Breaking Bread with the Dead

Jacobs, Alan. Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind. New York: Penguin Press, 2020.

Alan Jacobs wrote this book before Cancel Culture got full bloom. The subtitle isn’t so much about developing a tranquil mind. Rather, it is about how to read those from other times and cultures whose values we not only do not share, but sometimes abhor. To be sure, as I am not a delicate snowflake, this problem doesn’t bother me.

Jacobs employs the term “temporal bandwith” as a device for breaking free of the myriad distractions in the modern world. He asks a good question, “Can you remember the second to last thing media culture told you to be outraged about?”

Temporal bandwith is the “width of your present now” (Jacobs 19). Reading old books and authors forces the mind to slow down from our fast pace. It allows our mind to stop and address the “frenetic standstill.” Older works can provide a “buffer of centuries” that allow us to evaluate a position that we would otherwise ignore if it came from a modern-day pundit.

The rest of the book deals with how to navigate those authors who might have moral failings as judged by our culture.

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