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The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible Paperback – Illustrated, September 9, 2008
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"A.J. Jacobs has written a - how else to put it? - Good Book. Let me take my review from the original, Psalm 2, verse 4: 'He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.' And let me suggest that readers, whether they know their Bible or not, get to know A.J. Jacobs. But not in a biblical sense, please."–P.J. O'Rourke
"The Year of Living Biblically is an extremely compelling book, appropriately irreverent and highly entertaining. More significantly, it is a tale of an intense and intelligent spiritual search that will speak powerfully and instructively to a generation of seekers."–Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College
"In the twenty-first century few, if any, Christians truly attempt to follow the Bible in its literal entirety, even us evangelicals. In this yearlong experiment A.J. Jacobs attempts just that, with disarming sincere, refreshingly humorous, and unexpectedly insightful results. I commend this inspired narrative to anyone actively exploring the continued relevance of biblical living, religion's need for critical self-reflection, and the timelessness of authentic faith."–Reverend Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics and president of Sojourners/Call to Renewal
"A. J. Jacobs has written about the Bible in a manner that is brilliantly funny but unerringly respectful, learned but goofy, deeply personal yet highly relevant. I am covetous and wish him smited."–Mary Roach, Bestselling author of Spook and Stiff
"A book that is at one and the same time delightfully readable and profoundly memorable is a wonder! The Year of Living Biblically is exactly that. A. J. Jacobs has perceived the distinction between the wisdom of the Bible and its absurdities. It is a shame that so many of both our clergy and our politicians seem incapable of making that distinction."–John Shelby Spong, author of Jesus for the Non-Religious and former Episcopal bishop
"As a man incapable of developing any facial hair aside from a really amazingly cruddy moustache, I would have bought this book for the astonishing big beard chronicle alone. That The Year of Living Biblically grows, beardlike, into a long, hilarious, tangled, and ultimately moving story of spiritual growth is all the more astonishing. But why should I continue to be surprised at what springs from A. J.'s head? He is a brilliantly hilarious writer who truly lives up to that oft-misused adverb/adjective combination and then some. Plus: HE IS GOING TO HEAVEN. So how can you not afford to tithe your salary to his cause and buy this book?"–John Hodgman, Daily Show correspondent and author of Areas of My Expertise
"Seeing that most people violate at least three of the ten commandments on their way to work -- even people who work from home -- says a lot about the scale of A. J.'s feat. The fact that you need to buy six copies of this book to unlock the code to save all humanity...well, that's just pure genius."–Ben Karlin, cocreator of The Colbert Report and coauthor of America: The Book
"Setting out to explore the consequences of strict adherence to biblical laws, A. J. Jacobs encounters a series of experiences that are as hilarious as they are thought-provoking. Along the way he teaches us both the fallacies of modern day religious fundamentalism and the joys of discovering the transcendent and timeless truths of faith."–Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director, Human Genome Project, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
"Throughout his journey, Jacobs comes across as a generous and thoughtful (and yes, slightly neurotic) participant observer, lacing his story with absurdly funny cultural commentary as well as nuanced insights into the impossible task of biblical literalism."–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Impressive and often tremendously amusing.... The author's determination despite constant complications from his modern secular life (wife, job, family, NYC) underscores both the absurdity of his plight and its profundity. While debunking biblical literalism -- with dinner party-ready scriptural quotes -- Jacobs simultaneously finds his spirituality renewed. ...A biblical travelogue -- and far funnier than your standard King James."–Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Illustrated edition (September 9, 2008)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0743291484
- ISBN-13 : 978-0743291484
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.44 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #56,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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While trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible, A.J. Jacobs discovers contradictions, some explicit, others springing from differences in translation and interpretation. He has difficulties incorporating the realities of modern life (like having to carry a chair with him so he doesn't accidentally sit in a seat a menstruating woman has been in; it's unclean) and it is only due to the eternal patience of his wife that he is able to live within some of these restrictions (although she draws the line at a rule that states he can't touch her at ALL for weeks after her c-section delivering their twins; spoiler: he suspends his "quest" for about a month after their birth).
