Freedman brings impressive research to the biography of a 2,000-year-old text that still excites scholars, inspires...



A history of the Jewish people as reflected in its central text.

The Talmud, Freedman (The Gospels' Veiled Agenda: Revolution, Priesthood and the Holy Grail, 2009, etc.) explains in this capacious history, is an “arcane and obscure” compendium of interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. Containing nearly 2 million words, the original Talmud recorded discussions that took place among scholars in Babylon between the third and fifth centuries. Although the Talmud is now considered “the final authority on Jewish religious law and practice,” it began as an academic exercise of biblical exegesis, with analyses transmitted orally. “Talmudic scholars would happily base their rulings on it when responding to inquiries,” the author writes, “but they weren’t particularly bothered about laying it out in front of the masses as an object of study.” Once the Talmud became fixed in writing, it took on the function of law, and it became the focus of waves of anti-Semitism. Copies in France were destroyed in 1242, when Pope Gregory IX, in a sweeping condemnation of Jews, ordered the text to be burned. From 1553 to 1559, all copies found in Rome went up in flames. In creating the biography of a book, Freedman offers biographical sketches of major figures involved in its story, including the 11th-century rabbi known as Rashi, whose commentary forms part of the modern Talmud; Maimonides, “a giant on the Tamudic stage”; and Baruch Spinoza, a philosopher whose ideas challenged the teachings of the Talmud. The modern Talmud is a layered work, comprising quotations from the Mishnah, a codification of Jewish law written in the second to third centuries; Babylonian commentaries; additions by the original editors of the Talmud; and later material intended to provide introductions and conclusions to various topics.

Freedman brings impressive research to the biography of a 2,000-year-old text that still excites scholars, inspires controversy and reflects turbulent events in Jewish history.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1472905949

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


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.

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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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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