Book Review: Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce and the Story of Abolition


Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas was an expertly written biography. It was engaging, interesting, clever and well-researched. I enjoyed it immensely, but more importantly, I learned about a historic figure, William Wilberforce, who is almost lost to the seas of time but who truly led the charge to end slavery in Britain and indeed, around the world.

William Wilberforce was born at the end of the 18th century. I was surprised to read in the book that unlike how this time period if portrayed in the movies, it was a coarse, cruel time.  People were hypocrites then like now. (Ha! Surprise, right?)  Wilberforce was born into the Church of England, but felt called to become a Methodist as a young man. Discouraged from this serious pursuit, he went to Cambridge and frittered away his youth. However, he did meet some people who would eventually become enormously influential in British politics. William Pitt, the future prime minister, was one such person. It reminded me of the stories I read about Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve, the actor; they were college roommates at Julliard. Can you imagine? That’s the same with Wilberforce and Pitt; can you imagine? It gives me chills to think of how God or fate puts influential people together who will both eventually rise to fame.

Wilberforce felt once again called to become a serious Christian, and had a clear change of heart and great personal awakening that led him to take on many causes. He became a member of the House of Commons while in his early 20s and felt that his two great life challenges would be ending slavery and reforming what he called “manners” in society. Today, we would see this as a general reformation of culture that would encourage faith, family and Christian mindset.  What Wilberforce did eventually morphed into the Victorian era. That’s no small feat.

He was a tiny, sickly man who battled IBS and possibly Crohn’s disease his whole life. He worked tirelessly against slavery, spending decades of his life creating bills to abolish the slave trade, raise awareness of the horrors of slavery, and help the slaves in the Americas and the people of Africa. Eventually, after his crusade won an end to slavery and the slave trade in England and Europe, he tackled the plight of the poor in India, appalled by the practice of suttee or the burning of widows.

Before I read this book, I knew nothing of William Wilberforce. The only thing I recalled from my American history classes in high school was that slavery had ended in England around the early 19th century, but the name of William Wilberforce didn’t come to mind.  It seems fitting somehow that this humble, Godly man’s name has begun to fade from history. He was so humble, he probably would have wanted to have it that way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading biographies. 4 and 1/2 stars out of 5.

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