blog Reading & Writing

22 Critical Quotes from ‘Breaking Bread with the Dead’

Some books leave an indelible impact on us. They influence our thinking and alter our knowledge structures. Such books – even when they sit motionless on our shelves – lure us into picking them back up. This impact is so profound that you keep reading them over – sometimes, just a few pages and sometimes, the portions you highlighted in your first tryst.

Robert Greene’s Mastery, Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile and Skin in the Game, all of Umberto Eco’s books are some of the works that I can’t seem to get enough of. I am sure you also have similar examples of your favorite authors and their stellar works.

Another prolific author that has got my attention is Alan Jacobs – a distinguished scholar of English literature and the bestselling author of Breaking Bread with the Dead (2020) and How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (2017).

You can read my review of his awe-inspiring book Breaking Bread with the Dead here. In this post, I have captured some of the momentous quotes from the book. Please read them below and enjoy the introspection:

22 Favorite Quotes from Breaking Bread with the Dead

“One of the things you learn from studying the past is how our ancestors conceived of their own past.” – Alan Jacobs

“The primitive is still a part of our psychological and moral constitution. So to read old books leads us to get in touch with those elements of our constitution that we are unable to notice otherwise.” – Alan Jacobs

“When you expose your kids to something that wasn’t packaged with them as the target audience in mind, you are broadening their horizons.” – Alan Jacobs

“The deeper your understanding of the past, the more solid your persona, the greater personal density you will accumulate.” – Alan Jacobs

“Reading old books can be a vital contribution to the deveolpment of personal density. To acquire the personal density, you have to get out of your transitory moment and into bigger time.” – Alan Jacobs

“To think toward the future is to be limited by our deficient imaginations and therefore we need the witness of the past.” – Alan Jacobs

“Our social media feeds assume that we will be interested in what everyone else is interested in. By reading the past, we cut through the thick vines that bind our attention to the things of the moment. Our attention thereby becomes more free. ” – Alan Jacobs

“My problem with the disregard of the past is that we are highly selective in what elements of a historical person’s character we are willing to take seriously. We tend to consider only those elements that reflect the dominant concerns of our moment.” – Alan Jacobs

“The human predicament: We are all inconstant and changeable. We should not be surprised that Jefferson and Washington failed to live up to their ideals. Instead, we should be surprised that in their time and place, they upheld such ideals at all.” – Alan Jacobs

“If a book confirms your present state of opinion, why bother reading it all?” – Alan Jacobs

“Reading has enormous power and this power arises from likeness – from the sense that could be me speaking and from difference – that is someone very different from me speaking. For mental and moral health we need both.” – Alan Jacobs

“The work that you do to overcome the resistance by old books is worth it. Ancients speak with you from half a world and 1000s of years away.” – Alan Jacobs

“Stoicism focuses explicitly on self-improvement, so it can be blended easily into the self-help aspect of Red pill communities. The blue pill keeps you intellectually sedated whereas the red pill shows them what the world is really like.” – Alan Jacobs


“We are losing the ability to understand how people in the past thought about their attitudes and actions, and therefore, we are losing the ability to make proportionate moral judgments.” – Alan Jacobs

“The idealization and demonization of the past are equally easy, and immensely tempting in an age of social acceleration.” – Alan Jacobs

“An environment of high informational density produces people of low personal density. A world that seems to give us infinite choice actually makes choice nearly impossible.” – Alan Jacobs

“Ideas and ambitions aren’t worth much unless they are transformed into a settled disposition, a habit of mind.” – Alan Jacobs

“The moment of double realization: to confront the reality that the very same people who give us rich wisdom can also talk what seems to us absolute nonsense is an education in the human condition.” – Alan Jacobs

“Wherever you go, there you are. The future cannot teach us because we are the ones who must imagine it.” – Alan Jacobs

“We should judge characters from the past in precisely the same way we judge characters of our own time.” – Alan Jacobs

“Even the best of men do not consistently live on the highest plane of virtue and most men live far below it.” – Alan Jacobs

“Wisdom lies in discernment. Utopianism and nostalgia are ways of abandoning discernment.” – Alan Jacobs


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