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

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Amazon Best of the Month, September 2007: Make no mistake: A.J. Jacobs is not a religious man. He describes himself as Jewish "in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant." Yet his latest work, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, is an insightful and hilarious journey for readers of all faiths. Though no fatted calves were harmed in the making of this book, Jacobs chronicles 12 months living a remarkably strict Biblical life full of charity, chastity, and facial hair as impressive as anything found in The Lord of the Rings. Through it all, he manages to brilliantly keep things light, while avoiding the sinful eye of judgment. --Dave Callanan
Subtitled: "One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible," Jacobs, or A.J., as his two-year-old son calls him, does just that. It is likely that no one but A.J. Jacobs could have accomplished such a feat. After all, his last book, The Know-It-All, chronicles his reading of the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica, from A to Z. No one but a smart, witty, self-deprecating, nitpicky kinda guy would undertake two such daunting tasks, and complete them with grace, no pun intended.

Jacobs, a New York Jewish agnostic, decides to follow the laws and rules of the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament, for one year. (He actually adds some bonus days and makes it a 381-day year.) He starts by growing a beard and we are with him through every itchy moment. Jacobs is borderline OCD, at least as he describes himself; obsessing over possible dangers to his son, germs, literal interpretation of Bible verses, etc. He enlists the aid of counselors along the way; Jewish rabbis, Christians of every stripe, friends and neighbors.

In an open-minded way he also visits with atheists, Evangelicals Concerned (a gay group), Jerry Falwell, snake handlers, Red Letter Christians--those who adhere to the red letters in the Bible, those words spoken by Jesus Himself, and even takes a trip to Israel and meets Samaritans. Through it all, he keeps a healthy skepticism, but continues to pray and is open to the flowering of real faith. Jacobs is a knowledge junky, to be sure. He enjoys the lore he picks up along the way as much as any other aspect of his experiment. One of the ongoing schticks is his meeting with the shatnez tester, Mr. Berkowitz. He is the one who determines whether or not your clothes are made of mixed fibers, in keeping with the Biblical injunction not to wear wool and linen together. The two become friends and prayer partners, in only one of the unexpected results of this year.

In the end, he says, "I'm now a reverent agnostic. Which isn't an oxymoron, I swear. I now believe that whether or not there's a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred." Not a bad outcome. --Valerie Ryan

From the bestselling author of The Know-It-All comes a fascinating and timely exploration of religion and the Bible. Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments. To be fruitful and multiply. To love his neighbor. But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers. The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history's most influential book with new eyes. Jacobs's quest transforms his life even more radically than the year spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All. His beard grows so unruly that he is regularly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top. He immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry, and tells the absolute truth in all situations - much to his wife's chagrin. Throughout the book, Jacobs also embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally. He tours a Kentucky-based creationist museum and sings hymns with Pennsylvania Amish. He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah's Witnesses. He discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance. And he wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle the twenty-first-century brain. Jacobs's extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges. A book that will charm readers both secular and religious, The Year of Living Biblically is part Cliff Notes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable. Thou shalt not be able to put it down.

Customer Reviews:

  • Excellent read
    This was a much better book than expected. The author brings a lot of humor and common sense that is often lacking in discussions of the bible. Definitely worth checking out!...more info
  • An amazing book with an extremely interesting subject
    As a preface, let me say that this book was a birthday present. Not to say it in a demeaning way, but what I mean that I had expected it to be a mildly interesting book at best. However, I have found that this was one of the best books I have read in a long, long time. One of the few books I am able to read for hours without putting down.

    The reason for this can be attributed to largely three things: Writing style, subject matter, and open minded approach to subject matter.

    To begin, the author, A.J. Jacobs, has a very good writing style. The entire book is written in sort of a 'journal' method. As the days passes, Jacobs records his experiences in various journal entries. This makes it very easy to read through the book. Furthermore, Jacobs has a humorous writing style which is able to make sometimes bland situations seems funny, which increases the readability of the book.

    Next, of course, is the subject matter. The subject is one which has wide reaching appeal. We all know that it is simply impossible to live like people in the Bible (for many reasons), but we nonetheless want to see someone try to do it. Although Jacobs inevitably had to compromise in some situations, I think he rather pulled it off admirably. He made sacrifices, he stoned adulterers, he punished his children, and he dresses for the part.

    The open minded way he approach the subject also helped immensely. Truthfully, I myself am an atheist (former Christian), but not really the 'Richard Dawkins' type atheist. It would have put me off greatly if he had approach the subject matter with disdain or outright hostility. However, I was happy to find he approach them all with a very open mind. He interviewed several groups, several famous people, and generally try to present the perspective of groups that are often maligned due to lack of understanding.

    If there is any complaint about the book, I do have one. I was somewhat disappointed to find that he wasn't able to get into the New Testament as well as he could get into the Old Testament. However, I do find it to be completely understandable. Not only is Jacobs agnostic, but he's also Jewish. I would imagine that getting into the Christian Bible would have been highly difficult and, as he says in the book, awkward to his ancestors.

