more than 95 theses


A journal, commonplace book, and Wunderkammer by Alan Jacobs.

My blog on technologies of reading, writing, and knowledge is called Text Patterns; I am an occasional contributor to the Technology channel of The Atlantic; I'm a Contributing Editor for The New Atlantis. Also, I tweet.

My biography of the Book of Common Prayer has now been published by Princeton University Press, and I’ve created an associated tumblelog.

My critical edition of W. H. Auden’s long poem For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio is now available.

My next book will be about Christian humanism in a time of total war.

I invite you to a meditative encounter with my online project The Gospel of the Trees.

Please consider supporting this tumblelog by buying some of my books. I will thank you, my family will thank you, and the internet — surely — will thank you.

”Reverting to Type: a Reader’s Story”

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Age of Anxiety, by W. H. Auden — a critical edition. A PDF of my Introduction to the poem is available online.

Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant

Original Sin: a Cultural History

Looking Before and After: Testimony and the Christian Life

The Narnian: the Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis

Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling

A Theology of Reading: the Hermeneutics of Love

A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age

What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden’s Poetry

  • July 29, 2014 12:51 pm


    Double-page spreads from Adriaen Coenen’s Visboek (Fish Book), an epic 800+ page tome on all things fish and fish-related. See more at:

  • July 29, 2014 9:32 am
  • July 28, 2014 7:14 pm

Moth? Mosquito? Metaphor? It’s by mail artist Marcos Kurtycz, possibly related to his “mail bombs” directed at the Mexican Museum of Modern Art (MAM). From a file on Kurtycz in the Library’s Franklin Furnace Archive. The project is discussed in this essay. -jt View high resolution


    Moth? Mosquito? Metaphor? It’s by mail artist Marcos Kurtycz, possibly related to his “mail bombs” directed at the Mexican Museum of Modern Art (MAM). From a file on Kurtycz in the Library’s Franklin Furnace Archive. The project is discussed in this essay. -jt

  • July 28, 2014 5:32 am
  • July 27, 2014 7:50 am

    These covers for a Chinese edition of The Lord of the Rings, by Jian Guo, have been all over my Twitter feed, but I like them so much I’m going to post them anyway.

  • July 27, 2014 7:39 am

    Possibly my favorite item in the British Museum is this miniature altarpiece, which, as you can see, opens to show an immensely detailed relief carving, in boxwood, of the Crucifixion. And when I say miniature: the entire object is less than ten inches high. When you see it in person, the spears of the Roman legionnaires are impossibly thin, the detail on the faces impossibly precise. The emotional power of the object is all out of proportion to its size.

    Details here.

  • July 26, 2014 6:18 pm

Fountain Room menu, circa 1933
View high resolution


    Fountain Room menu, circa 1933

  • July 26, 2014 11:44 am

    the short long term

    Consider this a follow-up to this morning’s post on religious freedom. Someone — and not a stranger — recently said to me on Twitter, “I am concerned that you think only conservatives have religious rights.” A pretty damning accusation, if true. But it isn’t true. I’ll cite just one example in my defense. Four years ago I wrote in response to the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy:

    But the really sad thing is that people who call themselves conservatives — Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin — should be crying out for apparatuses of the state to limit and police voluntary religious association. This is a profoundly anti-conservative view in two ways. First, it is historically myopic, as Mayor Bloomberg’s brief history of controversies about religious freedom in New York City demonstrates. It’s remarkable that people who invoke the Founders so regularly and in such tones of devotion could be utterly deaf to the Founders’ concern to ensure freedom for mistrusted minority religions. They might start by reading George Washington’s once-famous letter to the Newport synagogue, paying special attention to this sentence: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts.” In Washington’s understanding, it is misbegotten even to ask the question, “Should we tolerate this?”

    Moreover, the Gingrich-Palin view of the matter is as blind to the future as it is to the past. No one would make such an argument who did not anticipate that his or her own religious preferences will forever be enshrined as the socially dominant ones. Having endorsed the principle that minority religions can be policed by the state, Gingrich and Palin may well be unpopular figures to their descendants, if Christianity continues to decline as a force in American culture.

    In other words, when the religious freedom of Muslims was under threat, I made precisely the same arguments that I am making today, and described the view being taken by many who call themselves religious conservatives as “an infantile grasping after a fleeting and elusive cultural dominance.”

    Again, that’s just one example. So why would someone accuse me of thinking that only conservatives have religious rights? Because at this particular moment, it’s religious traditionalists whose claims to liberty are at issue. And the person who made that accusation is thinking only in terms of this particular moment — which is exactly what the internet firehose of news (and “news”) always prompts us to do. So again: let’s try to think wider, and think longer. And if we can’t easily assume the perspective of the longue durée, we at least ought to be able to cast our minds back four freakin’ years.

  • July 26, 2014 10:38 am

    "Public gatherings—and most private ones, as well—made him jumpy. For years he had passed up family weddings and graduations, town meetings, dedications and book awards, cocktail bashes and boat gams and garden parties. As his literary reputation widened when he was in his forties and fifties, he did make it to a few select universities to receive honorary degrees, but despite prearranged infusions of sherry or Scotch he found the ceremonials excruciating. “So the old emptiness and dizziness and vapors seized hold of me,” he writes to my mother after his honoris causa Ph.D. appearance at Dartmouth in 1948. “Nobody who has never had my peculiar kind of disability can understand the sheer hell of such moments, but there they are.” And when the time came for the encomiums and the enrobing, there in the sunshine at Hanover, he went on, his hood—“white, quite big, and shaped like a loose-fitting horse collar”—became entangled with the honoree in the next seat, Ben Ames Williams: Andy’s worst dreams come true. “When I got seated the thing was up over my face, as in falconry,” he continues. “A fully masked Doctor of Letters, a headless poet.” After that, he stayed home, even passing up an invitation in 1963 to go to Washington and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Lyndon Johnson; the deed was consummated instead by a stand-in, Maine’s Senator Edmund Muskie, in the office of the president of Colby College. Andy also skipped his wife’s private burial in the Brooklin Cemetery, in July, 1977. None of us in the family expected otherwise or held this against him. And when his own memorial came, eight years later, I took the chance to remark, “If Andy White could be with us today he would not be with us today.”"

