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

  • August 21, 2014 10:56 am

    "This is a book that I admire and do not understand. I admire it because it is a full, engaging account of a way of life not my own. I do not understand it because, if the fullness proffered by atheism amounts to a little poetry, a little art, and the endless search for more of the same, I cannot understand its appeal. Most Christians, I suspect, will find that the system Watson describes so vividly is not a live option for them. A useful history, though, is one which develops a sympathetic understanding for a foreign group, and that sympathy is a part of the Christian discipline of love. The encounter between Christians and atheists is unloving (to say the least) because it is not sympathetic, and it is not sympathetic because of the inability of either side to understand the moral system of the other. This book is a way towards understanding what is rapidly becoming in the West one of the dominant moral systems of our time."

    The Age of Atheists | Lincoln Mullen

  • August 20, 2014 8:16 pm
  • August 20, 2014 8:16 pm
  • August 20, 2014 7:35 pm

    "Although I started this project as an exercise in historical theology, a constructive thesis emerged: when Christian doctrines assert the truth about God, the world, and ourselves, it is a truth that seeks to influence us. As I worked through the text, the divisions of the modern theological curriculum began making less and less sense to me. I could no longer distinguish apologetics from catechesis, or spirituality from ethics or pastoral theology. And I no longer understood systematic or dogmatic theology apart from all of these. In the older texts, evangelism, catechesis, moral exhortation, dogmatic exegesis, pastoral care, and apologetics were happening at the same time because the authors were speaking to a whole person. Our neat divisions simply didn’t work. Eventually the distinctions between historical and systematic theology and between theology and biblical studies began to weaken, too. I realized that I was uncovering a norm of theological integrity that had become unintelligible to the modern disciplines."

    — Ellen Charry, from By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine

  • August 20, 2014 9:47 am

    "Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here. Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us—regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either."

    What I Did After Police Killed My Son

  • August 20, 2014 9:05 am


    A bogus dichotomy between religion and equality has been set up, resulting in a succession of comparatively trivial new stories about receptionists being banned from wearing religious jewellery or nurses being suspended for offering to pray for patients’ recovery. Adopting the rhetoric of persecution on such matters obscures the very real persecution of Christians being killed or driven from their homes elsewhere in the globe.

    Most of the world’s Christians are not engaged in stand-offs with intolerant secularists over such small matters. In the West, Christianity may have increasingly become embraced by the middle class and abandoned by the working class. But elsewhere the vast majority of Christians are poor, many of them struggling against antagonistic majority cultures, and have different priorities in life.

    The paradox this produces is that, as Allen points out, the world’s Christians fall through the cracks of the left-right divide – they are too religious for liberals and too foreign for conservatives.


    Christians: The world’s most persecuted people - Comment - Voices - The Independent

  • August 20, 2014 8:46 am


    It is not a journalist’s job to protect us from the ugly facts. Neither is it his job to protect the sensitive from the painful truth or anyone, really, from anything.

    In fact, speaking more broadly, it is not a journalist’s job to make the world a better place, to ensure our right thinking, or to defend the virtuous politicians that sophisticates like himself voted for while excoriating the evildoers elected by those country rubes on the other side. It is not his job to do good or be kind or be wise. The idea that any of this is a journalist’s job is a fallacy that seems to have infected the trade in the 1970s, when idealistic highbrows began to replace the Janes and Joes who knew a good story when they heard one.

    Because that’s the journalist’s job: the story. His only job: to tell the whole story straight.

    In the greater scheme of things, Williams’ suicide is a small story, but it is part of a bigger story: the story of our country and our world. That story unfolds only slowly, and no one knows what wisdom it will ultimately reveal. The best we can do is tell each chapter whole and true, without piety or fear or favor.


    Andrew Klavan, “Report the truth — the whole truth — on Robin Williams’ death” (via wesleyhill)

    I would just like to take this moment to say that that is the biggest bunch of self-serving, self-aggrandizing, falsely noble bullshit I have read in a long time. “The story of our country and our world” my eye.

    The details of Robin Williams’s suicide are no more relevant to “our country and our world” than the details of anyone else’s suicide. If journalists have some moral obligation to “tell each chapter whole and true,” they’re leaving a great many chapters wholly untold, and indeed unacknowledged.

