Shaming the Devil

Upon starting Wheaton College Professor Alan Jacobs's Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling, one might find a desperate need for the accompaniment of a literary encyclopedia and, preferably, the Oxford English Dictionary: the writing, though in a warm and candid (and therefore accessible) tone, is dense with literary, historical, and cultural allusions that Jacobs incorporates with the ease of an intellectual dynamo.

But within a few short (information-packed) pages, one trusts the author's wide- ranging, relevant multimedia inclusive recounting of biographical elements, defining of terms, and re-defining of truths as sufficiently far reaching enough to dispense with outside resources to assist in reading through Shaming the Devil. That is, Jacobs is adept in his thorough critical studies of such writers as W. H. Auden, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Albert Camus and in his intelligent survey of computers and creativity, taking expert care in encompassing, explicating, and exploring his terms and themes.

Such themes as wisdom neglected, foresight ignored, and courage sacrificed bind the sections and chapters of the book. Jacobs begins with an anecdote or presents a piece of writing, drama, poetry, or art and then connects his discussion of the work and the author in anecdotal literary fashion—educating the reader by default of his broad and ranging literary acumen. By default and by way of an honest, concerned, and personable approach, in the style of a very fine lecturer whom students clamber to study with, that is.

And while “non-Christians” may blanche at the righteousness that leaks in occasionally (when, for example, the author discusses biblical allusions as contained in the works he is critiquing—asserting that God was thinking this or the reason Noah did that), Jacobs returns to a modest and self-assessing place where he treats all of his questions with equal querulous and holy value, challenging the writer, the group, the reader, the Christian, the country, all of humanity, and himself to hold to the truth that hides in the pockets of the murderous ignorance of evil—challenging us in the tradition of Shakespeare's Hotspur to Glendower: to tell truth and shame the devil.