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

  • October 8, 2014 8:39 pm

    "Is Ebola the ISIS of biological agents? Is Ebola the Boko Haram of AIDS? Is Ebola the al-Shabaab of dengue fever? Some say Ebola is the Milosevic of West Nile virus. Others say Ebola is the Ku Klux Klan of paper cuts. It’s obvious that Ebola is the MH370 of MH17. But at some point the question must be asked whether Ebola isn’t also the Narendra Modi of sleeping sickness. And I don’t mean to offend anyone’s sensitivities, but there’s more and more reason to believe that Ebola is the Sani Abacha of having some trouble peeing. At first there was, understandably, the suspicion that Ebola was the Hitler of apartheid, but now it has become abundantly clear that Ebola is actually the George W. Bush of being forced to listen to someone’s podcast. Folks, this thing is serious. The World Health Organization calls it the Putin of Stalin. In layperson’s terms, that’s like saying it’s the Stalin of U2. Now we are seeing the idea thrown around that it could be the Black Hand of the Black Death, not to mention the Red Peril of the Red Plague. If you don’t want to go that far, you have to at least admit that Ebola is the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb of Stage IV brain cancer. At this point, it’s very possible that Ebola could become airborne and turn into the Tea Party of extreme climate events. Throughout the country of Africa, Ebola is the Abu Ghraib of think pieces. Look, I’m not the politically correct type, so I’m just going to put this out there: Ebola is the neo-Nazism of niggling knee injuries. The kind of threat it poses to the American way of life essentially makes it the North Korea of peanut allergies. I’m not going to lie to you, and I don’t care what color you are, you could be red, green, blue, purple, whatever; you need to understand that Ebola (the Obama of Osama, but don’t quote me) is literally the “Some of my best friends are black” of #NotAllMen. But the burning question no one has raised yet is whether Ebola is the Newsweek of halitosis. We’ll go to the phones in a moment and get your take on this. But first let me open the discussion up to our panel and ask whether Ebola is merely the Fox News of explosive incontinence, or whether the situation is much worse than that and Ebola is, in fact, the CNN of CNN."

    Ebola: What It Is - Teju Cole

  • October 8, 2014 3:18 pm

One of our favourite endpapers: The Wind in the Willows, illustration by E.H.Shepard View high resolution


    One of our favourite endpapers: The Wind in the Willows, illustration by E.H.Shepard

  • October 8, 2014 2:45 pm


    Why do the doomsayers exist? For one, it is common for each generation to think it is alive at the single most pivotal time in history. Surely we sit at a precipice, with the fate of everything, including higher education, in our hands in a way unknown to previous generations. Right? Doubtful, history suggests. A healthy skepticism about a world always on the verge of major change might be a useful antidote against panic.

    Second, it turns out to be really difficult to predict the future. Most previous higher-education doomsayers were well intentioned and thoughtful, but that didn’t help them get it right. The world is complex, and those who merely extrapolate current trends into the future will get them largely wrong.

    Finally, as we noted, many “objective” observers are anything but. Often they have a vested interest in getting us to worry. And it works. We read their articles and books, support them in elections, buy their consulting services, or donate to their causes.


    Beware Higher-Ed Doomsayers - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education. Fortunately, the people who wrote this article have no such vested interests, but rather are completely objective observers whose cheerleading for higher education we can take as Gospel truth.

    Wait … they’re both college presidents? Never mind.

  • October 8, 2014 11:13 am

    "When you are very young, you think old people must feel inside as old as they appear on the outside. But as you move towards agedness yourself, you realise that this is entirely wrong. People remain young on the inside, no matter how old they appear. The idea of ‘old’ people is therefore a misapprehension of our culture, which sees the split instant of a human lifetime as something elongated, divided into decades and years, persistently defined by a number. But there are no ‘old people’. Everyone is young. The only clue you have about this is your own journey as a subjective intelligence looking out. You wait for a change to descend, some radical shift of thinking which will fit with your balding head or wrinkling face. But it doesn’t come: you get giddier and more childish. I had this insight very strongly at Mount Melleray, when I realised that all these men, like myself, were teenagers, or maybe children, in their heads."

    Inside Mount Melleray: ‘The world as you know it is passing away’. I don’t think this misperception is something that only the “very young” have: people of forty or more years tend to believe that somehow, as you age, your inner life comes to match your outward appearance. But as Waters, says, it’s not true. It’s not true at all.

  • October 8, 2014 10:09 am




  • October 8, 2014 9:57 am

    "A 2004 paper by education researcher Gary R. Pike published in Research in Higher Education … found the U.S. News rankings for 14 public research universities that are part of the Association of American Universities. Then, he compared them with scores on a separate measure, the National Survey of Student Engagement, that’s designed specifically to determine how much students engaged in “educationally purposeful activities that contribute to their learning and success.” There was virtually no correlation between the two sets of data."

    What College Rankings Don’t Mean

  • October 8, 2014 8:03 am

Photo of the Day: Tufa Towers
Photo by Marshall Fisher (Las Vegas, Nevada, USA); Mono Lake, California, USA View high resolution


    Photo of the Day: Tufa Towers

    Photo by Marshall Fisher (Las Vegas, Nevada, USA); Mono Lake, California, USA

  • October 7, 2014 11:46 am


    There is no such thing as practical knowledge, and so there is no such thing as a practical major. This country graduates 350,000 business majors a year. The metrics for those degrees are generally awful. But nobody ever includes them in their arguments about impractical majors, despite those bad numbers. And if you’re some 19 year old, out to choose a career path, business sure sounds practical. So they graduate with those degrees and flood the market with identical resumes and nobody will hire them. Meanwhile, they lost the opportunity to explore fields that they might have enjoyed, that might have deepened the information acquisition and evaluation skills that would allow them to adapt to a whole host of jobs, and that might have provided a civic and moral education. All to satisfy a vision of practicality that has no connection to replicable, reliable economic advantage.

