Thoughtful reflections on virtue and vice.
Prompted by her 2010 blog of the same name, native Wyoming writer Jordan (Field Notes from Yosemite, 2003, etc.) collects various postings and essays inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s list of 13 virtues. Franklin’s aspiration, undertaken in his early 20s, was to attempt “the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” Jordan’s yearlong expository expedition led her to examine morality on a weekly basis—notably with “weekends off”—through a “weave of story and science.” What “started as a way to practice writing,” Jordan admits, led to the greater project of finding “a way to practice life.” Along the way, the author used each of Franklin’s virtues—temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, humility—and the seven deadly sins—lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, pride—as a springboard for contemplation. Though Jordan’s subjects lend advice aplenty for self-improvement, these philosophical thoughts stop short of being dogmatic. Jordan successfully incorporates lessons gleaned from formative moments in her own life with those from the biographies of relative unknowns and artists and thinkers as famous as Franklin, and she delves deep, especially in the more extended essays, into the essence of contrasting modes of being. Particularly keen are Jordan’s observations on the seven deadly sins: on envy—“The seven sins are not equal-opportunity tormentors….Only envy offers no reward. It doesn’t even have to focus on a rival to ruin our day”; gluttony—“Ever since Eve snagged that apple and offered it to Adam, food has been fraught with complication”; pride—“Of all the vices, pride is the most likely to invite debate about whether it is a sin at all.”
Jordan’s engaging collection abounds with provocative inquiry, offering plenty of food for thought.