    Regardless, I do highly recommend the book. Not only is it intensely enjoyable, but it is also very educational. I learned many things from the book (much of which from reading about his visits with Christian groups) and I receive a new perspective on how to see the Bible. Overall, I would recommend this book for anyone looking to enjoy a good read....more info
  • None of us is perfect
    Reading AJ Jacob's year long account of his quest to live according to the Bible made me feel better about my own attempts. His humor livens every page. Who would've thunk?
    Chris...more info
  • Touching and Funny
    Although not as funny as the author's previous book the Know-It-All, it has largely more to do with the subject matter than the author's efforts. Some parts of religion are just not that funny. This is a terrific survey of the author's experience with judaism and christianity from a previous (mostly) secular viewpoint. He discovers both positives and negatives, smart people and dumb people, sane and crazy. Although he doesn't hit a lot of topics too deeply, he makes a thorough survey. Less a religion textbook, more about one guy's experience with God and a lot of facial hair!...more info
  • So Funny and yet I learned a lot
    I'm almost done reading this great book and have to say between side splitting laughter I walked away with a lot of biblical trivia that may come in handy at some time. I think I will catch more references as I go through life such as gleanings and many more. Pick this book up because it will be a light side splitter that you will want to pick up again and again. ...more info
  • note to author
    loved your first book. loved this book. put down the kids pick up the pen i am waiting for the third.....more info
  • Great Read!!!
    What a wonderful story. It is so refreshing to take a break from my own soul to look into someone else's. I love reading an author that is completely honest with a reader the way you are!! I know for a fact after reading your book that you check your Amazon ratings consistently or at least did. So I'd like to tell you directly that I feel like a better person after having read your book. My father is a Christian minister and being a pastors kid has made religion a subject I'm easy to shy away from. Thanks for helping me realize, what I needed to realize. I'll leave it at that. On the other hand I'm a huge rock and roll history fan and I want to know if anything has ever come of your neighbor's book? I'm extremely eager to read her words even if incomplete. Will you Blog on the progress of her book, or shoot me an e-mail? Thanks Mr. Jacobs. ...more info
  • i've never read a book so fast!
    my hubby bought me this book on a whim for Christmas last year. it looked interesting enough so i made it my first pick for this years "a-book-a-month" resolution. this was such a good and fast read, i loved it! a sincerely funny, honest and genuine look into both the generally accepted and the quirky Biblical commands. at first glance i thought this book was a Christians only book but once you read the subtitle & notice the Starbucks in his hand you realize this is something so much more. both agnostics & religious people (as i feel i am both... don't ask me how that works) will really enjoy this book. i learned a lot about the Bible, religion and myself. i do believe i will be adding his other book to my reading list for this year.
    ...more info
  • Out With The Old...In With The New
    As others have said, the text is amusing and engaging...up until the author's ethnicity begins to clash with the project.

    Once the author begins the New Testament, he is unsure of how to proceed...he then radically changes the forumlae developed in the bulk of the text and decides to simply visit several established Christian denominations. The author focuses on fringe Christianity groups rather than exploring the New Testament with the same enthusiasm and desire to self-interpret that made the Old Testament coverage so fun to read.

    As such, I consider the Old Testament coverage a must-read...while the New Testament is effectively a no-show (worse, a bore and a waste). I would rate the text as a whole therefore 2.5/5 stars...since the text SHOULD be titled "The Year of Living Old Testament: One Jewish-American's Humble Question to Follow the Old Testament as somewhate-Literally as Possible". That text, shortened the appropriate length, would be a 5/5 star experience.

    Deliver half of the goods...receive half of the stars. Please note that any negative comments are directed at the text itself, not the author....more info
  • too one-sided
    Something about Esquire writers -- they're hilarious and thoughtful in the magazine, but they turn into little boys once they write a book. I'm thinking specifically of Chuck Klosterman, but now AJ Jacobs falls into this camp.

    Jacobs is funny, and much of this book gave me good food for thought. I learned a lot. However, I found his slant insulting. He devotes 9 months to living as an Orthodox Jew, then only 3 months to the Christian strain. I thought organized religion was bull before I read this book -- now I'm even more certain. The Old Testament "rules" Jacobs follows are amazingly sexist and ridiculous --and yet he always excuses them, justifies them, or points to some far-reaching, ridiculous explanation to make it all okay. Example: No touching women--because "it's really a *respect* for life." Ha! (the women, in orthodox circles, folks, are also not allowed to dance and celebrate. explain that one, aj.)

    Yet when AJ explores living as a Christian, he thinks it's okay to lie to the Christians he meets, and criticize them, such as calling the Creationist Museum "a waste of creativity and intelligence." Yeah, well, I think similarly of the Orthodox conventions, AJ.

    Also-he and his wife are such pushovers with their kid. Allowing your kid to hit you and laugh at you is not cool. I only hope his next book is "A Year of Parenting Lessons."...more info
  • Can't Put It Down Book
    I started reading this book because I thought it was a great concept: nonreligious guy tries to live Biblically in a very literal way for one year. I thought it'd be entertaining. Well I'm not even half way through and it's so entertaining, so thought-provoking and funny I have a very hard time putting it down. A.J. is an intelligent, open, and witty writer. I'm from a very religious background and it's interesting to hear from "the other side" what he thinks of people like us, and how we live. Even though I haven't finished the book, I highly recommend this and will be reading The Know-it-All next. What's next, A.J.?...more info
  • Good, Self Name Dropper
    I really enjoyed this book. I am no religion fanatic, but one I read the description on the cover it immediately caught my attention. I got right into the book and couldn't put it down. I do not think that Jacobs is a great writer but is still good. I am looking forward to reading his Know It All book when I have time. Jacobs did name drop the fact that he had a previous book many times. Every time he mentioned the previous book he mentioned the fact that he read all the encyclopedias with it every time like we jumped right into the middle of the book and didn't already know. Also he used the same James Frey joke twice, come on....more info
  • A pretty good follow-up
    Its a funny book, but its just got a pretty hard act to follow. "The Know-it-all" is a fantastic, quick read. this one is good, but is the hamburger to the Know-it-all's cheeseburger.... This one is definitely worth the time, but pick up AJ's first book if you haven't already....more info
    First book I have read on my kindle. I very much enjoyed the story and would write much more on the matter were I not also attempting to write this review from my kindle. Very funny!...more info
  • Slightly satirical, mostly reverent
    I won't lie, at first I thought this book was going to be a scathing satire on Christian fundamentalism. Being an at least pseudo-rationally minded Christian, I was nervous going into this book. However, it turned out that A.J. is intensely respectful, and did a great job poking fun while still being reverent for others beliefs.

