Monday, April 30, 2012

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Book Jacket

Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year.  He vows to follow the Ten Commandments.  To be fruitful and multiply.  To love his neighbor.  But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.

The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history's most influential book with new eyes.

Jacobs's quest transforms his life even more radically than the year spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All.  His beard grows so unruly that he is regularly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top.  He immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry, and tells the absolute truth in all situations--must to his wife's chagrin.

Throughout the book, Jacobs also embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally.  He tours a Kentucky-based creationist museum and sings hymns with Pennsylvania Amish.  He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah's Witnesses.  He discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance.  And he wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle the twenty-first century brain.

Jacobs's extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges.  A book that will charm readers both secular and religious, The Year of Living Biblically is part CliffsNotes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable.  Thou shalt not be able to put it down.


I was intrigued enough by the title to want to read this book, but I admit I was wary of how Jacobs would treat my religious beliefs.  I was relieved to see that although Jacobs and I do not agree on many spiritual issues, I think we could be good friends.  He undergoes his year with quite a bit of humor, but he is also very respectful of everyone he meets, whether he considers their ideas crazy or thought-provoking.

It was incredibly interesting to see the Bible through an agnostic's eyes.  I learned from him as he wrestled with laws that I rarely consider.  I saw beauty in the Bible as he lived a simpler, more honest life filled with seemingly insignificant daily rituals that genuinely changed him.  And I saw that it is possible to disagree and still be civil.

I loved Jacobs style.  He is self-deprecating, insightful, and eager both to learn and to share what he learned.  The book flies, and I was equally entertained and taught.  Although I have no emotional connection to the Encyclopedia like I do to the Bible, I intend to read his first book as soon as I can get it!

Five out of five tassels.

Release Date:  October 2007
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

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