A Baylor University humanities professor makes a case for turning to the classics, urging reluctant readers to consider them through the lens of their own time periods while remaining critical of their often problematic content—sexism, racism, and colonial attitudes.
I wholeheartedly agree with his central point, and it’s good to see it laid out so bravely in print. Jacobs, who has taught college-level literature courses for many years, has clearly honed his thoughts in the classroom ... He can be eloquent, at times, in his attempt to convince us that...books will not in fact hurt us ... rhetorical flaws occur ... the book is riddled with them ... Yet there are moments of great insight here ... he wants his readers, and his students, to be open to works of the past—despite and even because of any disagreements we may have with them. And that is certainly a point worth making.
Much of what he says here about 'the value of paying attention to old books' will sound supremely reasonable to those who believe it is good to read them, and to read as many of them as possible. Some of what he says, and in certain cases what he neglects to say, will remind readers why they should broaden their tastes beyond the Western canon ... This author often takes some palpable pains to deliver his own thoughts inoffensively (although he doesn’t always avoid what woke readers will see as cringeworthy phrasing). His rhetorical strategy is not to debate the content of old books but to appeal to people’s self-interest ... If reading helps us understand ourselves better by understanding others, then maybe Jacobs has missed an opportunity to show the degree to which he has benefited from his own reading beyond the Western ethnocentric norm.
The author steers readers to the enriching wisdom that can be discovered through voices from the past, referencing a broad assortment of writers and philosophers ... A persuasive, if sometimes overly academic, case for exploring writers from the past.