    What’s most depressing of all is that these changes of fortune for particular fields is always seen as worthy of mockery and not sympathy. I searched around for that New Republic article on social media and found plenty of people laughing at these kids and calling them chumps for following an educational fad. You just can’t win: if you pursue a field you actually like, they mock you for your impracticality. If you pursue a field out of a desire to chase the money, and you get unlucky, they mock you for choosing poorly. Whatever it takes to convince you that your unemployment is your own fault and not the fault of an economic system that serves only the 1%.


    Fredrik deBoer

  • October 7, 2014 9:07 am

Ralf Alwani
Mitten Crab Fishery and Eel Aquaculture


    Ralf Alwani

    Mitten Crab Fishery and Eel Aquaculture

  • October 7, 2014 7:51 am


    Adobe is gathering data on the ebooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order. All of this data, including the title, publisher, and other metadata for the book is being sent to Adobe’s server in clear text.

    I am not joking; Adobe is not only logging what users are doing, they’re also sending those logs to their servers in such a way that anyone running one of the servers in between can listen in and know everything,

    But wait, there’s more.

    Adobe isn’t just tracking what users are doing in DE4; this app was also scanning my computer, gathering the metadata from all of the ebooks sitting on my hard disk, and uploading that data to Adobe’s servers.

    In. Plain. Text.

    And just to be clear, this includes not just ebooks I opened in DE4, but also ebooks I store in calibre and every Epub ebook I happen to have sitting on my hard disk.


    Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries - The Digital Reader

  • October 7, 2014 7:49 am

    "The Maker of man became Man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Grape, might be crowned with thorns; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die."

    — Augustine- Sermon 191 (via unapologetic-book)

    (Source: paulstead)

  • October 6, 2014 7:35 pm

    "Tolkien’s ring of power is a plain gold ring, of course, and embodies a series of quite complex valences to do with binding, with vows and marriage. But at the same time as being a blank surface, the ring is also paradoxically (which is to say, magically) lettered. The ring, in other words, is a book. To be sure it is a short book; its whole text is the one ring charm. But a short book is still a book. Looked at this way, Lord of the Rings becomes a strangely self-destructive fable—a book about the quest to destroy a book, a long string of carefully chosen words positing a world in which words have magical power to huge evil. How few books there are in Middle Earth! Indeed, I’ve written elsewhere about not just the paucity of written texts in Tolkien’s world, but the way they keep getting misread. Gandalf scratches his rune at Weathertop; the hobbits misread it. The elven door in Moria, beautifully lettered, commands ‘speak friend and enter!’ and nobody understands its simple instruction. The fellowship find a dwarfish book in the mines, as scorched and battered as poor old Beowulf; but as they read it aloud (‘drums in the deep’, ‘we cannot get out’) it becomes true to them, and they repeat the words as suddenly, horribly, appropriate to their own predicament. The repeated theme is the danger of words; their slipperiness but also the ease with which they can move us directly into the malign world of the text. One ring to bind us all. Books are bound, too."

    Adam Roberts packs more provocative insight into a blog post than almost anyone else can get into a book (burned or whole).

  • October 6, 2014 7:26 pm

Here’s a poster I did for the German Literature Prize, which is being presented at the Frankfurt Book Festival this week. They gave the award to my book “I Want My Hat Back” last year.  View high resolution


    Here’s a poster I did for the German Literature Prize, which is being presented at the Frankfurt Book Festival this week. They gave the award to my book “I Want My Hat Back” last year. 

  • October 6, 2014 1:03 pm

    "Once upon a time, a visiting scholar presented a lecture on the topic: ‘How many philosophical positions are there in principle?’ ‘In principle,’ he began, ‘there are exactly 12 philosophical positions.’ A voice called from the audience: ‘Thirteen.’ ‘There are,’ the lecturer repeated, ‘exactly 12 possible philosophical positions; not one less and not one more.’ ‘Thirteen,’ the voice from the audience called again. ‘Very well, then,’ said the lecturer, now perceptibly irked, ‘I shall proceed to enumerate the 12 possible philosophical positions. The first is sometimes called “naive realism”. It is the view according to which things are, by and large, very much the way that they seem to be.’ ‘Oh,’ said the voice from the audience. ‘Fourteen!’"

    Jerry Fodor

  • October 6, 2014 12:50 pm

    "Pope Francis … sent a subtle but powerful signal last month when he presided over the marriage in Rome of 20 couples of various ages, whose lives were somewhat unconventional by the standards of the church, although perfectly ordinary in most worldly terms. They included a bride who was already a mother, people who had been married before, and people who had been living together."

    Catholicism and the family: The letter and the spirit | The Economist. I cite this as one of a dozen or more articles and posts I have seen claiming that Pope Francis is doing something radical … by presiding over Catholic marriages. Isn’t encouraging people to marry rather than to continue “living in sin” exactly what every traditionalist Catholic (and more broadly traditionalist Christian) would endorse?

    I have a feeling that if Pope Benedict had done exactly the same thing he would have been stridently denounced for forcing today’s flexible tolerant people into the Procrustean bed of a traditional and unitary Catholic model of matrimony.