The Austin Chronicle

Temples and Playgrounds

Previewing the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Nov. 3-4

By James Renovitch, November 2, 2007, Books

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

by A.J. Jacobs
Simon & Schuster, 388 pp., $25

To follow up the bestselling book The Know-It-All, for which he read the Encyclopaedia Brittanica from "A" to "Z" and lived to talk about it, A.J. Jacobs takes on another masochistic but hopefully rewarding endeavor as he attempts to follow the Bible to the letter. Every commandment, every rule, every advisement – more than 700 by Jacobs' count – must be obeyed, at least as much as a modern-day New Yorker can. The easy rules: no boiling a young goat in the milk of its mother (Exodus 23:19). The awkward ones: no touching a woman for a week after her period (Leviticus 15:19). And the seemingly inane: no wearing clothes of mixed fibers (Leviticus 19:19). Calling it "one man's humble quest" might be a misnomer as Jacobs' increasingly bearded mug is pictured throughout (his battle against vanity seems lost at the onset), but the lovable germaphobe knows that his books thrive on personality and humor.

Jacobs cites three reasons for his yearlong adherence: to make this sophomore effort in the vein of Know-It-All, to experimentally give his agnostic heart a dose of God, and to tackle the hot topic of biblical literalism in America. He balances the humor of the personal anecdotes, the factual tidbits of biblical history, and the immersion journalism (including trips to Jerusalem and the Creation Museum) without losing his cynic's heart or stooping for the easy jab at religious fundamentalists. An editor by trade, Jacobs rarely wastes a word. The decorative language he does use gives punch to the punch lines and keeps the slower passages from stagnating. Ultimately he keeps the reader reading, usually with a smile. Jacobs may be typecasting himself as the Johnny Knoxville of the magazine set, but he takes the gifts God gave him and creates an enjoyable mixture of memoir and social commentary.

Jacobs' wife, Julie, whose asshole detector is finely tuned, lets few biblically inspired slights pass without at least a pithy comment if not some sort of revenge. She grounds the book and Jacobs himself as the actions of the narrator become increasingly quirky and difficult to live with. Try not lying for a year with a spouse and a 2-year-old, and see how far you get.

Saturday, Nov. 3, 8pm
Dell Jewish Community Center (7300 Hart) in a joint event with the Jewish Book Fair; for a schedule, see previous page, and go to for admission information and more

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.