Short Review: "The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography" by Alan Jacobs

The Book of Common Prayer: A BiographyThe Book of Common Prayer: A Biography by Alan Jacobs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recently I heard Alan Jacobs, author of "The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography," interviewed on Mars Hill Audio Journal. The whole discussion intrigued me and so I snatched up a copy of this 236 page hardback. I found it easy to read, free of laborious longitudinal loquaciousness, and full of perceptive and instructive material.

The first five chapters of “The Book of Common Prayer” take the reader through the environmental history of Thomas Cranmer and his original prayer book, as well as its literary and liturgical ingredients. The flux and flow of its use and disuse, along with its society-shaping consequences are brought forward in broad strokes and embossed swipes. Jacobs has made what could have been a dry labor into something accessible and attention-grabbing.

The final two chapters, coupled with the appendix, take the reader around the corner. Here Jacobs shows how the pressure to modernize the prayer book shattered its being a “common” prayer book. And then how the easy access to proliferations of alternative liturgies through the internet has taken away the “book.” In the end, the author leaves us with the sense that Cranmer’s work has, at the least, fallen on very hard times; and at the worst, has now ceased to have more than simply a literary value.

I recommend “The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography” by Alan Jacobs, both for its valuable information into the crafting and history of the prayer book; along with the thoughtful reflection it evokes on the uniqueness of the prayer book’s liturgical and literary heritage. This would be a great resource for church folk, whether clerical or laity; and it would be a good discussion starter in a Christian book group.

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