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A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  81 ratings  ·  15 reviews
An explanation and examples of the art of the moral essay
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published August 1st 2001 by Brazos Press
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May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wonderful collection of thought provoking and well crafted essays. Published nearly 20 years ago, it nevertheless feels as engaging and relevant as ever. Whether dealing with Bob Dylan or Harry Potter, Jacobs gets at issues that remain not frothy debates of the minute. Philosophy, literature, faith and writing are explored with verve and wit. I'm going to keep digging into my collection of Jacobs writing which I have manged to put off reading for too long.
Chris Griffith
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
In A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age, Alan Jacobs tackles themes big and diminutive in this somewhat wildly eclectic collection. Jacobs is an English professor at Wheaton College and his love of the language and it's impact upon our culture shines.

Although, only a tiny bit disjointed (it is an eclectic collection after all!), each essay flows with charity and humility from one subject to the next. Jacobs finds a lot to talk about in such a short book! From the possibility o
William Randolph
Aug 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Alan Jacobs is one of my favorite essayists. The most striking thing about this collection of his work is how he manages to consistently maintain a tone of charity, even when he has to deal harshly with something (for example, New Age spirituality). There was something slightly off about the balance of the book, but that might be because I'd read several of the essays in magazines before. At any rate, it's always a pleasure to explore some subject with Jacobs. (See his review of books about tree ...more
Daniel Lehn
Feb 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, essay-memoir
What constitutes a moral essay? Dear Professor Jacobs, why do you title your books so? “Because I can’t think of a better name for them, and because I secretly like the term,” he says. And this is the charming, honest tone that fills the book. I recently read a review of his more recent “The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction” that called his tone avuncular among other things, a trait I find true and enjoyable throughout these essays.

His method follows the virtuous middle between “ex
Austin Hoffman
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
a fun short read.
Alex Stroshine
Alan Jacobs’ “A Visit to Vanity Fair”, with the gaudy subtitle “Moral Essays on the Present Age”, is Jacobs’ attempt to revive the moral essay. I applaud him for it. I think essays are an excellent medium to communicate information. I have come to appreciate and marvel at the collected essays of G.K. Chesterton (who hardly gets mentioned, even when Jacobs is reviewing famous Christian friendships; Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc had a famous camaraderie, with George Bernard Shaw dubbing them the ...more
Steven Rodriguez
Jul 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Alan Jacobs is on my shortlist of favorite living authors. I resonate with his impulses very, very strongly, and his book "A Theology of Reading" has become both the theoretical foundation of my reading life and a gateway into a lot of other important authors.

This collection of essays is uneven, but I am not sure how any collection of essays could not be uneven, given the improvisatory and freewheeling nature of the genre. That being said, the essays that are good are really, really good; they a
Dec 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture, essays
I first learned of Alan Jacobs through the Mars Hill audio journal. I heard Ken Myers read his essay on C.S. Lewis and was moved enough by it to pick up this collection of his writing (which includes the one on Lewis) as I was browsing a used book store.

Alan starts out with a discussion of the moral essay that sets the stage for what follows. So far I have made it through the first essay, A Bible fit for Children. If the rest of the essays are anything like the first, then I am in for a real tre
Zack Clemmons
Feb 04, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars would feel more accurate. Some standout essays, some forgettable. Some lovely prose, some stilted or prosaic. Standout essays for me were "A Bible For for Children" and "Preachers without Poetry," which seemed Jacobs at his Wheaton English prof best. I also enjoyed the Dylan essay and the memorial for Donald Davie.
Adam Shields
Jul 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Short review: I am not a big reader of essays but there are some very good ones here. The one I most enjoyed was about what we do and do not include in Children's bibles. Overall there are 15 essays. A couple of them are a bit dated now, but most of them are pretty good.

Full review on my blog at
Jun 06, 2011 added it
Shelves: essays
Alan Jacobs is always a delight to read. It was good to reread some of the essays here as well, such as "Harry Potter's Magic." The essay on friendship is particularly great, as are his essays about essays.
D.M. Dutcher
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
It's a short collection of essays that tends to be a little too "boomer white evangelical First Things writer" for me. You've got your obligatory Bob Dylan article, copious mentions of C.S. Lewis, and a general non-controversial bent. It's okay reading but doesn't have enough bite to be memorable.
Paul Dubuc
Mar 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, morality
Very well written essays here, both in terms of style and content, on a variety of contemporary subjects.
Dan Glover
As with all books Jacobs writes, really enjoyed both the content and style. Possibly a review to follow...
Debbie Howell
Dec 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who like essays
A collection of essays on topics from Harry Potter to violence in the Bible to Transcendentalist schoolchildren. Written from a Christian perspective but refreshingly not a typical "Christian Book."
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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

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“I would not be practicing love toward God OR my neighbour if I were to smile benignly on an unjust social order. It is not charitable to refrain from moral judgment: when Jesus says 'Judge not, lest ye be judged," he is forbidding condemnation, not discernment. There are times indeed when Christian charity demands that one speak forcibly.” 13 likes
“Christian writers, whether they like it or not, do not simply write for themselves; for good or ill, readers will see their work as reflecting Jesus Christ and his church. And if only for this reason - though there are other reasons - one must take great care when dealing with potentially controversial topics not to imagine one's every pronouncement preceded by 'Thus saith the Lord.' The law of love, on which 'all the law and the prophets' depend (Matt. 22:40), mandates charity toward one's opponents in argument.” 3 likes
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