The challenge the author undertakes in this book is something I, myself, would NEVER attempt, but I did find his account illuminating. Like him, I think a lot of people seek to live the best lives they can by following tenets set out in the good book, but being human, fail to varying degrees. Jacobs's quest did lead him to being a kinder, more thoughtful person, so even as a self-described agnostic, by the end of his journey, he felt it was worthwhile.
I don't want to go too in depth about my views on religious; my personal beliefs aren't relevant to this review. It's a well-written, engaging, funny account that answers a lot of questions I had about how would one have to live if they really took the Bible as literally as they said they do. His conclusion confirmed what I suspected: it's impossible to follow ALL the rules literally and EVERYONE cherry picks.
But don't take it from me. Read this and be yourself, enlightened. It's not going to make you a true believer (it certainly didn't affect my beliefs in any way), but it might increase your understanding.
I read this with a long list of questions: everything from "what's the deal with mixed fabrics?" to "how can any woman belong to anything that's so expressly sexist?" and Jacobs impressed me by acknowledging everything succinctly. This book isn't just anecdotal, but impressively dense with research. He explores everything from hasidc judaism all the way to baptists and the bible belt, getting an intimate look at the beliefs and percieved benefits of people from all different faiths. I would have liked him to continue his Abrahamic investigation into the quran instead of stopping at the news testament. But perhaps, coming from a jewish family, he felt unqualified.
All in all, I definitely got what I was looking for in this book: an objective perspective on many of the beliefs and rituals of modern Americans and the high-lights of an impressively exhaustive investigation of the bible. I think it should be mandatory reading for everyone, regardless of their personal faith.
He's no stranger to offbeat projects...he'd previously written a book about his experience of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. But when he was doing prep work for this book and realized that the Bible contains over 700 rules, ranging from very specific things like fiber-mixing and beard trimming prohibitions to very general things like restraining from covetousness, he decided to focus on the Ten Commandments first and tackle as many of the others as he could, because he knew he couldn't do all of them every day. He also seeks out people who are devoted to their religious beliefs in their own ways, leading to a visit to Amish Country, the Creation Museum, to see snakehandling Pentecostals, and even an overseas trip to Jerusalem. This on top of a regular job writing for Esquire, parenting a small son, and being a partner to his pregnant wife.
Jacobs is witty without being snarky, which is a good tone for this book. There's sometimes a tendency among secular types to get condescending about matters of religious faith and belief, which is counter-productive at best. He admits that since he's deeply agnostic, one of the hardest rules for him to follow is regular prayer, but he gamely tries anyways and is honest about both his initial discomfort and the ease that grows after months of practice. After having a hard time, in a hyperconnected world, retreating into the quiet of the Sabbath, he comes to look forward to that time to unwind and recharge. While he can't quite get into the harshness of parenting his son from a "spare the rod, spoil the child" perspective, he knows he needs to be better about discipline and he starts taking steps in the right direction.
I found this book enjoyable, if a little on the lightweight side. Although it's necessarily from Jacobs' perspective, I found myself really curious about how his wife felt about this particular experiment and what it was like to live with someone doing this. It's pretty clear from what Jacobs writes that his wife was often irritated by the project, and his frequent absences while leaving her with their son to handle while she was pregnant with twins had to be absolutely infuriating. Then again, that Jacobs seemed to simply expect her to shoulder the mental and emotional burden of dealing with his choices isn't really out of line with the very patriarchal culture in which the Bible was steeped. Recommended for people curious about religion and/or with a sense of humor about their own.
Top reviews from other countries
He probably didn't intend it, but one thing I took away from this book (by subtraction as it were) was an insight into the spiritual life of an agnostic New Yorker. Like peering into a ghastly abyss.
I also suspect that God hasn't finished with Jacobs yet. God is not lightly called the Hound of Heaven