    But that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it? All the stories can’t be told, so all of us who are in the business of writing have to choose. And when journalists like Klavan choose to write about exactly how Robin Williams took his own life, are we really supposed to believe that he does so out of some high-minded devotion to “the story of our country and our world”? People have a perverse and often malicious interest in the sufferings of celebrities and will pay to read about them. They won’t pay to read about a worn-out junkie who deliberately overdoses in a cheap apartment in the San Fernando Valley. Let’s at least be honest about that.

    If Klavan wants to write “without piety,” then he should start by ceasing to be so piously sanctimonious about his own motives.

  • August 20, 2014 8:11 am


    The Middle East and parts of central Africa are losing entire Christian communities that have lived in peace for centuries. The terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped and killed hundreds of Christians this year — ravaging the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, two weeks ago. Half a million Christian Arabs have been driven out of Syria during the three-plus years of civil war there. Christians have been persecuted and killed in countries from Lebanon to Sudan.

    Historians may look back at this period and wonder if people had lost their bearings. Few reporters have traveled to Iraq to bear witness to the Nazi-like wave of terror that is rolling across that country. The United Nations has been mostly mum. World leaders seem to be consumed with other matters in this strange summer of 2014. There are no flotillas traveling to Syria or Iraq. And the beautiful celebrities and aging rock stars — why doesn’t the slaughter of Christians seem to activate their social antennas?


    Who Will Stand Up for the Christians? -

  • August 19, 2014 6:37 pm

    Still reconnecting with this old record that I loved 35 years ago…. If “A Remark You Made” is the album’s neglected gem, “Birdland” is the song everyone knows. But it’s a classic for a reason. Again Jaco Pastorius’s bass is astonishing. Listen to the song, and then listen again, focusing on the bass line alone.

  • August 19, 2014 9:18 am


    The 46-year-old (he turns 47 on Monday) could be mistaken for just another Midwestern music lifer, forever doing the Thursday-to-Saturday club grind, resigned to living out his rock-and-roll fantasies in obscurity. This is not an original observation; as far as Tweedy’s secondary career as a character actor is concerned, “Midwestern music lifer” is his type, as evidenced by a recent guest appearances on Parks and Recreation as Scott Tanner, lead singer of Pawnee rock royalty Land Ho!

    “The writers said that when they pictured a washed-up rock star who used to have a band, they couldn’t stop picturing me,” Tweedy explained after leading me into Wilco’s northwest Chicago headquarters, past a long row of guitars and to a small cafeteria outfitted with a refrigerator and several cases of Mexican mineral water. “‘Why don’t we just go ahead and call him?’ [is] what they said. I was like, ‘I still have a band.’”


    How to Fight Loneliness «

  • August 18, 2014 10:34 am


    According to Apuleius, Pleasure is the daughter of Cupid and Psyche – of Love and the Soul, that is, a sufficiently elevated pedigree, one would have thought. Yet the British still put up a strong resistance to the idea that pleasurability might be a valid criterion in the response to literature, just as we remain dubious about the value of the ‘decorative’ in the visual arts. When Graham Greene made ‘entertainments’ a separate category from the hard stuff in his production, he rammed home the point: the difference was a moral one, a difference between reading to pass the time pleasurably – that is, trivially – and reading to some purpose.

    The ‘great tradition’ does not brook even the possibility of libidinal gratification between the pages as an end in itself, and F.R. Leavis’s ‘eat up your broccoli’ approach to fiction emphasises this junkfood/wholefood dichotomy. If reading a novel – for the 18th-century reader, the most frivolous of diversions – did not, by the middle of the 20th century, make you a better person in some way, then you might as well flush the offending volume down the toilet, which was by far the best place for the undigested excreta of dubious nourishment.


    — The great Angela Carter

  • August 16, 2014 8:12 pm

    "A Remark You Made": a neglected gem from the fusion era of jazz — a little too poppy for some, but what beautiful, beautiful playing from Wayne Shorter on sax and the late, lamented Jaco Pastorius on bass, plus a brilliant keyboard solo near the end from the composer Joe Zawinul.

  • August 16, 2014 7:52 pm
  • August 16, 2014 7:51 pm
  • August 16, 2014 7:51 pm