Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling

Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling

Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling

Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling


"Shaming the Devil" offers a compelling series of reflections that explore how hard it is to tell the truth about the world of culture -- and how central that task is to the Christian life.

Employing the literary essay as a powerful means for cultural criticism and using other writers and thinkers as friends and foils in his quest, Alan Jacobs incisively and insightfully revisits the question asked by Pilate and so many others through history: "What is truth"

In the first part of the book, Jacobs contemplates the work of people whom he takes to be exemplary truth seekers: Rebecca West, W. H. Auden, Albert Camus, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Linda Gregerson, and Leon Kass. He then engages writers who challenge the search for truth: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Iris Murdoch, Wole Soyinka, Philip Pullman, and Anne Carson. The third section of the book consists of a single lengthy essay that pursues the provocative question of whether todaybs computer technology helps or hinders us in our pursuit of truth.

Extremely well written and rich in wisdom, "Shaming the Devil" will appeal to anyone interested in literature, modern culture, and the Christian worldview.


“Tell the truth and shame the devil.” It’s an imperative familiar to many, though some will have heard it from Shakespeare and others from their elderly relations. As a native Southerner, I never want to admit ignorance of any ancient chunk of folk wisdom, but I confess I never came across the phrase until I read the first Henry iv play in college. a friend of mine, by contrast, learned it from his grandmother and was surprised when I told him that I thought it originated with the Bard. and maybe it did. My worn copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable — the reference book than which no more enjoyable can be conceived — says, merely and unhelpfully, that it is “a very old saying, of obvious meaning.” Whether that verdict is incompatible with Shakespearean authorship depends, I guess, on what you mean by “very old.” in this book’s first essay I implicitly credit Shakespeare for it, but readers should take that with all requisite grains of salt.

Whether the meaning is so obvious, though, I doubt. It seems rather odd, on the face of it, to say that truthtelling shames the devil. Angers, frustrates, confutes — yes to all of those. But one does not normally associate the devil with shame; indeed, one could say that shame is precisely what he lacks. After all, when we encounter people who seem impervious to moral censure, and indifferent to the displeasure of authorities, we call them shameless; this is surely an even more fitting description of the Adversary.

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