    A.J. is also a very clever wordsmith, with a distinct voice. His writing style is easy to read, while deep and humorous at the same time. His witty sarcasm kept me interested, and his occasional awkwardness was pretty classic! I recommend this book to anyone! This was a great memoir! I ordered The Unlikely Disciple, and I hope to read Know-it-All after that!...more info
  • sweeping the desert in search of yourself
    So if you were going to live your life by the Bible, litteraly and figuritavely could you do it? I don't think I'd want to (or more so need to), but if you had the mindset of A.J. Jacobs you were more than likely destined to. He appears to be an incredibly inquisitve type and has the perfect mindset, hey It would be FUN RIGHT????

    Jacob's book is born out of his secular upbringing by his Jewish family and his existence of living in the Big Apple. He makes a sort of pilgramage for himself to write about his spiritual quest, to live the life by the Bible for one year. No not just go to church, or follow dietary restrictions, AJ takes litteral passages and transforms his life physically and emotionaly in an atempt to understand what this giant "tome" is all about.

    The book I would describe as reading an entertaining Cliff notes version of the Bible. AJ segues from humorous stories, to situations that challenge his beliefs, to events he witnesses that he never would have placed himself into before. AJ's writing is fairly straightforward, almost too much, but his gift in finding details and making them appealing to the reader makes "The Year of Living Biblicaly" pleasurable to read.

    AJ has a mind like a steel trap. The amount of detail he covers about the Bible is exhaustive. It's no surprise that one of his previous books was to document his experience to read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica. At many times this book feels like you are reading a young man coming to grips with his spirituality with a feverish academic compactness. Can't say I've run into that to often. If anything it sounds like his great wife also has a lot of patience.

    AJ's enthusiasm can get carried away in telling his stories. There were 2 examples where he early sets up a scene but never follows through to tell you what happened. There is a discipline scene where he catches his kid cursing, and you wait for his response but nothing comes of it and we're quickly moved on to the next topic (Hey did you know that in Deutoronomy etc.. etc..). This also happens early on when he talks about an estranged family member named Gil, sets up the story of going to meet him, but then doesn't discuss him again till much later. It seemed a little disjointed.

    However, criticism's are few and for the most part it's easy to read and enjoyable to find about all these interpretations and people that AJ meets along the way. The Bible has so affected their lives so much but nothing AJ writes or says is ever critical or pandering. Most of all its non-judgemental. Fairly entertaining read, and something everyone can learn something about....more info
  • great balance of how to view the bible!
    Such a great balance of how I think I truly view the bible: some things are wonderful life guidelines, other things confusing and seemingly silly, and then there are the stories that can just be great literary entertainment! But A.J.'s accounts of fatherhood definitely reminded me of why I dont want children! haha...more info
  • Hi A.J.
    This book was very enjoyable. As someone who had a very conservative religious upbringing, it was interesting to see someone come at the ideas as an outsider. (Yes the author is Jewish but barely since he wasn't brought up with the traditions). I did wish that the ending was expanded as the chapters, especially the ones on the New Testiment are shorter but it was still interesting and very funny. It makes you think about your own views and practaces of religion even if the ones explored in the book are not your own. I highly recomend this book. Hi A.J. and A.J.'s dad....more info
  • A very good read
    My husband bought this book because he thought the premise sounded hilarious, and I was eager to read it once he was through.

    As someone who considers themselves a "spiritual agnostic" (I know that's kind of a clich®¶ but I don't know how else to put it), I had a lot of misconceptions about the secular world. This book taught me quite a bit about often misunderstood sects (such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Snake handlers to name a couple) and I think that as a result I view them in a different, more open-minded, light.

    This book made me laugh-out-loud several times (the Hasidic 'Rave'...I don't want to spoil anything but that was honestly one of the funniest things I've ever read) and it also made me cry (again, I won't spoil but I was very cross at my husband for not warning me about something that happens in the last month).

    A.J. Jacobs has a great use of language, and is a very funny and honest writer (I'm buying Mr. Know-it-All this weekend).

    Oh, and I should mention that his wife is a riot too ('Helmet' is one of the funniest things ever) and a very patient woman as well! The book may focus on 'Jacob's' year but his wife should get kudos for going along with the experiment.

    All in all a fun and thoughtful read, in my opinion.

    ...more info
  • Laugh out loud funny.
    I've been interested in reading this book since I heard about it. I was not disapointed. Really funny. Great for everyone. It doesnt mock religion it really does do its best to be simply informative and humorus at the same time. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is facinated about religion. Theres always more to learn out there then you already know....more info
  • It was a very good year .....
    Let's face it - the Bible doesn't exactly provide a laugh a minute. Holy Laughter is a serious topic - in fact with only 38 uses (42 according to some translations) of the word "laugh" in any form (laugh, laughed, laughing, laughter), many of those come at you only in the sense of laugh as in its Nehemiahan scornful use and its final three uses in the New Testament positively warn you off any cracking up ... ever. Anyhow, if you read its 788,280 words (the 1769 edition of the 1611 King James version) at 225 words per minute (most of us are positioned, at 200 to 250, allowing for regression of about 1 in 10 words read with full sub-vocalization) you'd only average one encounter of the laugh kind every 1 hour 22 minutes and 58.61053 seconds. And yet the Good Book forms the material of this, the second documented humble quest of AJ Jacobs - the funniest writer I've read since, well - since I last read anything by AJ Jacobs actually. In his year of living Biblically AJ decides to follow, as best as he can, the Bible's rules, laws ... and even some fairly obscure recommendations. Thankfully he never has cause to sever the hand of some pugilistic opponent's wife due to her having landed a successful grab at the Jacobs family jewels - as he finds recommended by Deuteronomy (the hand severance that is, not the grabbing bit which is left up to the wife's moral compass).
    Becoming Jacob ....
    With Shofar and staff in hand, the corners of his white raiment Biblically betasseled (as one does), the corners of his head increasingly hirsute (what's with the corners thing in these regulations?), and with the aid of a Handy Seat (available online in black and grey models with immediate delivery) to protect his physical being from any surfaces touched by the unclean or impure of our planet (according to the Bible it seems I'm one of those more often than I ever knew) our protagonist travels widely, testing Amish tenets to tasting Yemenite Jewish approved kosher chocolate coated crickets, all the while evolving into an alter ego whom he names Jacob. (Good grief, my grammar checker is happy with that sentence). I'm a little surprised he didn't complete his involvement with the alphabet of marginal religious congregations by getting embroiled in some worship with the Zionist Christian Church (it exists). But then he did do the A to Z thing in his last hilarious encyclop?dic humble quest (The Know It All) and there's scarcely any other alphabet letter not represented by a fringe or mainstream holy group.

