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Shaming the Devil

Essays in Truthtelling

Author(s): Alan Jacobs

ISBN13: 9780802848949

ISBN10: 080284894X


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  • Shaming the Devil offers a compelling series of reflections that explore how hard it is to tell the truth about the world of culture and how central that task is to the Christian life. Employing the literary essay as a powerful means for cultural criticism and using other writers and thinkers as friends and foils in his quest, Alan Jacobs incisively and insightfully revisits the question asked by Pilate and so many others through history: "What is truth?" In the first part of the book Jacobs contemplates the work of people whom he takes to be exemplary truth seekers: Rebecca West, W. H. Auden, Albert Camus, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Linda Gregerson, and Leon Kass. He then engages writers who challenge the search for truth: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Iris Murdoch, Wole Soyinka, Philip Pullman, and Anne Carson. The third section of the book consists of a single lengthy essay that pursues the provocative question of whether todays computer technology helps or hinders us in our pursuit of truth. Extremely well written and rich in wisdom, Shaming the Devil will appeal to anyone interested in literature, modern culture, and the Christian worldview.

  • Alan Jacobs

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    In a dozen essays on literature and culture, Jacobs reconfirms the impression he made in A Visit to Vanity Fair (2001) that he is the most personable of critics. The brutal opining of a Dale Peck (see Hatchet Jobs [BKL My 15 04]) may refresh with its frankness, but Jacobs demonstrates that taking a writer to task is more satisfying when it is one element of a holistic appreciation. The five essays in the central section here consider writers about whom Jacobs has strong reservations but whose achievements he recognizes and admires (with the exception of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, subject of the ironically entitled "The Only Honest Man"). Indeed, Jacobs considers Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka one of the two greatest living writers; it is the effects of political upheaval on Soyinkas later writing that Jacobs rues. Even in the six approbatory pieces that open the book, on Auden (twice), Camus, Solzhenitsyn, poet Linda Gregerson, and bioethicist Leon Kass, Jacobs often places unflattering facts about his subjects in counterpoint to his great liking for them. In the long, concluding essay on creativity and the personal computer, Jacobs balances enthusiasm and skepticism, endorsement and reservation, couching the entire discussion, here as throughout, in the attempt to tell the truth, ordinary and ultimate, from a warmly intelligent Christian perspective.

    - Booklist - Ray Olson

    Wheaton College professor Jacobs once again displays his considerable gifts in this collection of essays originally published in the Weekly Standard, First Things and the Christian review Books & Culture. As in his earlier collection, A Visit to Vanity Fair, Jacobss range of interests and the breadth of his reading is extraordinary, along with the depth of his Christian humanism. His recurring theme here is the promises and limits of the modern era, as seen through some of its most celebrated figures: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Albert Camus, W. H. Auden, Iris Murdoch and Wole Soyinka. Even an essay on Sapphos poetry becomes a meditation on modern erotic politics, in dialogue with the Song of Solomon. A final section on Jacobss sometimes comical attempts to install the Linux operating system on his own computer explores information technology, that quintessentially modern achievement. The tone here is somewhat more serious than in Vanity Fair, but never inaccessible, not least because Jacobs never takes himself too seriously. Notwithstanding the relatively conservative venues where Jacobs publishes, his writing is also utterly free of ideological cant, and his reading even of those with whom he disagrees is marked by generosity, humor and humility. Every writer longs for readers of Jacobss integrity and creativity; discerning readers will revel in the chance to let Jacobs read aloud, as it were, over their own shoulder.

    - Publishers Weekly


Shaming the Devil