Book review: John Newton biography

I’ve read a lot of historical biographies in my time, and this has to be one of the very best. It really is stand-out excellent for a number of reasons.

Newton’s life is fascinating. A rebellious, hard-drinking young man, he was pressed into service in the Royal Navy where he stood head and shoulders above his fellows … as an extreme blasphemer! Never one willing to take orders, he was repeatedly beaten. He then served on a slave ship and was involved in this cruellest of trades.

While on the high seas, he saw the light and became converted to Christianity, which saw a complete turnaround in his character. Eventually he became an ordained minister and went on to write the famous hymn Amazing Grace.

However, even the most interesting life can appear dull and dreary in the eyes of a poor biographer. Thankfully Newton has a master in Jonathan Aitken. He has a wonderfully clear, under-stated yet engrossing style which makes you want to read on. And as Aitken himself has been through a similar religious experience (read his equally excellent Porridge and Passion: An Autobiography), you feel you are in the hands of someone who understands Newton completely. A highly recommended, readable and re-readable biography.

(DW)

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