The late Protestant theologian Langdon Gilkey wrote a stirring memoir about his 2 years in a Japanese POW camp in China Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure.
The book makes for depressing reading about the brutality to which humans can sink to.
Gilkey’s book while interesting is doomed to be seen as a simple precursor to Duncan Hamilton’s For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr.
Long forgotten now Eric Liddell was the Scot who refused to run in the 100 yard dash in the 1924 Paris Olympic games .The reason—the race was scheduled on a Sunday and Liddell was a committed Scottish Congregational believer, the son of a China-hand missioner who simply refused to run on the sabbath.
Liddell probably would have won gold defeating his rather sour pussed rival Harold Abraham. Liddell switched gears and won gold in the 400 metre race gaining international fame.
Liddell then was off to the China mission like his father before him to serve in the new frontier of the Christian mission.
Hamilton’s brilliantly researched biography goes much deeper than most sports bios. The author catches the essence of this extraordinary human being—his sterling integrity, his compassion and deep rooted faith. Hamilton goes way beyond saccharine piety and mines with brilliant dexterity the evaluations of those who knew Liddell intimately in his life and indeed in his time of trial.
Former biographer Sally Magnusson had this to say about The Flying Scot:
There was surely a pair of clay feet there to be revealed; a few weaknesses to be exposed; perhaps, in such a strong minded man, a streak of spiritual pride, a “holier-than-thou” attitude. But was he really that good? I would ask people. The answer was invariably the same – sometimes apologetic, sometimes pained, sometimes indignant, but always the same: Yes, he was.
The aforementioned Gilkey says of the man he shared life in the Shantung Compound (Liddell worked himself to death never saying no to anybody and ultimately dying at 43 of a brain hemorrhage)
“Eric never saw himself as a famous athlete—or rather didn’t look as if he though of himself as one.He was surely the most modest man who ever breathed.this was the secret of his amazing life.”
Liddell was resurrected in popular culture by the 1980 film Chariots of Fire which captures Liddell’s athletic life but utterly fails in its depiction of his extraordinary spiritual life. Well, it’s Hollywood and is probably more famous for its award winning theme by Vangelis.
Magnusson describes his life in these terms:
It is rare indeed when anyone has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he comes as close to it as anyone I have ever known.
This book should be read not as a sports story but rather as a spiritual classic. Hamilton is a well known UK sports journalist but here his brilliance lays in unpacking the interior life of a 20th century saint.