Book Review: Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace:  William Wilberforce And The Heroic Campaign To End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas

I actually read this book once before, more than a decade ago, before watching the excellent movie based on the life of William Wilberforce, but it was before the time I wrote reviews, and so I thought it worthwhile to read this book again.  Wilberforce was a historical figure, a longtime English parliamentarian, who is among the most intriguing people in the history of Christian involvement in politics, and this book does a good job of putting the man and his time under the microscope for readers [1].  There is a certain degree of nostalgia that people tend to have for the England of the late seventeenth century, and the author does a good job in puncturing that idea.  This is a society that allowed the wicked Banastre Tarleton to be a noted parliamentarian, largely because they did not see his cruelty as a problem, given their own interest in the cruelty that was around them and their own lack of manners.  Metaxas is a noted writer about Christianity and philosophy, and this book is clearly pretty heavy with these roles.  In reading this book in public a lot of people seemed very interesting in looking at the book, so the topic is definitely one that resonates with the people around.

This book is more than 250 pages and has 23 chapters, making it full of short chapters that are really punchy and to the point.  The author makes a biography of Wilberforce that focuses on two elements:  Wilberforce’s political struggle and his moral/religious struggle.  Both of these are well worth covering.  Wilberforce’s life took some very odd twists and turns, born into some privilege with a very conscientious uncle and aunt who were responsible for raising him for quite a few years, and with parents who wanted him to party.  Metaxas does a great job in pointing out how long of a struggle it was for abolition to take place, and also in the way that Wilberforce’s moral interests helped set up the anti-slavery success that he enjoyed at the end of his career.  The author does a good job as well in pointing out Wilberforce’s weaknesses in terms of opium use, a lack of organization, and the difficulties he had in forging an alliance between mainstream Anglicans and moralistic dissenters.  All in all, this book is a solid one that made the basis for a wonderful film as well.

There are a lot of worthwhile aspects to this book that are unexpected and highly relevant in our own times.  Wilberforce is no plaster saint–he comes from privilege and uses his wit and intellect to cover for a general lack of hard work and preparation when it comes to reading and research.  Metaxas points out that those who seek to fight against entrenched social evils are going to have a difficult time and are going to face some very serious hostility, even including the threat of violence.  The author also points out very subtly and effectively that massive social evils like slavery thrive on a general courseness of morals and the invisibility of the evil.  I also wonder whether Wilberforce would have been successful in abolishing slavery if it would have required the consent of the free citizens of the British Empire.  It seems as if the centralization of the British imperial order is what allowed the morality of Wilberforce to prevail when it became widespread enough within British society.  And as someone who has rather a rather anti-imperial mindset, I feel deeply uncomfortable with the thought that the justice of anti-slavery in the British Empire depended at least in part on the injustice of their imperial structure.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: Amazing Grace

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Pirates Who Usually Don’t Do Anything | Edge Induced Cohesion

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