    With no copping out by choosing a non-leap year, for a full 378 days he waits, prays, sings, dances and seeks enlightenment in his hitherto reasonably happy, agnostic, obsessive-compulsive, sort-of-Jewish world. And does he find light? Read the book and you decide.

    AJ populates his Bible year with enough oddball characters to satisfy the cast requirements of a major Hollywood movie - and (groups and their adherents apart) that's mostly just his family, his ex family and one willingly recruited slave. (Paramount Pictures has the rights option - and I suggest (on behalf of Mrs J) that Brad Pitt plays AJ, which would probably secure Angelina as his Julie (Mrs J) - though the twins' arrival scene may be one type casting too many.) He lengthens the suffering of the long-suffering Mrs J, triples the Jacobs male offspring (said twins), and loves his neighbours as well as himself (OK - he tries to). His unexpectedly moving tribute to one of those neighbours comes as something of a surprise, but hey - does Ecclesiastes not say there's "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance." Even a time to learn? AJ does them all. So will you. ...more info
  • Definitely Worth Reading
    I read the 1 and 2 star reviews of this book before writing my own. I think one of the problems that these reviewers had was that they had expectation of the auther and the book before they even read it. I had none. I didn't even really know much about the book. A friend told me about this book where the guy lives by all the rules of the bible for a year. When I saw that it was in the humor section I started to wonder what kind of book I was picking up.

    I must say that I found this book to be hilarious. There were many times that I actually laughed out loud. I also thought it was very thought provoking. I struggle myself with religion often and this book actually gave me the drive to some soul searching of my own.

    I honestly don't see how anyone can find this book offensive or not entertaining!...more info
  • A fun, enlightening book. Even better on CD.
    I think this book is even more fun on CD than in print. The author has a funny, gentle way of delivering his message that keeps you engaged. It's hard to get out of the car because you want to keep listening. I laughed out loud quite a bit and said, "Huh! That's interesting!" white a few times....more info
  • Muito bom
    Se depois de ler a enciclopedia britanica voce nao sabe que lingua e essa entao tem que re-ler. sobre o livro, foi inteligente, bem escrito, um pouco chovinista, mais e dificil nao ser, ja que religiao e um conceito masculino.
    O que me interessou foi a ideia do livro sobre a sua vizinha, nao vai sair nada de la?
    Continue escrevendo....more info
  • An Honest account of a search for "answers".
    I've read both "The Know-It-All" and YLB and enjoy AJ Jacobs writing style. I find his total immersion into his subjects a fascinating experience to read about. His humor and ability to share an intimate part of who he is, how he's feeling, and what he is thinking is probably what endears him to me. In this story of a year of literal interpretation of the laws and "rules" of the bible AJ offers a insight into what I would imagine is the mindset of many Americans who have been raised in a faith based family that did not practice. His description of his upbringing probably fits the statistics you read about that state about 80+% of people believe in a higher power or describe themselves as one faith or another. As a Christian I greatly appreciated the complete journey he takes and though Judaism and Christianity of the Holy Bible. He has made every attempt to consult vast array of view points and writings about many subjects and boils them down in his unique way. Starting as a self avowed agnostic, secularist, and pro-science/anti-creationism person who's set out, in my opinion, to prove how ridiculous some of the things people of faith believe and do, he realizes there may be more to it than blind faith. As a Funeral Director I've dealt with almost every "brand" of faith and have had a similar experiences. I have questioned many of the things I've always held to be absolute about faith. I recommend Christians, especially those who proselytize, to read this book. It will give you perspective.

    Mr. Jacobs (I know you will read this): God Bless you for taking on this subject with such vigor and integrity. I hope you continue to embrace the things you learned and loved from this journey and assure you I learned something from your experience.

    1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (New International Version)
    24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
    25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

    Don't forget to enjoy the trip as much as you enjoy the destination!

    God Bless you and your family.
    ...more info
  • Funny and Thought-Provoking
    While this book doesn't pretend to be anything profound, I really loved his thoughts on faith and the history of the Bible. Don't go into it thinking it will be a deeply spiritual experience, but instead one man's interesting experiment on what the Bible says (or does not say). There are some genuinely funny and thought-provoking passages in this book that were respectful to all religious persuasions. I think it would be an interesting book club discussion. Really enjoyed this book!...more info
  • A fun, interesting read - even if I wish he'd chosen a different goal
    A.J.'s writing is always enjoyable. However, I agree, particularly about this book, with some of the few lesser reviews - that his writing often emulates blog-writing. Though, I don't find that necessarily a negative. If it is blog-type writing - it's the well-edited version that you'd look forward to reading every day.

