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The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

A. J. Jacobs
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 9 2007
A. J. Jacobs, an editor at large for Esquire and author of the best-selling The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Be the Smartest Person in the World (**1/2 Jan/Feb 2005), the book that required him to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z, has a reputation as a "stunt journalist." In his latest effort, he offers a timely and, for the most part, engaging (if occasionally jumpy) memoir of his attempt at "living biblically." Critics enjoyed the book more for the humor inherent in the situations that Jacobs creates (think of him as a low-key Borat on a sort of spiritual pilgrimage) than any epiphany that comes of those experiences during his year-long quest. In sum, Year is entertaining, though maybe not the book for readers who want to see such a transformation recounted with the fervor of the true believer.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. What would it require for a person to live all the commandments of the Bible for an entire year? That is the question that animates this hilarious, quixotic, thought-provoking memoir from Jacobs (The Know-It-All). He didn't just keep the Bible's better-known moral laws (being honest, tithing to charity and trying to curb his lust), but also the obscure and unfathomable ones: not mixing wool with linen in his clothing; calling the days of the week by their ordinal numbers to avoid voicing the names of pagan gods; trying his hand at a 10-string harp; growing a ZZ Top beard; eating crickets; and paying the babysitter in cash at the end of each work day. (He considered some rules, such as killing magicians, too legally questionable to uphold.) In his attempts at living the Bible to the letter, Jacobs hits the road in highly entertaining fashion to meet other literalists, including Samaritans in Israel, snake handlers in Appalachia, Amish in Lancaster County, Pa., and biblical creationists in Kentucky. Throughout his journey, Jacobs comes across as a generous and thoughtful (and, yes, slightly neurotic) participant observer, lacing his story with absurdly funny cultural commentary as well as nuanced insights into the impossible task of biblical literalism. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

Jacobs does projects, not just books. For The Know-It-All (2004), he read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. For the follow-up, he tried for a year to observe the Bible's 700-odd rules for righteous behavior. He let his beard grow, wore only garments made of unmixed fibers, prayed regularly, essayed biblical disciplining (short of the physical) of his two-year-old son, and practiced the purity laws: no sex for awhile after his wife menstruated; no shaking hands; lots of washing; not eating this and eating that; et cetera ad infinitum, it seems. Informally counseled throughout by a clatch of Jewish and Christian advisors, he also queried members of such strict sects as the Amish, the Samaritans, and snake-handling Pentecostals. He maintained his staff-writer chores at Esquire and his domestic responsibilities, and he became the father of twins during the long experiment, which he reports in a continuum of journal-like summaries. If he starts out sounding like an interminable Ira Glass monologue, smarmy and name-dropping, he becomes much less off-putting as the year progresses, for he develops a serious conscience about such quotidian failings as self-centeredness, lying, swearing, and disparaging others. He may not be, he may never become, a moral giant, but he certainly seems to be a nicer guy. Olson, Ray

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From the Outside In April 7 2008
By Peter Cantelon TOP 500 REVIEWER
The book is Jacobs' journal of his attempt to follow the Bible as literally as possible. He documented more than 700 rules in the Hebrew and Christian bible. As a pastor you can imagine why I needed to read this. Jacobs starts his Biblical journey (as I started mine as reader) as a bit of a skeptic. He describes himself as a secular Jew but says "...I'm Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant." A self-described agnostic - religion, the Bible and God had not taken up a lot of thought room in his life up to this point.

Jacob's research is very well done. He does not simply read the Bible but draws upon over a hundred Jewish and Christian resources as well as creating and regularly seeking the counsel of a spiritual advisory board made up of conservative and liberal rabbis, mainline and evangelical pastors. His bibliogrpahy is neither staunchly left or right but a mix of both and the middle. I especially appreciated a referance to Dennis Covington's fantastic book Salvation on Sand Mountain (which I have also read) and Jacobs' own visit to Appalachia. He also variously speaks to Tony Campolo, Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis), an Amish innkeeper, as well as visits Jerry Falwell's church, and several Bible study groups that cover the spectrum from conservative to liberal, etc. You get the idea.

The insights that Jacobs has into religion, the Bible, God and believers in general are quite incredible. Many of them are very affirming for me as a pastor and a Christ follower. As a believer, one cannot, no matter how hard one tries, fully put themselves into the shoes of a non-believer and see what they see or understand as they understand so the book does a great service in this sense.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rules are made to be broken Dec 29 2007
AJ has written a remarkable book that transforms himself and the reader into a diverse perspective of strict religious life in a secular world of New York City. Similar to John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me,The Year of Living Biblically doesn't just observe a culture that he isn't part of but fully becomes part of that culture. The modern day saying, rules are made to be broken, don't apply here.

