three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
By: 
A. J. Jacobs
user_rating: 
0

One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

A-The Year of Living BiblicallyStarting with an account of the laws set out in the Bible-some 800 in all-A. J. Jacobs, "Jewish in the way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant," sets out to document a year of living by the Bible. On his quest, he visits an Amish community, Kentucky's Creation Museum, and Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. He also suffers the taunts of New York pedestrians and fellow subway riders, who compare him to the Unabomber. It's not an easy thing, he discovers, this living biblically-what with the proscriptions on mixed fibers in clothing and cutting one's beard, the commandment to stone any adulterers he may encounter, and, as the author sees it, the need to stop self-Googling. Even though no one can follow all the biblical laws, Jacobs concludes that he'll never again look at the Bible or its teachings in quite the same way.
Simon & Schuster. 388 pages. $25. ISBN: 0743291476

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Breezy in places, flippant in some, profound in others, The Year of Living Biblically is a fun and moving study of the book that has shaped our world. In the end, Jacobs seemed surprised to find that he'd been on a spiritual quest, so that when he finally shaved off his beard, the person staring back at him was a little different than one he'd known a year before." Frank Bures

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"The A. J. Jacobs who begins the biblical year in part to illustrate the absurdity of fundamentalism isn't the same A. J. Jacobs who grieves the shaving of his beard at the end. By changing the outward appearance of his life, Jacobs opened his inner life to something like grace-however briefly-in a way few do in our age of MySpace and YouTube." B. T. Shaw

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Jacobs . . . stands alone in being able to turn a glorified publicity stunt into a laugh-out-loud read that seamlessly morphs into a deeply moving and inspirational book. ... [Living Biblically is] for people who are curious about the amazing influence the Bible has in the modern world but don't want to read about it from the true believers' perspective." Scott C. Yates

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While there are goofy sections that seem clearly intended to entertain, The Year of Living Biblically is a gracefully written book with a heart. In a world that tends to medicalize every peccadillo, Jacobs' straightforward and systematic efforts at biblically guided, moral self-purification are often surprisingly edifying." Gordon Marino

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Certainly his isn't the kind of transformation any real fundamentalist would accept. But for many of us who would never even try, walking with Jacobs is the closest we'll come to knowing what it feels like to be born again." Hanna Rosin

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Far from creating an overall sense of living by biblical law, this book moves skittishly from topic to topic and generally forgets an idea after Mr. Jacobs has briefly toyed with it. Although he's a very facile writer and even a successfully glib one, he has managed to bring a kind of attention deficit disorder to the theological constructs that are trivialized here." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

A. J. Jacobs, an editor at large for Esquire and author of the best-selling The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Be the Smartest Person in the World ( 2.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2005), the book that required him to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z, has a reputation as a "stunt journalist." In his latest effort, he offers a timely and, for the most part, engaging (if occasionally jumpy) memoir of his attempt at "living biblically." Critics enjoyed the book more for the humor inherent in the situations that Jacobs creates (think of him as a low-key Borat on a sort of spiritual pilgrimage) than any epiphany that comes of those experiences during his year-long quest. In sum, Year is entertaining, though maybe not the book for readers who want to see such a transformation recounted with the fervor of the true believer.