‘This is an amazing book with an incredible story to tell, excellently written and gripping from beginning to end. Nurden’s grandfather, Stanley James, had a fascinating life – the son of a Congregationalist Minister who abandoned a religious career to become a cowboy in Canada, a hobo on the railways and a soldier in the Spanish-American War of 1898. After his return to England he re-entered the church to become an unconventional minister in London, combining religious duties with campaigns for social justice, women’s suffrage and no-conscription campaigns in WW1 before converting to Roman Catholicism leading to a career as a prominent religious journalist and author.
‘Between Heaven and Earth’ is a rich exploration of the life and times of a remarkable character based on original material. Equally fascinating is the interplay with the present as Nurden follows his grandfather’s journeys in Wales, Canada and Ireland, unearthing secrets kept over a century. The overlap between Congregational churches, Christian revolutionaries, socialists, suffragists, and pacifists in early 20th century London reveals a nuanced picture of ideological ferment at the height of the British Empire. Easily one of the best biographies I’ve ever read.’

Patrick Quigley, author of Sisters Against the Empire

‘This beautifully written and somewhat unconventional biography of an unorthodox character has plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader riveted, while providing an illustration of a fascinating era. A cracking read.’

‘This is a remarkable book, the story of a life less ordinary, and the journey of a grandson (both metaphorically and literally, travelling halfway across the world) to tell it. Robert Nurden not only vividly evokes the many identities that his grandfather Stanley James assumed throughout his life, he also weaves this story into a tapestry of historical moments and movements of the first half of the twentieth century. Christian socialism, pacificism and opposition to the First World War, the Irish independence struggle, and a cast of characters ranging from the old Chartist George Julian Harney to twentieth century radicals such as Bertrand Russell, G.K. Chesterton and Conrad Noel, the ‘Red Vicar’ of Thaxted in Essex, are part of this story. So too is his complicated personal life, with his family, and with other women. This absorbing book ranges equally widely, describing a man whose career was, as one obituary writer put it, ‘a quiet epic. A great read.’

Mark Gorman, author of Saving the People’s Forest

‘For anyone interested in a restless, questioning, spiritual mind at the turn of the 20th century, Robert Nurden’s amazingly thorough biography of his grandfather will be a fascinating read. His meticulous research leaves no stone unturned in the attempt to understand Stanley James’s motivations and complex personality. The scope of the book is incredible. As the author of ‘Dear Girl’, a major source for Nurden’s biography, I am personally indebted to the writer for his honest and enquiring reappraisal of his grandfather. For me, ‘Between Heaven and Earth’ isn’t only an exploration of Stanley’s quest for political, social and religious truths. It also has a contemporary resonance, raising still relevant questions about the persuasive powers of a male authority figure over a group of women. A fascinating book from many angles.’

Tierl Thompson, author of Dear Girl

‘Robert Nurden sits you down, makes you comfortable and spins an enthralling tale. Cowboy, hobo and preacher, Stanley shines in the light of his grandson’s level gaze.’

Richard C. McNeff, author of The Dream of Boris

‘As others have said, this is Robert Nurden’s well-researched and beautifully-crafted account of his complex and controversial British grandfather, Stanley James: cowboy, hobo, American soldier, journalist, author, sometime actor, non-conformist preacher and ultimately conservative Catholic. James was a friend to the famous and had an unconventional family life. Ultimately a man more at home with ideas than people. A fascinating and highly recommended read, told in a most engaging way.’

John Walker, author of Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Abuse, neglect and fire in a London Children’s workhouse 1854-1907

‘An intriguing biography in which a grandson seeks to understand what drove his grandfather from cowboy and tramp to preacher. The result? An extraordinary spiritual thriller.’

Pushpinder Khaneka, author of Read the World

‘Gosh I loved reading this book! On a personal level, learning more about my extraordinary and somewhat eccentric, nonconformist grandfather, while wandering through the past with Robert, was fascinating and reaffirming. However, from a more general perspective the historical context is enlightening. The interesting people Stanley encountered and worked with, many of whom subsequently became very well-known, (e.g. Bertrand Russell), are character and history studies in themselves. Stanley’s search for fellow intellectuals and the need to debate ideologies, which led him astray and into conflict at times, gives us readers insight into the recent history of socialism, feminism and pacifism in the UK. I feel proud of this spiritual man, Stanley, a fighter of causes, gifted orator, intellect, prolific writer, truth seeker, adventurer, and lover of nature from whom I am descended! Thank you, Robert, for doing the convoluted and exhaustive research for us all. Congratulations on a fantastic book.’

‘A fascinating story, beautifully told by the subject’s grandson, this marvellous biography of the maverick Stanley James shines a light on the campaigning preacher, cowboy, hobo, journalist and womaniser. The author tells the story of his grandfather’s unconventional life during the social and political upheaval of the first half of the 20th century. Well written and expertly researched, this book is a page turner which kept me gripped from beginning to end.’

