Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling

Article excerpt

SHAMING THE DEVIL: ESSAYS IN TRUTHTELLING. By ALAN JACOBS. Eerdmans. 231 pp. $20.

Books of literate and entertaining essays on occasional topics-what used to be called belles-lettres-are no longer common, and that is a shame. There's no better book to have on your end table or nightstand than a small volume of belletristic essays: they're easy on the arm, you can usually read an essay in less than thirty minutes, and when they're well done they have high literary virtues: concision, elegance, wit, and above all the ability to provoke thought made possible by a literary form in which a position can be stated and ornamented without being accompanied by imaginations and rebuttals of all possible objections. Seneca on renouncing busyness, Montaigne on cannibals, Charles Lamb on Mrs. Battle's opinions on the game of whist-these are classics of the genre from various ages. Among the best bellettrists of our day, worthy to be mentioned in company with Seneca, Montaigne, and Lamb (and to put him in company with the last is very high praise), is Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College. Shaming the Devil is his second collection; his first, A Visit to Vanity Fair, was published in 2001. …

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