    Roger Angell on his stepfather, E. B. White

  • July 26, 2014 9:29 am

    how to think about religious freedom

    Despite my recent insistence that I would write only one post on religious liberty — I was so naïve in those days — I’d like to follow up on some recent tweets:

    It’s well known that passionate Christian commitment drove the movement to abolish slavery first in the United Kingdom and then in America; it’s also well known that the Civil Rights movement was theological and spiritual through and through. And yet these points are too often forgotten when people associate religious freedom exclusively with what tends to get called the Religious Right here in America. That association is both local and temporary, and there is no reason to think that it will continue indefinitely. The farther we project from our own moment the harder it is to guess what political and social roles Christianity will play; and the farther we get from our own geographical territory the more peculiar (by our standards) the public role of Christianity tends to be.

    What’s curious, and to me deeply saddening, is that neither the political Left or Right keeps these points in mind. I can scarcely blame liberals for linking Christianity with the Republican Party when so many conservative Christians do exactly the same thing. And yet if we’re going to think wisely and well about the value of religious freedom, it’s vital that we extend that thinking beyond our locality and our moment. Whatever conclusions you draw on these matters, please don’t rely solely on the evidence that the News puts before your eyes. Think wider; think longer.

  • July 26, 2014 8:15 am


    If I am right that the liberal project is ultimately self-contradictory, culminating in the twin depletions of moral and material reservoirs upon which it has relied even without replenishing them, then we face a choice. We can pursue more local forms of self-government by choice or suffer by default an oscillation between growing anarchy and likely martial imposition of order by an increasingly desperate state.

    If my analysis is fundamentally accurate, liberalism’s endgame is unsustainable in every respect: It cannot perpetually enforce order upon a collection of autonomous individuals increasingly shorn of constitutive social norms, nor can it continually provide endless material growth in a world of limits. We can either elect a future of self-limitation born of the practice and experience of self-governance in local communities, or we can back slowly but inexorably into a future in which extreme license invites extreme oppression.


    Unsustainable Liberalism by Patrick J. Deneen

  • July 26, 2014 7:19 am

    "Whether or not agriculture was the “worst mistake in the history of the human race,” the choice, once made, was made for good. With a global population of seven billion people, heading rapidly toward eight billion, there’s certainly no turning back now (even if paleo does, in fact, prevent zits). Pound for pound, beef production demands at least ten times as much water as wheat production, and, calorie for calorie, it demands almost twenty times as much energy. Livestock are major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, not just because of the fuel it takes to raise them but also because they do things like belch out methane and produce lots of shit, which in turn produces lots of nitrous oxide. One analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that, in terms of emissions, eating a pound of beef is the equivalent of driving forty-five miles. (Grass-fed beef—recommended by many primal enthusiasts—may produce lower emissions than corn-fed, but the evidence on this is shaky.) Eating a pound of whole wheat, by contrast, is like driving less than a mile. All of which is to say that, from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s “Let them eat steak” approach is a disaster."

    How the Paleolithic Diet Got Trendy

  • July 25, 2014 6:04 pm

    "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18. Emphasis mine. Those who want to confine freedom of religion in America to freedom of worship — and I have heard from a number of them lately — might want to reflect on their dissent from this document.

    Further commentary from Lord Alton of Liverpool here.

  • July 25, 2014 4:31 pm

    "Some marriage experts don’t agree that polyamory’s impact on children is neutral, though. “We know that kids thrive on stable routines with stable caregivers,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Polyamory can be like a “marriage-go-round,” Wilcox said. “When kids are exposed to a revolving carousel of spouses, that experience of instability and transition can be traumatic.” (Wilcox, who has contributed to The Atlantic, is known for having rather conservative views: He recently penned a Washington Post op-ed about how marriage ostensibly protects women, and he consulted on a much-contested study about the children of same-sex couples.)"

    — Several other researchers are cited in this long article on polyamory, but, oddly, none of the others have their views specified and placed on an ideological spectrum. Why might that be? Anyone have any ideas?

  • July 25, 2014 9:41 am

    "A quarter of the U.S. population — and 40 percent of the population of New York, where my novel is set — self-identify as Catholic. One of the most striking features of the city is that there are churches everywhere, from one of the world’s largest cathedrals to hundreds of storefront churches. And a bit of investigation will reveal that those churches fill up every Sunday. Not to mention the fact that there are more Jews in New York than in any other city in the world. But for some reason the publishing industry in this city tends to view the introduction of religion into contemporary realist novels as a willful act that must have some strong rhetorical justification. From where I stand, the exclusion of religion is the willful act. Novelists never get asked why they don’t include religion in their books, or why the religion they do include — often just a species of madness — bears so little resemblance to religion as it is practiced by the majority of Americans. If they were asked, I suspect, most of these writers would not have a very good answer. It simply doesn’t occur to them. Whatever one’s beliefs, this seems like a basic failure of verisimilitude. Reality includes religion; realism should, too."

    — Christopher Beha being interviewed by Harpers about his new novel Arts and Entertainments.  (via unapologetic-book)