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

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Jan 16, 2008

really liked it
Recommended to Daniel by: Esther Bowring
Recommended for: people who like to think about the nature of faith and religious practice.
Read in December, 2007

I will say this right now: I usually don't go in for memoirs. They usually seem too self-indulgent and, for me, most memoirs typically lack the "so what" factor that I desperately need when I'm reading. This book is definitely a memoir more than anything else, but it's brimming with "so what".

So there's this idea in yogic circles that the act of laughing - by itself with no external stimulus - will actually make you feel better. Bear with me for a second. I guess laughing and feeling good are so inextricably linked in your brain that it's hard to have one without the other. People will on occasion congregate in yoga studios and just laugh for an hour or so, and swear up and down that afterwards they feel fantastic.

A.J. Jacobs starts this experiment as a cultural (i.e. non-observant) Jew who is effectively Agnostic. In the course of trying to follow the bible as literally as possible, he starts praying several times a day and in general trying to be a more spiritual person. And after a few months he describes concrete, positive changes in his personality that come, initially anyway, from just going through the motions.

Another thing this book does very, very well is to address the phenomenon of cafeteria-style religion. It's a derogatory term used by very religious people to criticize not-as-religious people, as if they're picking and choosing what they want out of religion and leaving the difficult parts, uh, under the heat lamp. Can you consider yourself to be a religious person if you're ok with gay rights or evolution? After all, that stuff is supposedly covered in the bible. Can you be truly religious if you don't keep kosher or observe the sabbath? If the bible is the word of God, who are you to ignore any part of it? I won't spoil the book by talking about his conclusions in this direction. I will say, though, that his conclusions are worth reading.

I guess this is the part of the review where I have to say bad things about the book so that you'll take this review seriously overall? Well, I'll make some concessions to that. It does get pretty self-indulgent at points. He's got what they call a strong personality, which can sometimes make the reading a little difficult. That is, since it's a memoir it's hard to tell sometimes whether you don't like a passage because you don't like what the guy is doing or because you don't like the writing. I've heard that his other book is difficult to read for this exact reason.

Overall, it was a very worthwhile book. Funny and very interesting, especially for people who like to think about the nature of faith and religious practice.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Year of Living Biblically.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.