Kirkus Reviews QR Code


One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

by A.J. Jacobs

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9147-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Esquire editor-at-large Jacobs, who read the entire 2002 Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All (2004), embarks on his second lofty exploit: a year of living the Bible “as literally as possible.”

Like David confronting Goliath, Jacobs stood before his ex-girlfriend’s Bible and pledged to spend the following 12 months (much of that time in New York City) exploring biblical literalism by living the good book as it was originally intended. The author attempted to follow many infamous biblical dictums—growing a beard (he does), eschewing menstruating women (he tries), accepting Creationism, keeping the Sabbath, praying three times a day, dancing before the Lord (and thus attending “the loudest, rowdiest, most drunken party of my life…with several hundred Hasidic men”), stoning blasphemers (a futile pebble toss at a pot-bellied, Sabbath-breaking Avis employee)—and learned in the process that living the Bible literally is baffling and often impossible. Rules like destroying idols and killing magicians, for example, are federally outlawed. Jacobs paid attention to both the Old and New Testaments, and received help from a board of spiritual advisors, “some conservative, some one four-letter word away from excommunication.” His efforts at this daunting task are impressive and often tremendously amusing—though rarely deep or scholarly. The author’s determination despite constant complications from his modern secular life (wife, job, family, NYC) underscores both the absurdity of his plight and its profundity. While debunking biblical literalism—with dinner party–ready scriptural quotes—Jacobs simultaneously finds his spirituality renewed. He discovers that “you can’t immerse yourself in religion for 12 months and emerge unaffected...I didn’t expect to fondle a pigeon egg…or find solace in prayer.”

A biblical travelogue—and far funnier than your standard King James.