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J.B.: A Play in Verse Paperback – August 1, 1989

4.5 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Archibald MacLeish was born in Glencoe, Illinois in 1892. He attended Yale University and served in World War I. Later, he went to Harvard Law School and practiced law in Boston for a few years until he gave it up and moved to Paris with his wife and children to devote all his time to writing poetry. He returned to the United States to research the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and the result, CONQUISTADOR (1932), won him a Pulitzer Prize. From 1920-1939, he was a member of the editorial board of FORTUNE magazine and he served as Librarian of Congress from 1929 to 1944. MacLeish's COLLECTED POEMS (1952) won a Pulitzer Prize and his poetic drama, J.B. based on the Book of Job, was a Broadway success in 1957.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 153 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (August 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395083532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395083536
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stosh D. Walsh on June 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
MacLeish's pulitzer prize winning verse play sets the Old Testament book of Job in a semi-satirical modern setting (a circus tent), where JB (Job) undergoes his trials under the watchful eyes of the circus vendors Zuss and Nickles, who mimic the roles of God and Satan, respectively. JB's plight is essentially a play within a play, as the focus of the work tends to be the interactions between Zuss and Nickles. MacLeish raises the eternal questions through these powerful scenes, most notably with the recurring jingle of Nickles: "If God is God he is not good; if God is good He is not God..." Readers of this play are forced to address the questions themselves while they are entertained and challenged by the proposals of the characters and the Biblical parallels they represent.
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Format: Paperback
J.B. is a modern day (1950s) retelling of the biblical story of Job. To summarize: Job, God's most loyal servant, is punished by God without reason. God only wishes to prove that no matter what obstacles God threw at him, Job would still "praise God." While the story of Job makes a deep point about human suffering and the strength of faith, J.B. delves deeper.

The play centers on a dialogue between two characters, Zuss and Nickles, who play God and Satan respectively. Each makes important points about the root of suffering and God's role in Job's pain. Zuss argues, in more words or less, that Job has no right to question God. Nickles, instead, sympathizes with Job's pain believing that God has been unfair to mankind and especially to this man. Please grant that these are simplifications of their arguments, one can write novels on the meaning of this play.
Its not hard to imagine how the play ends, but like many things it's the journey not the destination that matter. The banter between the two, and satirical overtones of throwing the whole setting in a circus tent, take the reader beyond the norm. This is a story that requires the reader to engage, be prepared to think! You can not help but question your spirituality and faith during the play. For while few of us suffer as Job does, fewer still believe in God. Would you be able to still love God, if he took everything away from you?

I'll be straightforward and admit that my review is biased. MacLeish's J.B. has been (since reading it in my High School AP English Class) my favorite. I'm an avid reader, but there's something so subtly beautiful about MacLeish's language, something so deep in his words that have resounded in my heart, that I am compelled to re-read this play over and over again. MacLeish has a profound message to teach us "modern, disillusioned men" that one would have to have a heart of stone not to appreciate.
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By JimB on December 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
This play in verse is a modern take on one of the timeless questions of suffering during our lives.In this instance,JB loses his wealth, health and family and during the ensuing discussions with his "friends", it beomes evident that the story is not about suffering, but about faith.Very powerful,but short, descriptive scenes and dialogue.
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MacLeish's play grapples with the Book of Job, but not simply because of any personal or childish reasons. As the Adversary figure puts it, never have more suffered more for less -- for having the wrong eyelids or the wrong shape of nose, or going to bed in the wrong city. After World War 2, few American intellectuals grappled with the meaning of the bomb and holocaust as a global indictment of the underlying system of justification to the degree that MacLeish did, or at least so publicly. The poetry is alternately grand and serviceable, but the real power in the play shifts from Job's accusations to "Mr Zuss" and "Mr Nickels" -- those who must ACT the parts of God and Satan. When, at the end, J.B. reaches a conclusion different from that of Job, much has been made, and may be, but the hard questions are not answered; they're only deferred back one frame of reference.

Perhaps today, when we are less satisfied with a "Dover Beach" sort of truth, we can read this play and see that MacLeish, who was, after all, a political man as well as poet, does not rest in individualism or selfism or even love. The dreadful agony is only worse.
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Format: Paperback
Based on the biblical story of Job, MacLeish takes that story and turns it into a modern day play. That catch? J.B. doesn't know he's in the play. He doesn't know the actors are playing God and the Devil, or using him to prove how quickly man will turn from God when things go wrong.

This is a refreshing take on the story of Job, and in the play J.B. is not just one man, but all of humanity. Originally published in 1956, the world had already gone through two World Wars and if nothing else was going to shake humanity's faith in God and justice, these wars would. J.B.'s oldest son is killed coming home from the war, his next two children die in a car wreck, and his youngest daughter is found dead in the back of a lumber yard. Of course if you're familiar with the story of Job, things don't stop there. J.B. looses his livelihood, his savings, his house, his health, and his wife. With nothing left the Devil tempts him into committing suicide, the one thing he still has control over. But J.B. chooses instead to repent if God will only tell him why. While the story is one most people have heard before, MacLeish really does something unique with it. The idea of the whole thing being a play, with J.B. the only one who doesn't know, makes it even more heartbreaking as his life falls apart, and borrows from Shakespeare's "the whole world's a stage". It's easy to see how J.B. stands for more than just an individual and brings to light the suffering of more than just one person.

The play has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony, so there's really no point in me reiterating that it's good. So, I'll just say it's a very quick read and if you haven't read it and want to add something a little more "classic" to your reading list, give this a try.
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