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Original Sin: A Cultural History [Hardcover]

By Alan Jacobs (Author)
Our Price $ 21.21  
Retail Value $ 24.95  
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Item Number 94019  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   304
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.33" Width: 6.23" Height: 1.02"
Weight:   1.13 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   May 31, 2008
Publisher   HarperOne
ISBN  0060783400  
EAN  9780060783402  

Availability  0 units.

Alternate Formats List Price Our Price Item Number Availability
Hardcover $ 24.95 $ 21.21 94019
Paperback $ 15.99 $ 13.59 2482828 In Stock
Item Description...
Do we arrive in this world predisposed to evil? St. Augustine passionately argued that we do; his opponents thought the notion in insult to a good God. Blaise Pascal claimed that "but for this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we remain incomprehensible to ourselves"; his opponents called him a "sublime misanthrope." G. K. Chesterson, affirmed original sin as the only provable Christian doctrine; modern scholars call the idea "baleful" and "pernicious." Alan Jacobs takes readers on a sweeping tour of the idea of original sin, its origins, its history, its proponents and opponents. And he leaves us better prepared to answer one of the most important questions of all: Are we really, all of us, bad to the bone?

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More About Alan Jacobs

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Alan Jacobs is Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University. He is the author of several books, including "The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction" (Oxford) and "Original Sin: A Cultural History" (HarperOne), and he has edited W. H. Auden's long poems "For the Time Being" and "The Age of Anxiety" (both Princeton).

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General   [6817  similar products]
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History   [2546  similar products]
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General   [8607  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
an act of intellectual courage  Jun 2, 2008
Three out of the five blurbs on the back cover of Original Sin manage to import some wariness over the book's content into their glowing recommendation of the book's execution. Ron Hansen acknowledges that the "even-tempered" Jacobs gives "even the most disagreeable voices their say." Publishers Weekly gives the "brilliant" book a starred review but manages to damn its subject despite this high praise: "In [Jacobs's] hands these abstruse theological disputes are utterly engrossing." And, my favourite comments, given pride of place as the first lines of the top review, are Alan Wolfe's "I do not believe in original sin. I do believe in Alan Jacobs." These reviewers, particularly the latter two, seem to be saying: any book by Alan Jacobs is worth buying, but that Jacobs's latest book is on original sin is perhaps unfortunate. The top of the back cover seems to agree, trumpeting: "How the World's Most Repugnant Idea Became the Cornerstone of Our Self-Understanding." HarperOne seems to have decided on the marketing ploy: Buy Alan Jacobs, If You Can See Past What He Writes About! Or, If You Hold Your Nose, It'll Be Good For You! We're not entirely sure why you would want to buy (or write) a book about original sin from its inception (St. Paul? Augustine? Further back?) throughout its tendentious and chequered history (the Kabbala, Pascal, John Wesley, Richard Dawkins, etc.) to its current unpopularity, but if you must, it's fortunate that you'll buy a book written by Alan Jacobs, so brilliant and humane a writer that he practically disproves his own thesis.

To be fair, Jacobs's own foreword introduces his topic by acknowledging its near-universal vilification. The East has never seen anthropology in these terms, and the West, since the Enlightenment, has attempted to mount a vigorous moral refutation of this particular aspect of its own moral foundation. But Jacobs is not writing merely to enjoy his own prose. He believes that the notion of original sin is useful for us to consider, now, probably one of the reasons that he wrote the book. One of its consistent tactics is provide a biographical context into which we can fit the sometimes repugnant-sounding theorists of human wretchedness, so that when we get to what Augustine of Hippo and Jonathan Edwards actually say, we can hear them, with an ear even for how we might transfer useful insights to our present situation without being immediately impeded by a moral gag reflex. This is a courageous thing to do: to dignify by historiography, and in some cases to stand up for, ideas which everyone seems to think are unpleasant. If you happen to think this book's subject unpleasant, then its author, publisher, and reviewers agree that you are its intended audience.

Jacobs has become an excellent writer, cultural critic. Barring some unforeseen change of circumstance, I plan to read every book he writes from here on out. His style is clear. He says smart things simply. This is not a book written for scholars, but tremendous scholarly weight must lie behind generalisations like (to pick one almost at random): "This sense of the Christian life as a drama arose early in the history of the faith, and the conviction of being infected, afflicted, by the inherited curse of sin was its motive engine." A history covering this much time must inevitably resort to such generalizations often, but they are often startling or counterintuitive, generated by the reading that he has done but does not force you to do (even, in the case of the Jansenists and others, warns you against). He has an eye for the telling, even the humourous, example or anecdote: my favourite is the one about the Scotsman who missed the voices in his head after they had fallen silent. Jacobs is charitable, even-tempered; he interprets authors with more clarity, precision, and compassion than they warrant or could have mustered of themselves. Buy the book, yes, because Alan Jacobs wrote it.

But buy it also because, if you can manage to hold your nose, it just might be good for you.

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