The popular hymn whose origins are recounted here is not a folk song, but was written by an English minister who distilled his own grim experiences to pen these compellingly consoling verses. Son of a sea captain whose icy discipline made him a rebel with cause, John Newton (1725-1807) tried, unsuccessfully at first, to hold onto the religion instilled by his dead mother. He became a slave trader and, in part because an early employer had treated Newton himself like a slave, was an unusually compassionate member of what was then an acceptable calling. HIS faith restored after a miraculous response to prayers in a violent storm, Newton still continued as a slaver for years before taking a customs post and then eventually becoming a minister. Still later, he and the poet William Cowper wrote the Olney Hymns, including ""Amazing Grace."" Haskins's narrative is so simply written that it's almost abrupt, but it's fascinating not only as an outline of an extraordinary spiritual journey but as a glimpse of the period. He includes a simple arrangement for the melody and cleverly uses the verses to introduce chapters, concluding with some recently added lines and mention of the song's popularity in black churches since the 1800's and in contemporary concerts. Fine for its intended level, a book that leaves the reader wanting to know more about this unique man. Attractively illustrated with historical materials, mostly unattributed. Index.