    He's a fun, clever writer that goes to exceptional lengths in pursuit of his goal (in this case, living the bible literally). And, his candor about his own insights and his family and friends reaction to his experiments are refreshing (and is a pretty good testament to the quality of folks that surround him).

    As much as I enjoy his writing style and truly loved his The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, this time I did feel he bit off a lot more than he could chew - or that readers will necessarily want to chew.

    Even the initial research he describes in pursuit of the development of this odd goal (e.g. the number of available bibles, the disparity in how they are translated by various segments, etc.) tells you it's not the best choice.

    But, it's still an enjoyable and an insightful read. And honestly, I'd give it more than 3 stars (just because he managed to pull the whole thing together in a coherent, enjoyable fashion), but less than 4 (because I wished he'd chosen a concept better suited to his skills)

    I hope in his next round (and I do hope he has one - and I'll definitely buy it) - he shoots for something more managable and less stunt driven. I'd love to see him do something like trying to see how much he can reduce his carbon footprint, how much good he can do in the world with just $100 (trust me, he's creative enough to really do this well), figure out his family tree or just watch the top 100 movies of all time (w/ his wife who loves them - she deserves the break) and give his unique and clever insights from the pursuit.

    BOTTOM LINE: If you like odd social experiments combined with a good dry-wit writer who will go to great lengths to pursue his goal- you'll like this one. Though, I do suggest reading his first book before this one....more info
  • AJ's Grandpa won't need to mark "not helpful" on this review!
    After many dull, obligatory, book club books, this was a breath of fresh air! I read it slow because the humor is so beautifully subtle and full of sarcasm. Loved it! Funny, yet also makes you think! Now I've got to read his encyclopedia book.........more info
  • i've recommended it to everyone i know
    it's such an entertaining read whether or not you share any type of judeo-christian faith. i've recommended it to everyone i know and will likely buy copies for friends.

    mr. jacobs (aj's father) - i hope you found this review helpful....more info
  • Here's one cheer for the rabbis
    I am having great difficulty getting through this book, as I like to read fully what I have spent my money on. Living biblically would be hard enough, given the barbaric restrictions of the Old Testament. But bringing in the nonsense of the Talmud which was designed to segregate and isolate Jews from other peoples and from rational thought makes the whole experience stultifying. The only value of this tedious book is to show how evil an influence the rabbis have had. They are the ones who have made the Jews hateful to every other people and religious group....more info
  • 5 stars
    This book is such a page turner, I could hardly put it down. I recommend this book to anyone who is secular or religious, it's both insightful and enlightening. ...more info
    This is quite possibly the funniest book I have ever read. As a Catholic with a degree in Theology it helped me review why I believe what I believe and helped me understand the struggles of those trying to find religion or those looking at realigion from an outside point of view. I can't wait for more books to come!...more info
  • Hillarious and Insightful - I had a feeling about this book!
    I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. The concept of this book completely intrigued me but I was leery of the ability to execute. Jacobs did just that. It was insightful, well written, enjoyable and extremely funny - all at once. I love that this book kept me turning the pages wondering which of the 613 was going to stump him next and how he would deal with it. I loved how he made his wife and son characters in his story and brought all he had learned into his every day life. His wife reminds me a bit of my own husband who thinks that my 'self-imposed' restrictions (no pork, no rice on passover...) defy logic, considering my love of all things shellfish.
    The most satisfying part of the book, for me, was Jacobs' ultimate realization that not everything requires a logical explanation. Some things just are as they are, because they are...
    ...more info
  • Informative and hilarious - a secular man's journey to find God
    "The Year of Living Biblically" is neither a tongue-in-cheek spoof of religion, nor a true believer's tract. It is the project of A. J. Jacobs, a self-described agnostic who decided to spend one year trying to live as the Bible literally commands. This decision brings him into strange territory. He tries to learn to pray; he avoids touching his wife at certain times of the month; he wears white raiment and tellefim; he lets his beard grow; he tries to speak completely honestly at all times. This is all well and good, but Jacobs is funniest when he is trying to fulfill commandments that are considered dangerous or in bad taste to moderns - like stoning adulterers or sacrificing animals.

    Though there is plenty of humor in the book, there is plenty of genuine spiritual searching as well. Jacobs tries hard to find the good in even the strangest commandments. He rubs shoulders with many with strong, even extreme Bible followers - Jehovah's Witnesses, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Ken Ham and the Creation Museum, Apocalyptic Christians and more. But Jacobs' also tells his own story. The command to "be fruit and multiply" is set in the context of Jacobs' frustrated attempts to have more children. The commandment to "honor thy father and mother" challenges the lackadaisical discipline style he uses with his two-year old. And his attempts to act modestly run headlong into his work for Esquire, that cheeky mens' magazine. But Jacob, like his biblical namesake, does a great job of genuinely wrestling with the God question.

