The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs

I am intrigued by the concept of someone’s doing something interesting for a year and then writing a book about it.  Julie and Julia by Julie Powell is a well-known example, and Jacobs’ book is a worthy addition to this trend in nonfiction writing (Two other recent books which I’ve noticed but not read are Living Oprah: My One-year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk by Robyn Okrant and 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life by John Kralik.)

A.J. Jacobs, editor at large of Esquire, grew up in a nominally Jewish but very secular family.  After completing a book (which I look forward to reading) about reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, he decided to explore the all-time best seller—the Bible.  He decided to attempt taking the Bible literally, following its many rules for a year.  He expected to discover the Bible’s greatness as well as some outdated laws.  In addition to reading the Bible and a variety of Jewish and Christian commentaries on it, he would talk to a number of believers in following the Bible literally, ranging from Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Amish to snake handlers to the most Orthodox Jews.

Jacobs learned to find comfort in prayer, to respect even those Christians and Jews whose ideas were most foreign to him, and to think deeply about moral issues.  He grew a huge beard, wore tassels on his clothes, and eventually even wore a robe.  On a trip to the Holy Land, he met one of his relatives, a man who’d embraced a number of faiths during his life.  He played a ten-string harp and blew on a shofar.  In his attempt to follow the Old Testament prohibition against wearing clothes made of mixed fibers, he found a man who evaluated people’s wardrobes in the light of that law.

During the year, he became the father of twins, an experience which reminded him of several Bible stories.

The Year of Living Biblically is amusing, inspiring, and thought-provoking.  While this is not the story of a religious conversion, Jacobs says that some of the year’s experiences will always remain with him, and I think that most readers will find that some ideas from this book will always be with them.

(Helen Snow, Information Services)

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