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Original Sin

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  142 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Essayist and biographer Alan Jacobs introduces us to the world of original sin, which he describes as not only a profound idea but a necessary one. As G. K. Chesterton explains, Only with original sin can we at once pity the beggar and distrust the king.Do we arrive in this world predisposed to evil? St. Augustine passionately argued that we do; his opponents thought the n ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published April 29th 2008 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 2008)
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Esteban del Mal
Jun 21, 2010 Esteban del Mal rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Esteban by: The Wilson Quarterly
Three guys lay sun-blistered on the shore of a desert island. Something shiny washes up and one of the guys notices it glinting in the waves. He rubs the sand from it and out bursts a genie, to much sensory fanfare.

“As reward for releasing me from centuries of captivity, I grant each of you a wish,” booms the genie (but the genie probably communicates this in their heads, telepathic-like, because I don’t think anyone or anything, magical or otherwise, that has been isolated from humanity for cen
Mike Knox
In the introduction, Jacob notes that of all religious beliefs, none provokes more criticism and repulsion than the doctrine of original sin. Original sin is irreparable, irreversible, and unpredictable (x-xi). It is the belief that every human being is born with sin already in them. That we all inherit sin, and are culpable. The history of original sin is a history of resistance to it. So why, over the centuries, have so many stubbornly believed it? Well, as Chesterton noted, original sin has e ...more
Sep 29, 2008 Jonathan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Shane
I would call this pop theology, not cultural history. Still, it is engaging and persuasive pop theology.

The Western imagination, as Jacobs illustrates, has been preoccupied for millennia with the suspicion that we humans have somehow inherited a condition of pervasive moral corruption. Christian theologians are only one part of this tradition. The theologians' uniqueness, Jacobs insinuates, is in suggesting a way out of the corruption without denying that it is an essential part of our nature.
Enjoyed Alan's episodic tour of original sin (if that's actually allowed). His readable and oft insightful work wanders among various players who have pondered this great question of humanity's flawed moral character (or at least it wandered with me while I bounced between Moscow, Nashville, Cookeville, Chattanooga and back again last week). I found his treatment of Rousseau and the radical romantics, who keep hoping against irrational hope that we are essentially "innocent" from birth, particul ...more
"Original Sin" starts with an interesting, though ineffectual chapter dealing with wrongdoing throughout various cultures. It is an eclectic stroll which doesn't really lead anywhere and is only tangentially referenced in later parts of the book. This, unfortunately remains the format for most of what follows. Many different figures throughout time and space are referenced in a vaguely chronological order that leaves the reader with snippets of history, philosophy, and theology which never come ...more
Chris Plemmons
Aug 22, 2011 Chris Plemmons rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those willing to be stretched
Recommended to Chris Plemmons by: Charles Johnson
While attaining my undergraduate degree, I entered into a series of discussions regarding the potentiality for God to have written sin into our genes. Looking back, this conversation was another one of those conversations that could definitely be chalked up as being 2 fools adding 2 half-brains together discussing the intersection between biology and theology and only achieving ignorance. Yet, it was a discussion that piqued my interest and has always rested in the back of my mind.

Alan Jacobs b
While the traditional Roman Catholic view on what Original Sin is, and what it means to us, is very clear, throughout Western history and culture there have been many varied opinions about the subject. This book explores a good many of those opinions, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

The New England Primer (1777) noted “In Adam’s fall / We sinned all”, which (excepting the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin) is the Catholic view of Original Sin, which Jesus redeemed through his
Instead of subtitling the book "Original Sin: A Cultural History" I suggest this revision: "Profiles of Thinkers" or something like that. The writing is, in other words, the reading experience was a bit uneven in terms of tempo, suddenly slowing down sometimes, and suddenly speeding up at other times. But, worthwhile, throughout and to the very tragicomic and, ultimately, comedic end. Personally, I found these profiles of thinkers on both sides of the concept of original sin to be endlessly fasc ...more
I had intended to write a review of this, which is why I am only now making it as finished, but I have lost the desire. Part of the issue is that I do not think that I would fairly do so as I wanted it to be a different book. Or something. As best as I can say I wanted it to be a different book and if I am going to review it then I ought review the book the author wrote and not the one it isn't.

