Book Review: What’s Wrong with the World by G. K. Chesterton

Posted By on August 4, 2015

By Elissa Kroeger, Originally published here May 3, 2008

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly!

What!?! Those of us who care about excellence might find those words puzzling, to say the least. G K Chesterton, who penned the words in chapter 14 of his book,  What’s Wrong with the World? had something definite in mind when he wrote them, and it was not to encourage people to live sloppily.

One of the main themes of this book is that a woman’s time-honored role as something he called “The Great Amateur” is threatened by the changes in modern society. Of course, the modern society Chesterton wrote about was the one of about a hundred years ago. The thing that strikes me about the book is that very little has changed. We have become more entrenched in our ideas, but the ideas are just as bad as they were a century ago.

The word “amateur” means someone who does what she does because she loves it, not because she is getting paid to do it or because anyone is making her do it. She has autocratic authority in her sphere and the freedom to pursue whatever she feels would benefit either herself or those around her. She is not forced to specialize and narrow her vision in only one direction. That would stifle her.

If she wishes to learn to paint, she is not daunted if she is doesn’t turn out to be the next Michelangelo. She learns and explores, and she and those around her are enriched by it. She is not in competition with others in any given field. She does what she does in a way that blesses her family. It is not her job to train anyone in any given occupation but to show her children the whole world. That means she gets to experience the whole world with them.

She is a “jack of all trades” who does a little of everything. Chesterton says, “It is a great mark of our modernity that people are always proposing substitutes for these old things; and these substitutes always answer one purpose where the old thing answered ten.” He goes on to describe how a woman’s role is the greatest example of this economy in the natural order of things that is being thrown away in the name of progress.

It is this role which is given to women, Chesterton believes, which holds everything together. It is an immense responsibility requiring everything a woman has to offer but full of joy and immensely valuable. A woman who lives this role is like a queen.  Chesterton would give women privileges rathern han rights. I like that. Reading this book really made me feel honored, especially since it was written by a man.

Chesterton had one of the greatest senses of humor ever given to a human being. He had the talent to put an entire sermon or essay into a “one-liner.” If you read this book you will find yourself collecting quotes, placing them all over the house, and sending them to all your friends.

It never ceases to amaze me that there really is nothing new under the sun. Chesterton thought a feminist meant someone who disliked the chief feminine characteristics. Hmmm….. This book shows clearly the mixed-up thinking of those whose claims to give women more freedom are in reality creating chains to enslave us, whether they mean to do it or not. Chesterton hits the nail squarely on its head! Most refreshing.

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