4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Informative and immensely enjoyable,
This review is from: Rowan's Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop (Hardcover)
I expected a lot of this biography; I hoped for a layman's explanation of the issues faced by latter-day Anglicanism, just so I might understand what all the fuss is about; I wanted an insight into the character of a much-lauded and controversial Archbishop and I was also looking for a better understanding of how and why the beliefs and principles of an established church might influence my thinking about some of my big issues, such as the environment and multi-cultural society. I was not disappointed.
Rupert Shortt describes it as "The" biography of the Archbishop, a little presumptuous given that he is not only still alive but in post; I expect a few more biographers may take up the challenge in time, a rare slip on Shortt's part. Overall though Shortt's skill in assimilating and presenting a wide range of source material to offer a balanced view is evident and I feel he has covered a lot of ground with objectivity and openness. That's not to say he is neutral, his support for Williams comes through loud and clear, but it is never at the expense of honesty and presenting both sides of an argument.
This is a traditional life of the subject, in that it starts with his birth and runs through the years to the present day. Fortunately for Shortt, and he clearly realised this when producing his previous volumes on Williams, the Archbishop provides a rich vein of raw material for the biographer from the word go, with much more still to come one feels, and what Shortt does particularly well is to identify the major themes early on and then track Williams's stance on them as they develop during his life.
This approach allows Shortt to use Williams' early texts and deliberations to give context to what transpires later on. No subject better illustrates this than the ordination of women priests, still a live topic of heated debate in the wider Anglican world and one which has seen Williams at his most exercised.
There are times when Shortt seems a little quick off the mark to defend Williams and dismiss opponents almost offhand. In some case this seems quite justified but I was a little disappointed at the paucity of space given to Richard Dawkins, for example, if only as a representative of the non-religious population. Shortt's focus is quite definitely the varieties within the Anglican church, not what might be discussed as alternatives without. Be that as it may, there are some good insights into all factions, from hard-line conservatism to modern liberals and all steps in between. Shortt also handles the very real drama of situations extremely well, explaining the major players and their differing views in the lead up to, and fallout from some mighty showdowns. The debate concerning gay clergy could provide a volume all on its own, and, of course, Williams' life to date takes us to the monumental controversy following his comments concerning Sharia law.
Through it all I get the abiding impression of Williams as intellectual colossus, social magnet, humanitarian, original thinker and intensely loyal friend on the one hand, a bit of a loner who does not delegate and has trouble with the expectations of him as a leader, certainly poor administrator and poor personal advocate on the other. But enough people felt he was the right person to head up the Anglican church worldwide.
In a way Williams suffers as a public figure who does not benefit from modern-day spinning, you get him in the raw, unplugged, but perhaps we should be grateful for that and relish the exposure to his honest wisdom rather than something politically manufactured.
Shortt's biography is informative, well written and eminently readable and I commend it.