Comprehensive reading, travel, and imagination form a firm foundation for this swift, focused biography.




The compelling story of Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), one of the primary leaders of the Zionist movement. Penslar, who teaches Jewish history at Harvard, reveals with thorough research and bright clarity that Herzl was an astonishing talent and a striking physical specimen with a resonant voice. He became a journalist for the Neue Freie Presse, “the most prestigious newspaper in Austria-Hungary,” as well as a successful novelist and playwright; Penslar summarizes much of that work—sometimes excessively so. After reviewing Herzl’s youth, the author focuses on his growing passion for Zionism, rise to fame, access to the principal players in European and Middle Eastern politics, and creation of political groups that elevated Zionism in the world’s consciousness. In 1949, Herzl’s remains were moved from Vienna to Israel, where Mount Herzl now rises over western Jerusalem, featuring the national cemetery. Penslar portrays his subject as a gifted and popular journalist who eventually became the paper’s literary editor and who managed to write prolifically despite his growing commitment to Zionism and the requirements of family. The author paints a painful picture of Herzl’s fraught relationship with his wife, Julie. (It was her family money that funded the freedom Herzl enjoyed.) Penslar also shows that Herzl was not a practicing Jew. Instead, he saw the various threats to Jews in Europe and looked for a place that might accept a mass immigration. He “fashioned himself as a certain kind of Jew—a member of a nation, yet liberal, cosmopolitan, and outward-looking; non-religious but respectful…proud to identify as a Jew in the face of ridicule and hatred.” Although Herzl didn’t live to see his dream realized, he has become a cultural icon—though, as the author notes, his fame is fading among the Israeli young. Penslar does not neglect Herzl’s problems, including a passion for the spotlight. Comprehensive reading, travel, and imagination form a firm foundation for this swift, focused biography.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-18040-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2020

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The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power. Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project. If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.


A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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