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Posted on Nov 17, 2012 |

Review: The Complete Thinker

Review: The Complete Thinker

Reading the bulk of Dale Ahlquist’s new book about the thought of G.K. Chesterton is exactly like reading a new book by G.K. Chesterton.


If you are not already a Chseterton fan, let me translate: BUY IT.


I’d like to end the review right there and be very pleased with my wit. But I doubt anyone else will be as pleased with me as I am, so I’ll elaborate.


Perhaps the world’s foremost expert on one of the best writers of the twentieth century, Ahlquist seems to have absorbed so much Chesterton that he now exudes him. The book is meant to be about Chesterton, but most of it is more like Ahlquist channeling Chesterton and having his spirit write another book. NOT THAT WE BELIEVE IN THAT.


Ahlquist’s thesis is that Chesterton was such a “complete thinker” that he wrote about nearly everything, and all of his writing fits together into one big mass of common sense, so that beginning to write about any one part of it turns into writing about all of it.


That’s a pretty good thesis, and it’s backed up by Chesterton’s voluminous writings, which devotees consider more lucid and at the same time more enjoyable than just about anything written by just about anyone. Ever.


Ahlquist nevertheless breaks up Chesterton’s writings into numerous themes, addressing what the writer had to say about each in short footnoted chapters that, while they draw from a dizzying number of original documents, nearly all hold together like a long-lost original Chesterton essay.


My only quibbles are that the book doesn’t really have an end, and that if you find Chesterton’s opinion on something difficult or problematical, you will probably find the chapter on it difficult or problematical.


The latter first: I found that the more I agreed with Chesterton on a subject, the more I enjoyed the chapter on it. This goes for new subjects as well — I was delighted to read the material about Dickens because it was new to me, but I instinctively thought Chesterton was absolutely right. But I have never been entirely convinced by distributism (an economic system Chesterton and his friends supported) and the chapter about it also failed to convince me.


As for the ending… the book just stops. There is no summation. Perhaps Chesterton is too big (HA HA that’s a joke about his proverbial girth) to be summed up. And it’s not a terrible thing to get to the last page of a book and wish that it would never end.


Dale Ahlquist, The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton, Ignatius Press.

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