, on the one hand, to temper rules and decrees with the nuanced approach needed in dealing with the individual, and on the other, to answer the mystery and the need for mystery, is one that struck a chord for me.

The title of the book more than nods towards Cavafy's `The God Abandons Antony' (Leaving Alexandria) - the loss of dreams, home, the painful gap between the dream of oneself, and the self which our lives reveal to us.

Holloway's Alexandria is both a real and a metaphorical place - his boyhood home in the Vale of Leven, Dunbartonshire, and the more mysterious inner journey.

He writes beautifully, using quotations from favourite poets to illustrate what can not be usefully explained except by metaphor - Hopkins, R.S. Thomas, Philip Larkin, Cavafy.

Holloway asks more questions, of himself and his reader, than he answers, and in the end, settles with the fact that much cannot be answered.

I particularly liked this:

"The best I had been able to do was to persuade myself and others to choose to live as if the absence hid a presence that was unconditional love........It was a relief now to name my belief as an emptiness that I was no longer prepared to fill with words. But though I had lost the words for it, sometimes that absence came without word to me in a showing that did not tell. It was the absence of God I wanted to wait on and be faithful to"

A compassionate, tender and painful book
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