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A JEW AMONG ROMANS

THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS

Raphael is imposingly erudite and at pains to demonstrate it, yet there is a remarkable clarity to the writing, many elegant...

Novelist, screenwriter and biographer Raphael (Ifs and Buts, 2011, etc.) succeeds admirably in recovering the reputation of much-maligned historian Titus Flavius Josephus (37–100).

Born to a prominent Jerusalem family, and deeply opposed to a ruinous war with imperial Rome, Josephus provided the sole existing account—The Jewish War—of the Great Revolt of Judaea against the empire. It is a unique chronicle, Raphael insists, in that no previous losing general in a war ever crossed the lines to describe the defeat of his own side. Retained by the Flavian emperors, first as seer and negotiator, and accorded a Romanized name (he was born Joseph ben Mattathias), Josephus would be accused of treachery against the cause he once served, reviled as a Judas by contemporaries and modern detractors alike. Raphael is inclined to support Josephus’ veracity, albeit with pointed disclaimers. He argues that to dismiss this adroit survivor as a traitorous collaborator underrates not only Josephus’ desire to save Jewish lives, but also his subtlety as a secular historian who smuggled brutal truths about Roman conduct into his work. As Raphael is chiefly concerned with Josephus’ character and writing, his extensive references are almost entirely literary and biographical, many dealing with Jewish writers and intellectuals (Spinoza et al.) through the centuries who echo Josephus’ life as an apostate and alienated observer. Informed by scrupulous, sometimes exhaustive footnotes and addenda, the book is not simply an arresting biography, but a persuasive history of an era. Like his subject, Raphael’s breadth of intelligence works against single-mindedness. Throughout, he quotes the conclusions, often opposed to his reading, of other historians.

Raphael is imposingly erudite and at pains to demonstrate it, yet there is a remarkable clarity to the writing, many elegant turns of phrase and a measure of sly humor.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-37816-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
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  • IndieBound Bestseller


  • National Book Award Winner


  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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