Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader's Guide to a More Tranquil Mind

Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader's Guide to a More Tranquil Mind

From the author of HOW TO THINK and THE PLEASURES OF READING IN AN AGE OF DISTRACTION, a literary guide to engaging with the voices of the past to stay sane in the present

W. H. Auden once wrote that “art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.” In his brilliant and compulsively readable new treatise, Breaking Bread with the Dead, Alan Jacobs shows us that engaging with the strange and wonderful writings of the past might help us live less anxiously in the present—and increase what Thomas Pynchon once called our “personal density.”

Today we are battling too much information in a society changing at lightning speed, with algorithms aimed at shaping our every thought—plus a sense that history offers no resources, only impediments to overcome or ignore. The modern solution to our problems is to surround ourselves only with what we know and what brings us instant comfort. Jacobs’s answer is the opposite: to be in conversation with, and challenged by, those from the past who can tell us what we never thought we needed to know.

What can Homer teach us about force? How does Frederick Douglass deal with the massive blind spots of America’s Founding Fathers? And what can we learn from modern authors who engage passionately and profoundly with the past? How can Ursula K. Le Guin show us truths about Virgil’s female characters that Virgil himself could never have seen? In Breaking Bread with the Dead, a gifted scholar draws us into close and sympathetic engagement with texts from across the ages, including the work of Anita Desai, Henrik Ibsen, Jean Rhys, Simone Weil, Edith Wharton, Amitav Ghosh, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Italo Calvino, and many more.

By hearing the voices of the past, we can expand our consciousness, our sympathies, and our wisdom far beyond what our present moment can offer.

Title:Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader's Guide to a More Tranquil Mind
Edition Language:English
ISBN:9781984878403
Format Type:

    Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader's Guide to a More Tranquil Mind Reviews

  • Shelley

    2020 desperately needed Alan Jacobs's Breaking Bread with the Dead. Reading it was a breath of fresh air.If you appreciate old books and feel increasingly dismayed by the fragility of well educated tw...

  • Jeremy

    For Jacobs on "temporal bandwidth," see here (adapted from this book). Related post here. CT review here. Interview here (might be more about 1943).The Brazos Fellows colloquium was very good (watch i...

  • Cameron

    A gentle reminder I actually need to read the books I’ve accumulated....

  • Stephen Hicks

    This book is a balm to the frenetic pace of 2020. The relation between “temporal bandwidth” and “personal density” provides much needed language for our informational predicament. The book end...

  • Gideon Yutzy

    Those of us alive in the 21st century often feel obligated to grapple with such a flood of new information and ideas (information triage, as Jacobs calls it), and we often think, who would be bothered...

  • Melody Schwarting

    W. H. Auden wrote, "Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead," and thus we have our title. Jacobs here advocates for reading old books, the words of dead people, as a means to greater "p...

  • Rebecca

    Timely, thought provoking, and saying similar things to what I've been thinking about a lot these past few years. Where he uses phrases like personal density, mental bandwidth, and the big here and th...

  • Matt Pitts

    If you've ever wished C. S. Lewis's introduction to On the Incarnation had been a book instead of an essay, here your wish is fulfilled in one of Lewis's foremost disciples. But Jacobs is no mere plac...

  • Ivan

    A good antidote to presentism and prescription for a “more tranquil mind.”...

  • Elizabeth

    This book is superb. I will be returning to this again and again for its sanity and wisdom. I love that Jacobs demonstrates in this book what he recommends, which is to draw on dead authors to recomme...