Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Guide to a Tranquil Mind

Alan Jacobs. Penguin, $25 (160p) ISBN 978-1-984-87840-3
In exploring how texts from the past can inform one’s understanding of the present, Jacobs (How to Think), a humanities professor at Baylor University, tackles a promising subject matter with uneven results. Believing that wider perspectives are needed than those provided by today’s world of “informational overload,” he urges a productive engagement with figures and texts from the past and, in particular, “learning to know them in their difference from, as well as their likeness to, us.” Jacobs presents an intriguing cast of people who did this, from Simone Weil to Frederick Douglass; in one of the book’s highlights, he delves into Douglass’s famous July 4th oration on why the founding fathers, though flawed by their failure to eradicate slavery, were “great in their day and generation.” Jacobs’s ideas sometimes feel rehashed rather than enlarged from chapter to chapter, and his language unnecessarily academic—rather than simply stating that a different perspective will make a person more well-rounded, for instance, he writes that a wider “temporal bandwidth” will lead to greater “personal density” (two terms taken from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow). Nevertheless, the ideas are stimulating, and his somewhat unsatisfactory book will still give thoughtful readers a jumping-off point for further reflection. Agent: Christy Fletcher, Fletcher and Company. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 05/06/2020
Release date: 09/08/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-1-9848-7841-0
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