A rigorously researched and lucidly presented account of a philosopher’s extraordinary journey.

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FROM MOSES TO MOSES

A historical novel that chronicles the trials and triumphs of the great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides.

Moses ben Maimon, more widely known historically as Moses Maimonides, grows up in Córdoba during Spain’s “golden age,” during which not only prosperity reigns, but also religious tolerance, which permits adherents of the three Abrahamic faiths to live and worship side by side. Still, Jews are considered “dhimmis”—second-class citizens, below Muslims. But after the generally lenient Almoravid rulers are replaced by draconian Almohads, Maimonides and his family face a stark choice: flee, convert, or die. In his debut novel, Taylor (Medicine/Univ. Coll. London) details Maimonides’ lifelong search for a safe environment—one that’s stable enough for him to pursue his monumentally significant intellectual ambitions. Maimonides’ family finally flees Córdoba, and then Spain entirely, and after aborted attempts to settle in Morocco and Palestine, they finally find a home in Egypt. While in Morocco, Maimonides nominally converts to Islam but continues to secretly worship as a Jew—a criminal apostasy that’s punishable by death. The author deftly charts Maimonides’ intellectual development, particularly his attempt to reconcile supernatural elements of the Jewish faith with natural science: “He remained convinced of the importance of the scientific method, of the need for independent observation, and of the requirement to be rational in delivering treatment.” Taylor’s command of the details of Maimonides’ life, as well as the cultural and political features of the historical period, is simply magisterial. His account of his subject’s valiant attempt to preserve the Jewish culture and its ancient repository of biblical teachings is as engaging as it is moving. The prose is unfailingly clear throughout, but it’s more academic than literary in tone, and it reads more like scholarly history than literary fiction. Nevertheless, the author shows Maimonides’ life to be both dramatically thrilling and philosophically important.

A rigorously researched and lucidly presented account of a philosopher’s extraordinary journey.

Pub Date: March 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5462-9755-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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