I will say that although it was interesting, I did almost give it up a couple of times. But that be re
Brian Collins
Jacobs' work is similar to a historical theology of original sin. He outlines how the doctrine emerged, its historical context, and the thinking of the theologians who formulated and defended it. But Jacobs' cultural history is much more than a historical theology. He also looks at broader cultural reactions to the doctrine of original sin and cultural events (such as utopianism) in light of the doctrine. G. K. Chesterton once marveled that people doubted the doctrine of original sin since it is ...more
Jacobs produced a really readable, informative narrative of this controversial doctrine's history through the writings of its great exponents and critics. Augustine, Pelagius, John Milton, Blaise Pascal, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Robert Owen all make appearances, along with many others.

It's a great, well-told introduction to the issue, written at a level that (I think) a wide audience can understand. Along the way, the reader gets a taste of some of the great writers
This book discusses the idea of original sin in different cultures from the time of the apostle Paul up through the 21st century. Typically, the stories involve the conflict of two points of view. Those who think that human beings are born as blank slates that are polluted by the culture they are born into and those who see human beings as having a propensity to evil and selfishness. Jacobs does a fairly good job of storytelling throughout, tying in the narratives of several key theologians, aut ...more
Adam Shields
Short review: This is a cultural history of how the concept of original sin has influenced western culture. It is not a theological history, but does have enough theological material to give a good back ground. I am a little sketchy on the doctrine of original sin as commonly understood. But Jacobs has showed me that the common understanding is not actually the proper theological understanding.

A longer review is on my blog at
Stephen Hayes
I haven't read or rated this book yet, but merely marked it as "to read" in my good reads list, and only if I can get a library copy. My Good Reads friend Fr Ted has blogged about it, however, and I thought his comments were worth reading.
I feel like this book deserves 4 stars, but personally I didn't *really* like it, just kind of liked it. This may have been my first time to read this genre of cultural history, and that could be what made me not love the book. It is well written and very interesting but, perhaps due to the genre, a bit loose and lacking in cohesion.
Really great book. I still haven't quite finished it, but should do so tonight. As the title makes obvious, Jacobs traces the idea of original sin throughout Western history, with a little Eastern and African mixed in. Really fascinating book, and the variety of examples that he pulls in is astounding. Must read.
Tyler Malone
Bashing literature without giving textual examples. CS Lewis pandering. Atheists must have sort of prior religious experience to be taken seriously. These are just three things that bothered me about Alan Jacobs' book. If at all possible, I hope no one else stops when they see this book on sale for a dollar.
I found myself wondering at the beginning what the point of this book was, but as it went on, the point became more clear. Jacobs does an excellent job showing how the doctrine of original sin "levels the playing field," creating a democracy of sinners, all of us in need of forgiveness and God's grace.
Jul 08, 2008 Nate rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nate by: walt harrah
The presence of narrative in this book makes this hard theolgical topic a little easier to understand and easier to swallow. Jacobs is an excellent writer. This is book is a fun and not too heavy.
While the book trailed off at the end (the story seemed to lose some coherence as Jacobs began talking about the modern world), the book was nevertheless well worth the read.
Jacobs has a unique style, mixing high and low prose styles, and it makes for interesting reading. Good story.
I appreciate what he was trying to do, just not sure he did it. But it was good.
Andrew Boyle
A thoughtful, yet sometimes scattered, collection. The anecdotes provoke reflection.
Probably this is what going over to dinner at the Jacobs' is like!
Fascinating. I really enjoy Jacobs' thought.
Terry Kreutzkamp
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Dec 18, 2014
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I grew up in Alabama, attended the University of Alabama, then got my PhD at the University of Virginia. Since 1984 I have been teaching at Wheaton College in Illinois. My dear wife Teri and I have been married for thirty years. Our son Wes begins college this fall, and to our shock, decided to go to Wheaton. I think he will avoid Dad, though.

My work is hard to describe, at least for me, because i
More about Alan Jacobs...
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