The brutal opining of a Dale Peck (see Hatchet Jobs [BKL My 15 04]) may refresh with its frankness, but Jacobs demonstrates that taking a writer to task is more satisfying when it is one element of a holistic appreciation. The five essays in the central section here consider writers about whom Jacobs has strong reservations but whose achievements he recognizes and admires (with the exception of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, subject of the ironically entitled “The Only Honest Man”). Indeed, Jacobs considers Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka one of the two greatest living writers; it is the effects of political upheaval on Soyinka’s later writing that Jacobs rues. Even in the six approbatory pieces that open the book, on Auden (twice), Camus, Solzhenitsyn, poet Linda Gregerson, and bioethicist Leon Kass, Jacobs often places unflattering facts about his subjects in counterpoint to his great liking for them. In the long, concluding essay on creativity and the personal computer, Jacobs balances enthusiasm and skepticism, endorsement and reservation, couching the entire discussion, here as throughout, in the attempt to tell the truth, ordinary and ultimate, from a warmly intelligent Christian perspective.
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