‘In this moving account of the trials and tribulations of this extraordinary and complex character, the title of the book exactly sums up Stanley James’ spiritual journey. Robert Nurden’s book is an honest, unsentimental and meticulously researched labour of love, driven by his care and fascination, not just for Stanley, but his entire extended family going back for several generations.’

Nice to know ‘Between Heaven and Earth’ has so many uses. Bronwen, who belongs to reviewer Ian Cutler, turns my book into a makeshift bed

‘Some come seeking, others fleeing. The twentieth century minister and writer Stanley James was, in Robert Nurden’s biography of him, a seeker. ‘Between Heaven and Earth’ is an account of his peripatetic life, its rambling adventures and recently discovered secrets … [It] grabs the reader most forcefully.’

John Phipps, The London Magazine

‘[This is] an entertaining biography. Nurden’s assiduous research has turned up letters and diaries that reveal clandestine liaisons with several members of the congregation … Ronald Knox wrote in the first of Stanley James’s two autobiographies: “Readers of ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ will remember that Alice can only make her way about the garden by walking away from the object she wants to reach … Mr James seems to have done the thing in real life; he has reached the Catholic Church by steadily walking away from it.’

The Tablet

‘Nurden’s book should revive interest in Stanley James, socialist, ardent pacifist and mystic.’

Brian Lancaster, historian and author of Windows onto the Poor Law

‘What may seem recondite and daunting is actually a joy to read. Nurden’s meticulous research, erudition and elegant discursive style place this tale of faith and passion in the first rank of the biographer’s art.’

Frank Jezierski, journalist

‘This amazing biography is a page-turner, a joy to read and beautifully written. I never knew a minister’s life could be so gripping and hold so many surprises. Wonderful!’

Sue Rowlands

‘In this excellent, immensely readable, and meticulously researched portrait of his extraordinary and complex grandfather, Robert Nurden has disinterred a trove of precious things past, and shed invaluable light on the tough, turbulent and violent lives of our latter-day forebears.’

Eamonn Shanahan

‘Cowboy, preacher. Soldier, pacifist. Husband, adulterer. This is a biography with whopping great contradictions at its heart. And it’s written by the subject’s grandson who has shrugged off any embarrassment his findings might have induced and come up with a stonking story.’

Susana Sutherland

‘Stanley James is the ideal subject for a biographer: a complex, restless and ultimately elusive man who lived large and held in his past a dark secret. In this diligently researched and well-written book, Robert Nurden does his wide-ranging and enigmatic grandfather full justice.’

Ian Robert Smith

‘A remarkable life which intrigues, informs, amuses, astonishes – and shocks.’

Jane Sutton

‘This is a very good read and I was staggered by the amount of research Robert Nurden must have done. It’s a fascinating story and I can thoroughly recommend this book to lovers of family histories.’

Jonathan Butcher

‘I found this unusual biography a compelling read, with the author personally directing the narrative through the web of his own family’s circumstance, up to a century or more ago, as his ancestors co-exist with a husband who is a relentlessly searching theological wanderer. That is Stanley James: The Grandfather of the piece and the nominal family breadwinner. We visit the family’s habitations as well as the remote locales of Stanley’s life. He decamps to Canada, lives as a cowboy on the prairies, rides the railroad as a hobo, enlists in the US army for the Spanish American war, before returning to England and following his own father’s path to become a minister. He’s engaged in socialism and pacifism 1st World War vintage while actively practising free love in London’s East End. A batch of discovered letters throw a quite revealing light on these illicit liaisons with his parishioners. Ever searching for truth, the author uses Stanley’s voluminous writings to clearly illustrate his measured turn towards and eventual embrace of Catholicism. Through the early decades of the 20th century Stanley supports his family as a journalist and does live long enough to meet his infant grandson who has in his own turn done his grandfather proud in these well researched, and very elegantly phrased pages of discovery. Regardless of your own theological bent, you should find yourself swept up, as I was, in attempting to grasp the essence of the man and his interesting struggle through life.’

‘Robert Nurden’s quest to track and trace the intriguing life and times of his enigmatic grandfather Stanley B. James is a fascinating voyage of historical discovery, meticulously researched and lovingly written. The book is a well-crafted work of investigative journalism that manages to engage and educate as it chronicles Stanley’s meandering spiritual journey from prairie to pulpit as cowboy, hobo, soldier, minister, journalist, author, womaniser and father to seven children. Scandalous affairs, Nonconformist religion, socialism, pacifism and the Great War, controversial politics and conversion to Catholicism. The story of Stanley’s erratic and troubled but somehow noble search for his place in the world unfolds with a perfectly gauged blend of objectivity and opinion that makes this biography both an insightful and satisfying read.’

Val George

From Walt Whitman through radical religious non conformism to conservative Catholicism, what was Stanley James searching for? This very well researched account by James’ grandson investigates a contradictory, complex character, throwing up fascinating details of many of the religious and social movements of the first half of the twentieth century. Oh, not to forget his periods as cowboy, hobo, soldier and actor!

Kevin Scanlan

‘This is a well written and interesting biography of a man of many parts. It has been well researched and gives a good feel of the man himself. It must have been intriguing to delve into Stanley James’s life.’

Clare Lee