    That sincerity of purpose is something that I think all readers will appreciate. Whether Jacobs validates the more controversial elements of any reader's faith - the legitimacy of homosexuality, creation versus evolution, or the divinity of Jesus - they should be impressed with his willingness to examine them thoughtfully and honestly. And they will learn a great deal of solid biblical history, theology and expert commentary along the way. I have already recommended "The Year of Living Biblically" to a half dozen acquaintances and friends. Higher praise than that a book does not get....more info
  • So THANKFUL for this book!
    Beyond the great writing and the humanity of the humor, I loved the irony in the choice of a main theme for this book by the author of "The Know-It-All." A.J. Jacobs gently and kindly reminds us throughout his perplexing journey that no one knows it all -- not Pat Robertson, not Richard Dawkins -- no one. Some of the scariest and most dangerous people we meet on this spiritual adventure are those who think they do know it all, and who are desperate to teach the rest of us. I'm with your family on this one, Mr. Jacobs -- ex-Uncle Gil fits that category. Those who call this a "one-joke" book might also fit that category. I fail to see how anyone can read it with both eyes open and not see the myriad tidbits of wisdom that come from honest exploration of this so-called "joke." The biggest surprise to me was that I had a few stereotypical "know-it-all" beliefs of my own that were exposed as errant generalizations, born of ignorance and, let's face it, a desire to affirm my own religious beliefs. This book was a course in humility. Like the Good Book on which it is based, people who read it looking for a conversion experience might be converted, maybe even in the ways they expect. People who read it looking for affirmation of their beliefs, whether atheist or literalist, are missing the point and will probably be disappointed. ...more info
  • Soul Warming No Matter Your Religion
    A wonderful book! I was brought up in a family that lacked religion, so most books on this topic might as well be in a foreign language to me. This book however was spirtually inspiring and humorous at the same time. Quite often I had to stop and read parts out loud to others. It's a book that must be shared with others!...more info
  • Cheeky topic well done!
    How can anyone write a book like this without offending some group of people? A.J. Jacobs does it in a heartwarmingly honest and delightfully entertaining way. His style of writing makes you feel as though you are a part of his experiment.

    I found this book to be both thought provoking and amusing. It doesn't give you answers, but inspires you to find your own, while breaking down a few stereotypes along the way....more info
  • Thou revel in the masterpiece
    Jacobs writes with complete humility and insight. He manages to describe his experience, be it a complete unique and incomparable one, in a way that is completely relatable and understandable. The book seems to transcend 'memoir' into a category all its own. Jacobs writes of humorous, eerie, and humbling experiences which keep you entertained, while slowly breaking down your own walls of religious disbelief. I was also raised as a Jew (in the same way Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant), and lived as a whole-hearted agnostic. After reading this, I didn't become more religious or convert to a particular faith... but I did re-evaluate my spirituality and that of my ancestors. It is an easy read, one for the whole family. It's a classic in the way "To Kill A Mockingbird" is a classic, you must first read it for the sake of knowing it, and once again after having kids. This way, we can all truly grasp his quirky and lovable behavior. I would highly recommend this book to conservatives and liberals, Christians and Jews, Atheists and the apathetic. It makes us understand the mainstream country we live in, as well as the hidden alleys we were previously unaware of. Five stars....more info
  • Gentle insight into a complex topic
    I thought this book was fun and thought-provoking. Mr. Jacobs approaches religion from a neophyte background, and brings a humility that gives the story a very human touch. His progression and experience is insightful for students of scripture, religion, enlightenment and life. My suggestion is "Read this book", but you don't have to take it too literally. ...more info
  • A good read
    This book was recommended to me by a friend and I really enjoyed it. I even gave out a few copies as Christmas gifts and have heard very positive things from the friends that received them....more info
  • Enlightening and Enjoyable
    An entertaining and educational read! I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with A.J. on his adventure and found that not only was I laughing frequently but was questioning and researching just as frequently along the way.
    Looking forward to reading more from him as well as Kevin the Slave's work....more info
  • year of living as an orthodox jew
    this is a quick and enjoyable read, but it devotes almost no attention (a terse two chapters) to the new testament. this, for me, a was a disappointment. i was hoping he would spend more time "living like jesus," or "living like the first christians," as indicated in the book of acts.

    this is really about a guy getting in touch with his jewish heritage. he has little to no interest in christianity. it seems like his publisher forced him to include a chapter or two on the new testament to market this book to a wider audience.

    the book's biggest failure is the lack of explanation for why rational people chose a life of orthodoxy and biblical literalism. i kept asking myself why he took on this experiment (which, basically, is nothing but a diet and a sartorial change. he certainly isn't discovering some heretofore unknown biblical oddities - well, maybe a couple - and it certainly doesn't seem to make him any happier.

    so, to sum: "i grew a long beard, wore white, forced myself to be (sorta, occasionally) kind while remain entirely self involved, visited a few kooks who, shock, were actually decent people, and learned that honesty and gratitude, shock, have therapeutic value. oh, and my wife managed to have twins and my neighbor managed to die, coincidentally, in the final month of my experiment, thus providing me with a timely and seemingly expedient conclusion to what is basically a journal entry with a few quotes from exodus, genesis, deuteronomy, leviticus, proberbs, pslams and ecclessiates." (there are, apparently, other book in the bible, but you wouldn't know it reading this)

    oh, and for some reason he needed to read over 100 books to write this.

    2 and half stars (rounded up to be nice)...more info
  • You must read this!
    I haven't laughed this hard at a book in a long time! His year long quest gives us a hysterically funny, thoughtful and even educational book that is difficult to put down. I can't wait for his next....more info
  • What an amazing year.
    This is one of the best memoir concepts I have ever had the pleasure to read. How does an agnostic man deal with every rule he finds within the pages of the Old and New Testaments? And how does his wife deal with him?

    The answer, with humor, compassion, and a further appreciation of what he can't know in this world (and the wife does the same, as far as I am concerned). A.J. Jacobs follows his mission to some interesting places, sharing insight from those religious fanatics who tend to be given only superficial roles in people's examinations of belief. (Snake Handlers, especially... though the experiences with the Evangelicals Concerned - a group of homosexuals who are also evangelical Christians was a close second for me.)

    No, A.J. Jacobs does not accept Christ into his heart, nor does he determine that he is comfortable with Orthodox Judaism. But he does find himself more appreciative of life, more willing to give thanks for anything and everything, more accepting of all of the interpretations of the bible - especially those he can't reconcile in his own mind.

