Informative, merrily entertaining culinary and cultural history.



An enticing tour of Judaism’s culinary past.

Wex (How to Be a Mentsh (and Not a Shmuck), 2009, etc.) brings lighthearted humor and his considerable expertise on Jewish culture to a wide-ranging look at Jewish food, from biblical dietary restrictions to New York bagels. The Bible forbade Israelites to mix meat and dairy products, eat leavened bread on Passover, and cook on the Sabbath. The last injunction led to the invention of a stew called cholent, which Jews prepared on Friday afternoon and left heating overnight. The meat came from a list of permitted animals: only “ruminants with cloven hoofs.” And those must be killed while still conscious, and bled thoroughly, in the koshering process. Permitted fish must have scales and fins; insects, with the exceptions of locusts, grasshoppers, and crickets, were not allowed. Nobody, Wex writes, “ancient or modern, Jewish or gentile, has the vaguest idea of why the forbidden species are forbidden.” Some ingredients became pervasive in dishes from many areas, especially garlic, onions, and the delectable schmaltz: rendered fat from chickens or, preferably, geese. Although Wex gives few actual recipes, he does provide one for schmaltz, “the champagne of animal fat.” The author explains the popularity of kishka, or stuffed beef intestine tsimmes, a fruit and vegetable stew; the braided challah; chicken soup, which “has served as a specific for what ails the Jews for close to two millennia”; and the latkes (potato pancakes), blintzes (crepes often stuffed with cheese), and bagels that have transcended Jewish cooking and made their ways into mainstream culture. Wex takes on the thorny question of where bagels originated and what constitutes the authentic variety. The bagel, he writes, “has managed the near unimaginable feat of actually becoming American” despite having “half the shelf life of a fruit fly.” But topping one with cream cheese and lox began only in the 1930s.

Informative, merrily entertaining culinary and cultural history.

Pub Date: April 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-07151-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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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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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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