The Year of Living Biblically is written in a wonderful humours and intelligent style. Working on a subject that could have many cheap shots, AJ shows the read that he is a much better person and writer then that. Practicing biblical laws in today's world can be a difficult thing to do. Some are so bizarre one has to ask; 'What were they think of?' AJ and his panel of advisor's make a good case for their original uses and why they're practiced by many today.
The hard liner fundamentalist and atheist maybe disappointed in The Year of Living Biblically. There is no silver bullet for either side. Not to give the book away, but for me the open-minded person will come away with a stronger understanding of an ancient mind set and how and why it was applied their religion.

The reader may also come away with some new habits. I now put my right shoe on then my left, then tie my left then my right shoe. Read the book to find out why.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mirth and Myrrh Jan. 18 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read this book on a beach in Los Cabos Mexico. What a delightful find and perfect for a holiday read. It was thoughtful, enlightening and laugh-out-loud funny. I not only learned a lot about the Bible, I also became more self aware. It made me consider my own behaviour in relationship to the Ten Commandments. A. J. Jacobs is a wonderful writer, and an adept storyteller. And his wife must be a saint.

Don't miss out. It'll surprise you. I promise.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh out loud funny along with spiritual insights April 18 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is an extremely well-written account of a spiritual journey that was fully and carefully researched, and included consultation with a wide spectrum of advisors before the writer set out on his quest. The book could have been a mere stunt: “look at me; aren’t I funny? Aren’t these fundamentalist interpretations of the scripture both quaint and ridiculous? And aren’t those who adhere to them either stupid or wilfully blind?”

Instead, while the author has written a book that is indeed often very funny (cf. stoning an adulterer), it is written with such humility and generosity that it never becomes condescending or patronizing to those whose views the author cannot share (i.e. creationists, Hasidic Jews.) He is somewhat less generous, and rightfully so, to those who exploit the credulity of other to enrich themselves--the Jerry Fallwells of this world.

A. J. Jacobs is Jewish but what he has to say is relevant to any person struggling with belief. A wise man told him not to expect to be the same person at the end of his year as he was at the beginning, and a note at the end of a later book about carrying out various projects,) which I also enjoyed, confirms that. He describes himself now as “a reverent agnostic”. Not a bad place to be--but probably, considering his relative youth, his inquisitive nature, and the moments of transcendence he experienced as a child and adolescent, not his final position.

As a practicing (I’m still learning) liberal Episcopalian, I’ve been recommending this book to many members of the parish to which I belong.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Had Potential.. then Lost Momentum
Having seen A.J. Jacobs on TED TALKS discussing this project, I was curious enough to go to my local library to borrow a copy.
It began very fascinating and even quite witty. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Cheryl Bain
1.0 out of 5 stars wate of money!
I don't know where the humor is supposed to be in this book. At day 50 it was so boring I put it in the recycle bin! Waste of time and money; don't buy it.
Published 17 months ago by Ron 4310
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning without realizing it!
"The Year of Living Biblically" is A.J. Jacobs' documentation of his adventure with religion. He lives a year of his life trying to follow as many rules in the Bible as literally... Read more
Published 20 months ago by TorontoGirl007
5.0 out of 5 stars Living Biblically, Honestly, and Humorously
As someone that has never read the bible, but considers themselves a believer nonetheless, I was simply amazed by the honesty and commitment that A.J. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Natasha Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and quite entertaining
I'm nearing the end of the book but couldn't wait to post a brief review of it.

I am agnostic and on the continuum between theist and atheist, I lean more towards the... Read more
Published on May 5 2012 by crono_
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for everyone
I'm an atheist, so I probably wouldn't have been offended if AJ had been harder on and more ridiculing of all the rules he had to follow. But I'm glad he didn't. Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2012 by Anne Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars HIghly Recommended
This book, without a doubt, delivers exactly what you're looking for when purchasing a memoir from a humourist. There is absolutely nothing lacking...except more pages. Read more
Published on Aug. 17 2010 by S. Jager
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing interactive book!
I read this book from cover to cover in the emergency room. I am a seminary student and heard a lot of bashing when the book was extremely popular. Read more
Published on Aug. 11 2009 by Caleb Hull
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Perspective
As a pastor, I'm always trying to find my own path through the thicket of rules and commandments of the Bible and I was very grateful to my friend who suggested this book. Read more
Published on April 17 2009 by TheRevB
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Entertaining
I found this book to be very entertaining and informative at the same time. The author did an great job combining humour and religious tolerance. Read more
Published on March 5 2009 by H. Mack
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