    The final pages of his memoir are poignant. Yes, every believer is a "Cafeteria Believer," picking and choosing the rules and guidelines he feels best fit with his idea of the good life. After over a year of not allowing himself to be such a believer (instead being forced to sample just about everything from the Judeo-Christian smorgasbord by his commitment to live the bible literally) he tends toward the "nurturing dishes (compassion), the healthy ones (love thy neighbor), not the bitter ones."

    While he doesn't come out ans specify what exactly he sees as the bitter dishes offered by the bible, my take is that the bible itself isn't bitter. You just need to be careful of who is salting the dish before serving you a plate....more info
  • When Experiments Are Out of This World
    Jacobs knows how to turn a phrase. He is both an exceptional writer and researcher. But as God did with the Seven Churches of Revelations, I hold this against him: he repeatedly embarrassed me by making me laugh in public as I read his book.

    Jacobs is an agnostic, and this doesn't change by the end of the book. Yet this book remains one of the most spiritually insightful and challenging books I have ever read. His pursuit of obeying the literal mandates of the Bible was done to expose the hypocrisy of such an attempt, but it also reminds the reader of what the Bible really calls for, and how much we fall short of that call, even when not trying to follow it literally. If you've read the Bible before, and are familiar with it, there is not much Biblically new here. But it is amazing how little we follow though we know the words.

    While this was a grand experiment. Jacobs does eight months of the Old Testament, and four months of the New Testament. But, perhaps because of his secular Jewish background, he is admittedly much more at home in the Torah. When he gets to the last four months, one can't but feel a lot is missing. He doesn't investigate groups like the Quakers and the Charismatics, who hold very literally to certain respective New Testament teachings. The sole charismatic focus on snake handlers felt as if Jacobs was taking only one small fringe group, the most extreme, to highlight.

    At the same time, after spending eight months applying the literal intent of the Old Testament authors, he doesn't come close to attempting the same thing with the New Testament. Indeed, much of the last four chapters are scattered with *Old Testament* laws and practices. This may be perhaps because the New Testament practices are really that life changing. One of Jacobs' sub-chapters is focused on selling all you have and giving to the poor- but Jacobs then goes back to the Old Testament tithing practice and doesn't even consider or discuss the possibility of giving all he had to the poor. He never gets into the passages of Jesus where, if someone asks for your cloak, give them your undershirt as well. And it is understandable- this is a year long experiment, and Jacobs can't be expected to irrevocably change his life, if it's only an experiment. Jacobs maintains a laudable applied anthropological perspective, entering into the world of his subjects but not fully going native. It's just that I would have liked some discussion of that issue.

    That's certainly not enough to reduce the rating on this book. There's simply nothing else like it. No one else there is trying out the whole Biblical thing for a year. And though the eating locusts and trying to stone adulterers make for some funny scenes, Jacobs attempt to follow the ethical laws of the Bible is poignant and thought-provoking. He comes away a happier man, a more blessed man, in the full Biblical meaning of that rich word. And he challenges me to take this faith that I claim more seriously....more info
  • An Attempt to Live Biblically
    A. J. Jacobs admits to having obsessive-compulsive disorder, which makes him a perfect candidate for following rules and regulations in the Bible as literally as possible. The only problem is that he doesn't believe in God.

    Yet, on his spiritual journey he decides to pray anyway. He also engages in spiritual battles like his struggle with one of the seven deadly sins: Lust. He also restricts himself from gossiping and lying. He really struggles the most with telling the truth. Still, in this book he is refreshingly honest even to the point of considering his desire for a second wife (I think it was supposed to be funny and his wife seems to play along.) In actuality, repressing his sexuality makes him more creative.

    Instead of making people look foolish for wanting to follow so many laws (his original intention) he ends up making the reader respect anyone who follows religious laws (within reason). He also makes growing cucumbers and playing a harp seem like fun. He even has a go at herding sheep.

    After reading about his Old Testament adventures I was eager to read how he would interpret the New Testament. Since I've read a book called: Hear Him! The One Hundred Twenty-Five Commands of Jesus. I wanted to know how he would follow them. The few moments he spends on the New Testament are hardly enough time so it is a bit of a disappointment. Still, A. J. Jacobs becomes a better person when he shows love. He also becomes less angry when he stops swearing.

    In the section exploring various religions it was interesting to learn that Bono is a member of the Red-Letter Christians. However, for the most part, A. J. Jacobs seems attracted to the extremes of Christianity and doesn't really experience the comforts of a local church. Instead he meets with snake handlers and participates in a singles group Bible study (he is married after all).

    For the most part this book is highly enjoyable and there are laugh-out-loud moments throughout. This book might even inspire you to consider following the Ten Commandments more consistently. I now look forward to reading other books by this author. If you enjoy this book you may also enjoy anything by Lee Strobel.

    ~The Rebecca Review
    ...more info
  • it's for the children
    How can you be agnostic while having your children guided by the Jewish traditions? Can you say oyxmoron? This book should have stopped with the Old Testament. If the author wants an enlightening experience try putting on the shoes of a new and different religion for a year. Try following Budda or the Pope. Or even more challenging move from your comfort northern zone to a southern state. I read the book for laugh and was pleased to get more than one....more info
  • Could not put it down
    I received this book a couple of days ago as a Christmas present. This was an outstanding book that I had a very difficult time putting down. Not only did this book allow some reflection on the the lesser-known parts of the Bible but it also provided many laugh out loud moments. I especially appreciated that the book did not rely solely on a review of the biblical text but looked at the interpretations offered by others - both through the conversations with the spiritual guides and through written materials. I also appreciated the respect with which he approached those who have more "extreme" religious beliefs. As a Christian, I can share that I was not offended by the spiritual journey and I am hopeful A.J. does not stop growing simply because he has finished writing this book. Thanks to A.J. for writing an enjoyable book!...more info
  • A Must Read
    I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone. It was really interesting to see the progression of thought that A.J. goes through while on his quest to live as biblical as he could. I enjoyed reading about all the people he meets along the way, who help him on his journey. All the stories he has, he examines why they are important to the Jewish culture or Christian or his own life. This makes the book feel like there is a purpose, not just random events. I say it is a must read! ...more info
  • Nicely-done sailing on difficult waters
    I got this book for a Christmas present. Ummm... in 2007... And then, out of feelings of guilt, pulled it out just after this past Christmas. It starts off kind of snarky and sensational, but, more and more as it goes on, gives a nicely engaging look at the Bible by someone exploring and actively trying to figure out the difficulties in it and its effects on society. The commentary gets truly engaging, pulling in informative and really interesting tidbits.

