Out in front

A good biography, expertly researched and finely crafted, conveys not just the trajectory of someone’s life but also a feeling for the era in which the person lived. This superb telling of the “still far from finished” life of William Sloane Coffin is just such an accomplishment.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once mused that a man must be involved in the action and passion of his times or else be judged not fully to have lived. If this is true, then Coffin lived more intensely than most of us. It is hard to think of a 20th-century churchman other than Martin Luther King Jr. who was more centrally and visibly involved in the tumultuous years of the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement. Coffin not only lived those events but made some of them happen, and he inspired hundreds of young people to become involved and thus to live fully as well.

 

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