“Saint Francis,” by Robert West, is another biography in the Christian Encounters series, and one of the latest attempts to animate the life of the beloved medieval mystic and saint. West tried to bring out the world of Assisi for the reader, the medieval context that surrounded Francis throughout his life and, by the way the book was written, his adventures.

West did a great job staying away from a stale biography. The text is easy to read through, and there is more liveliness in the biographical sketch than in most others. But I believe that came at a great cost. The biography read more like historical fiction: based on Francis of Assisi, and giving the reader a good idea of who he was and what he did, but obviously speculating about what Francis could have or might have done. The early portion of the book was somewhat filled with that sort of thing. For example, on page 43: “Perhaps he tried to sing some of the troubadour songs or tell them some of his favorite stories. In a darker moment he might have bragged, as he often had before . . .” In his attempt to conjure a not-so-boring, easy-to-read (high school level? e.g. page 153, “modicum of sentience”) biographical tale, West lost a bit of the scholarship. Maybe it’s strictly personal preference, but I am more attracted to a text like House’s “A Revolutionary Life” or Englebert’s “A Biography.”

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