    By the end, I really had a tough time putting it down, wanting to see not just what happens next with the project, but really interested in the commentaries and reactions he brings up....more info
  • Some can read War and Peace and come away thinking it's a simple adventure story.
    What would happen to the man who really tried to put others before himself? Love his enemies? Turn the other cheek? Give to all who asked- no strings attached?

    I'd like to read that man's memoirs.

    But unfortunately, at the end of his hilariously pedantic year-long tour of the Bible, Jacobs' manages to have covered none of these. (Loving your neighbor as yourself is mentioned only in the last chapter- when he says it is in fact impossible.)

    One must wonder at the man who can spend a year in intense study of... well... most anything and emerge with unchanged values, priorities, and worldview. ...more info
  • I kept waiting for him to get it
    What I liked: good review of the facts of the bible.

    What I didn't: He didn't know how to really dig in to believing.

    As a product of a mixed marriage (mom = mainline Christian, dad = Jew), I have great respect for both religions and the bible as a whole. Like other readers, I found the fact that Mr. Jacobs was able to suspend his lack of belief for the Old Testament but not for the New Testament to be a cop out. The parts of the bible that he mentioned appealed to him most (love your neighbor, helping the poor.) were big themes in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

    Also, it would have been to his advantage to join faith communities (ones that fit his political views)on both sides FOR A YEAR. He never gave any church or temple that would fit him and his family a chance. I think after not being raised in faith, Jacobs lost out on the importance of a religious "second" family. Did he go to any services? With his son? We forget that the best way to experience faith is often through the eyes of a child.

    I waited for some epiphany. I thought we were building to something, but I guess it was just a clean shave. ...more info
  • Good but not
    I bought this book already anticipating the laughs of trying to live some of the old testamant laws and reading it was fun. I never felt though that he was ever really trying to see the real point of the bible which is to have a relationship with God. Almost like going through the motions with no heart beyond checking off a list of things to do. He really never did anything as far as living the new testament and genuinely trying out the reccomending faith actions in there. It was obvios he was alot more comfortable with the old testament. Either way it was funny but had no real deep emotion of trying to live it with his heart which is actually the whole point of the bible especially the new testament. It's almost like he is buying flowers and wooing and doing whatever anyone who has a romantic list of things to do to get a woman to marry him would do, but the whole time he admits that he is actually not attracted to women at all and he is just seeing if it's possible to make some lady marry him even though he isn't attracted to her and has no intent of marrying her after his year long experiment is over. After he has tried many odd and funny romantic attempts he admits that he is still not attracted to women but he now has a greater appreciation for people who take romance so seriosly. Funny yes, but heartfelt genuine. No....more info
  • Good for book club
    A.J. Jacobs has written a fun book to read. Our religious based book club was provided with good fodder for conversation. It's easy to read and as light-hearted as you can get when discussing the bible. Even through the humor, moral tidbits are present as food for thought....more info
  • God Is In The Details
    This book gets five stars for being an entertaining, informative read with a nice subtext of tolerance and compassion. The author approaches religion in a light-hearted but not disrespectful way -- more Morgan Spurlock than Bill Maher. The reader painlessly learns a lot about the bible and the various interpretations of it.

    This is not to say that I don't have some quibbles with it though.

    First the author downplays his own obsessive-compulsive disorder, barely mentions it in fact, when he seems to have a fairly severe case: he touches the shower head four times after showering, can't turn off a radio unless the last word he heard was a noun, he's extremely germophobic, he refuses to start a sentence with "you"... and these are just the symptoms he admits. His OCD would have been a huge factor in his acceptance and performance of religious rituals, and by downplaying it he minimizes the effect it had on him and by extension everybody else.

    Second, although the book deals extensively with Judaism and Christianity, there is hardly a mention of the third apocalyptic Abrahamic religion based on the Pentateuch. As the second-largest and fastest-growing religion in the world, Islam deserves at least equal treatment, especially in these times of widespread misinformation.

    Third, although Jacobs states that he intends to follow biblical law as much as possible, in truth he begins cherry-picking the easy ones right away and never delves too deeply into the tenets about plucking out eyes, cutting off limbs or stoning people to death. Apparently those are too barbaric to be discussed at length, much less put into practice for a book deal -- but it questions just how "biblically" he was living.

    Fourth, although the author is sincere and respectful in his quest, he seems a little too focused on the surface aspects (like his beard, his white clothing, the different translations of the bible, and taking the sabbath off) rather than his inner spirituality. At one point he describes being overcome with a feeling of peace while dancing with his son, but even here he seems to be confusing reverence for religiosity. He starts the book claiming to be an agnostic, and finishes by reiterating his agnosticism but what he describes is not agnosticism, it's atheism. His journey was more about putting on the vestments of religion than really trying on faith for size. Perhaps it's impossible for an unbeliever to will himself to believe.

    Whether or not the year changed A.J. Jacobs permanently, one conclusion is evident in the book although it was nowhere mentioned: he's married to a saint....more info


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