An alternately nostalgic, entertaining, and annoying portrait of what Joselit sees as the domestication, commercialization, and sentimentalization of American Jewish culture. Joselit (Our Gang, not reviewed) has combed an array of Jewish newspapers, memoirs, synagogue bulletins, and other documents to create a vast assemblage of facts about the transformation of Jewish ritual and religion in America. She details the evolution of the simple Jewish marriage ceremony into a copiously catered, highly theatrical ``affair''; the growth of Jewish consumer culture, from Bible dolls to bar mitzvah suits to designer Chanukah menorahs; and the devolution of the observance of kashruth into a yen for gefilte fish. The rise and fall of confirmation as an egalitarian alternative to the bar mitzvah, the development of advertising targeted to a Jewish market (exemplified by the ubiquitous Maxwell House Passover haggadah)—all are related in engaging detail. But Joselit's analysis is thin (she speaks of the ``promise of America'' and the clash between individualist American culture and community-based Jewish culture), leaving readers with a sense of nostalgia for the past, a patronizing attitude toward an era when divorce was referred to as a ``marital mishap,'' and irritation at the glib tone with which Joselit refers to intermarriage as ``the ultimate romantic escapade.'' In the end, a distasteful, homogenized portrait emerges of a Jewish community consisting of what Joselit calls the ``folk'' (a cultural grouping, not a class one) who think religion can be lively and fun, and a bunch of crabby rabbis (the ``elite'') who rant and rail over their materialism and abandonment of tradition. It is a spiritually bereft culture, in which the deli is visited more regularly than the synagogue and Chanukah is less a celebration of freedom than, as one woman put it in 1950, a ``major competitive winter sport.'' It was a culture that led to both higher rates of intermarriage and a search for spiritual renewal in the post-50s decades. Unfortunately, Joselit ends her tale too soon.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8090-2757-7

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1995



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


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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