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 15, 2014 3:49 pm


    Fin and Rye are proficient with most of the hand and power tools that form the backbone of any working farm. By the time they were eight, both of them could operate the tractor and, in a pinch, drive the truck with a load of logs. They split firewood alongside us, swinging their mauls with remarkable accuracy. They are both licensed hunters and own .22 rifles and 20-gauge shotguns. They wear belt knives almost everywhere, oblivious to the stares of the adults around them, some concerned, some perplexed, and some, it often seems to me, nostalgic.

    Our sons are not entirely self-taught; we understand the limits of the young mind and its still-developing capacity for judgment. None of these responsibilities were granted at an arbitrary, age-based marker, but rather as the natural outgrowth of their evolving skills and maturity. We have noticed, however, that the more responsibility we give our sons, the more they assume. The more we trust them, the more trustworthy they become. This may sound patronizingly obvious, yet I cannot help but notice the starring role that institutionalized education—with its inherent risk aversion—plays in expunging these qualities.


    Unschooling: The Case for Setting Your Kids Into the Wild

  • August 14, 2014 7:20 pm

    There has never been a better Gospel singer than Sam Cooke. He was around 25 when this was recorded, and had already developed his inimitable vocal style.

  • August 14, 2014 6:50 pm


    CT: Yes, but I have to say that there are lots of very, very valid criticisms of the form that “you didn’t take account of …” because, as I tried to say in the preface, [A Secular Age] is really like a collection of essays. I realized that my experience puts me in the centre, in the middle of the Anglophone, of the Francophone, and, because of my reading and interest in Germany, in the middle of the Germanophone…, okay?

    But it’s also very Catholic-centred. I got this brilliant letter from a Dane who has written a brilliant book, and I hope I can get it translated, saying, “You didn’t understand Luther. You don’t understand how this makes for a different account.” Well, guilty as charged! I mean, I think of [A Secular Age] as a kind of sketch of what will one day (but never come!) be a more complete picture of that question of the Western World.

    JS: Well, I think it has functioned as an invitation in that respect. You’re quite content to see people take pieces and trajectories and follow them more deeply and carefully and fill out, colour in the cartoon, as it were.

    CT: Yeah, that’s right. Or change some of my summary judgments. You made the point [in How (Not) to Be Secular] about Calvin, and obviously Calvin is not one of my strong points. So I recognize that there are lots of things missing here, but what I’m tremendously pleased at, frankly, is that it started a discussion. Instead of people saying, “He didn’t write about that, so let’s forget that,” people say, “He didn’t write about that!” [laughs]

    JS: Yes, and now, “Let’s undertake the work.” It’s a wonderful catalyst for what I think will be a generation of people who are working on these questions, which again, have such existential import.


    "Why Do I See the World So Differently?" | Comment Magazine. The whole interview of Charles Taylor (CT) by Jamie Smith (JS) is great, but this is my favorite part. A vast comprehensive narrative like A Secular Age (or for that matter Sources of the Self) is not meant to end the conversation but to deepen, enrich, and propel it. The best readers of A Secular Age will be engaged in critical reflection on it, in charitable dispute with it. But it’s a massive and, to my mind, necessary achievement — one of the most important books of our time.

  • August 13, 2014 9:17 am


    In Afghanistan, we patrolled in big, armored trucks. We wore uniforms that conveyed the message, “We are a military force, and we are in control right now.” Many Afghans saw us as occupiers.

    And now we see some of our police officers in this same way. “The militarization of law enforcement is counter-productive to domestic policing and needs to stop,” tweeted Andrew Exum, a former Army infantry officer.

    If there’s one thing I learned in Afghanistan, it’s this: You can’t win a person’s heart and mind when you are pointing a rifle at his or her chest.


    This Is The Terrifying Result Of The Militarization Of Police

  • August 13, 2014 9:15 am

    "Set the douche bags aside, and some of the remaining comments do have value—I agree! But that’s a strange response, falsely set up in opposition to those who make the case for removing commenting functionality from a publisher’s website. An argument for the end of comments isn’t actually an argument against the value of comments. They just don’t belong at the end of or alongside posts, as if they’re always some extension of or relevant to the original. They belong on personal blogs, or on Twitter or Tumblr or Reddit, where individuals build a full, searchable body of work and can be judged accordingly. Hell, put them all on Medium, and let Evan Williams try to sell the douche bags to BMW. As Annemarie Dooling pointed out on Wired today, you’re not going to scare off all of the trolls by forcing commenters to use their real names on your site—that’s why publishers that have implemented Facebook’s commenting platform have some of the same problems everyone else does—but, if done right, you can push them under the bridge and make that bridge easy for everyone else to identify and avoid while at the same time encouraging a more thoughtful, considered dialogue that takes place across sites and between publishers."

    Just Kill All of the Comments Already

  • August 13, 2014 9:14 am


    The remake of the bachelor’s degree should begin with its starting point. Many 18-year-olds are simply not ready to start college only three months after graduating from high school. Yet there are few organized, inexpensive options available if they want to delay college to earn money, gain credits, or just figure out what they want to do in life. More campuses should follow the lead of Tufts University, which beginning this fall will build a structured gap year into the curriculum for some students by providing a year of full-time national or international service before they arrive on the campus.

    The idea that “college” is one specific place where we spend four years just after high school made sense when we had shorter life expectancies and worked for one employer our entire careers. But given the frequency with which Americans change jobs and careers today, we need access to higher education at various points in our lifetimes, not just for a few years at the age of 18.


