Those who fear deep philosophical meanderings can rest easy. Each chapter is supremely readable, understandable, and...



A rock-solid primer on the history and background of the Jewish people that will appeal to adherents and non-Jews alike.

Surveying more than three millennia—from the Call to Abraham in roughly 1500 B.C.E. to the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989—Rosenstein (Director Emeritus, Israel Rabbinical Program/Hebrew Union Coll.; Galilee Diary: Reflections on Daily Life in Israel, 2010, etc.) highlights 30 events that have shaped Jewish life. The author effectively captures the essence of each turning point, providing both a timeline and a salient primary text explaining the Jewish understanding of each event. Abraham’s discovering God and Moses’ revelation of the law at Sinai embody the spiritual foundation on which Judaism is built. From there, the author travels through the history of Western civilization, including the Babylonian exile, Greek and then Roman rule, the transformation of oral law into the Mishna, and the experiences of Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and Hasidic Jews. The golden age in Spain (roughly 900 to 1200) saw a toleration of non-Muslims, and the diaspora of the 15th century dispersed Spanish Jews, creating new footholds across Europe. The Enlightenment encouraged Reform Jews to modify their beliefs and practices to better integrate. The end of the 18th century saw the partition of Poland and Jews fleeing to Russia, where they were dealt with by blood libel, expulsions, and pogroms. Ultimately, the only way to survive was to flee, and many went to the United States, joined by Germans, Italians, and Irish. The German immigrants brought the Reform movement and created a truly American Judaism. Into modern times, the Zionists, seeing a nationality, disputed the Reformists. From the beginning, Rosenstein insists that Judaism is a combination of nation, culture, and religion, a fact that will be debated for some time to come. Fortunately, he provides us with the fascinating basics to understand that debate.

Those who fear deep philosophical meanderings can rest easy. Each chapter is supremely readable, understandable, and enlightening, making the book a valuable addition to any library.

Pub Date: July 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8276-1263-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Jewish Publication Society

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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