3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
A Balanced Achievement, 2 May 2004
This is the only biography of G.K. Chesterton that equals Maisie Ward's seminal work or Joseph Pearce's work of 1996. The title, taken from one of Chesterton's own works, suggests accurately the emphasis this work puts on Gilbert's early and sustained need for balance in all spheres of his thought. And the book itself sets itself the brief of balancing earlier portraits of Chesterton; in particular early on Dale corrects many mistakes of the first biography of Chesterton, written anonymously by his brother, Cecil, in 1908. Dale is eager to correct Cecil's argument that Gilbert was a crypto-catholic from much earlier on in his life. She successfully balances this misrepresentation by stressing the different stages in Chesterton's mental development, showing him believing different but connected truths at eighteen and at forty-six. This emphasis differs markedly from, say, Dudley Barker's biography, which suggests that Chesterton's 'real' conversion occurred a good fifteen years earlier.
The book probes deeper than any other biography into Chesterton's thought and has very good contextualised summaries of all his work. It is very good in showing how Chesterton's Christianity is entwined with his political and sociological opinions. Its main difference from other biographies is its detailed setting of the political and journalistic scene that surrounded most of Gilbert's mature work. In particular its sustained narrative on British politics from 1900 to Chesterton's death provides unique and invaluable context for much of Chesterton's work. It is an eminently public and political biography, as well as an intellectual one. Chesterton's letters or notebooks are hardly used, probably because this had been done extensively by Ward and Barker.
Beautifully written and quite accessible, this work balances scholarly brilliance without becoming stodgy or dry. Anyone with a serious interest in the life, times and works of Chesterton should read this book.