    The Overworked Bachelor’s Degree Needs a Makeover

  • August 11, 2014 7:51 am

    "The Autarch is genteel by comparison, less dehumanising, and we can admire it today as a museum piece, like we would the contraptions that entertained the aristocracy in earlier times. But it’s also a historical object, made at a time when a loutish and deeply uncultured regime presided over the extraordinary flourishing of our industrial design – another oddity of which this very odd object is an expression and a relic – then plunged us into a war that destroyed nearly everything."

    Giovanni Tiso describes The Autarch, a mechanical table containing everything you need to serve a meal.

  • August 10, 2014 9:52 am

    The books that meant the most to me in my teen years, in the editions that I knew then. (Those covers are burned into my memory.)

  • August 10, 2014 8:37 am

    I like what happens when you type “old book covers” into Google Image Search.

  • August 10, 2014 8:21 am
  • August 10, 2014 8:20 am


    So we must protect and respect each other, no matter how hard it feels. No matter how wrong someone else may seem to us, they are still human. No matter how bad someone may appear, they are truly no worse than us. Our beliefs and behavior don’t make us fundamentally better than others, no matter how satisfying it is to believe otherwise. We must be tireless in our efforts to see things from the point of view we most disagree with. We must make endless efforts to try and understand the people we least relate to. And we must at all times force ourselves to love the people we dislike the most. Not because it’s nice or because they deserve it, but because our own sanity and survival depends on it. And if we do find ourselves pushed into a corner where we must kill others in order to survive, we must fully accept that we are killing people just as fully human as ourselves, and not some evil abstract creatures.

    Love your dad because he’s your father, because he made you, because he thinks for himself, and most of all because he is a person. Have the strength to doubt and question what you believe as easily as you’re so quick to doubt his beliefs. Live with a truly open mind — the kind of open mind that even questions the idea of an open mind. Don’t feel the need to always pick a side. And if you do pick a side, pick the side of love. It remains our only real hope for survival and has more power to save us than any other belief we could ever cling to.

    Your friend,
    Andrew W.K.


    Andrew W.K., advice columnist

  • August 4, 2014 7:47 pm


    There’s an irony in parents’ flawed perceptions, and their very real consequences: at the same time parents significantly limit the freedom and autonomy of their kids, they also want their kids to “think for themselves” and be independent. The same parents that won’t let their child out of their sight want her to be independent, make her own decisions, and think for herself. Parents value autonomy and independence, but they’re reluctant and frightened to give much of it.

    It’s not that parents are unaware of this contradiction. They observe a “real culture for overprotecting kids,” as one mother put it, and many weren’t entirely comfortable with it, but most felt powerless to do anything about it.

    Parents are bothered by the changing nature of childhood—they feel it was “better” to have more freedom and independence; they think their children are missing out on important formative experiences. But very few parents can even imagine giving their own children that freedom. Ironically, parents today both lament a world gone by and actively participate in the construction of a new world of constant monitoring and control.


    The Irony of the Overprotected Child | Family Studies. Via Noah Toly on Twitter.

  • August 4, 2014 7:36 pm
  • August 4, 2014 6:42 pm


    Tonight begins the fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, the Jewish collective day of mourning. All the great calamities of Jewish history are collectively ascribed to this day, beginning with the sin of the Golden Calf, continuing through the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and onward to the expulsion from Spain. Traditional observance includes a 25-hour fast, plus observance of the other rites of mourning (no bathing, no wearing of leather shoes, no sex), plus the extraordinary prohibition of most Torah study (because studying Torah is a joyous activity).

    Once upon a time, I found Tisha B’Av deeply moving. Chanting the Book of Lamentations on the floor of my synagogue, I felt the kind of primal connection with other generations across time and space that is so central to Jewish religiosity. Tisha B’Av was a time of longing for a return to wholeness that I longed for on a personal level as well – but also an important corrective to narratives of national grievance and triumphalism, a recognition of essential vulnerability, that God’s will cannot ever truly be known, His favor ever truly assured for any particular moment in time. Lamentations, after all, is just that: a lament, a cry of pain, not an accusation or a confession or a call to arms. And the sole traditional rabbinic text studied on the day is an account of the destruction of the Second Temple that begins with a dispute over a mistaken invitation to a party. Such a narrative is perhaps the subtlest way to undermine the perspective of the zealots of Jerusalem, that all that was needed to prevail was faith and will.


    Noah Millman

  • August 4, 2014 5:59 pm


    Samuel Johnson, in his life of Dryden, reports that throughout the spring of 1686 the fifty-six-year-old laureate could often be seen strolling Leicester Field at daybreak, barefoot, in his nightclothes, skimming dew from leaves into a glass beaker. Dryden apparently ignored anyone who addressed him during these excursions. The beaker full, he would disappear into 44 Gerrard Street to work, in the same nightclothes, on The Hind and the Panther. No one is sure what Dryden did with the dew. Johnson admits uneasily that he is supposed to have drunk it, though Green and Giordani argue that he used it to boil gallnuts for ink. According to neighbors, Dryden sometimes leaned from his study window during work and in an inaudible whisper asked passing children or carriages to be quiet while elaborately pretending to shoot them down with bow and arrow. At 1:00 PM sharp, Dryden would scratch out his last five couplets, rise from his writing desk, pray, dress, and walk to his day job as Historiographer Royal, where he behaved normally. At day’s end he went home, dined with his wife, took laudanum, and slept with an upholstered wood block for a pillow.

    In my experience, if a contemporary reader of poetry has never before heard this account of Dryden, it can add considerable interest. I know this was true for me, and I made the whole thing up.


    I Thought You Were a Poet by Joshua Mehigan