An entertaining overview likely to inspire debate.

TYPICALLY JEWISH

A spirited examination of the essence of Jewishness.

Acknowledging that Jews “don’t know if we are a religion, a civilization, an ethnic group, a race, all or none of the above,” librarian and journalist Maxwell (Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship, 2006, etc.) maintains, nevertheless, that Jews share definable traits. Drawing on abundant sources, including the Talmud, Judaic scholars and historians, rabbis, a cadre of friends that make up her own “Jewish Jury,” and assorted figures from popular culture (Woody Allen, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, and Joan Rivers, among many more), the author brings a lively curiosity to her lighthearted investigation. Describing herself as a “spiritual-but-not-religious Jew” who married a non-Jew and has raised her daughter as a Jew, she feels an “unshakable loyalty” to her Jewish identity and sets out to discover what makes Jewishness distinctive. Worrying, she asserts, is a special Jewish trait, perhaps inspired by ancient disasters (the Ten Plagues, for example) or persecution. Other shared behaviors include taking pride in achievements attained by Jews; an affinity for joining social and charitable groups; and particular food choices, such as cheesecake, bagels and lox, and gefilte fish. Her assertion, though, that Jews have a “unique relationship” with food might surprise “an Italian Catholic momma” whose “religion doesn’t even esteem food as much as mine.” Comedy seems to Maxwell also particularly Jewish. “Over the past forty years,” she writes, “an estimated 80 percent of America’s leading comedians and writers have been Jews.” The search for typical traits leads, not surprisingly, to the stereotypical: Maxwell debunks the derogatory image of a “Jewish nose” but not the notion that Jews talk faster and louder than others. She asserts that verbal sparring results from Jews’ tendency “to trust that with enough talking, arguing, debating, and analyzing, the truth will emerge.” Besides examining traits, Maxwell considers her own apparently uncanny “Jewdar” that enables her to recognize other Jews. Urging Jews to talk about her book with others, she provides a 30-page appendix of hints to structure discussion.

An entertaining overview likely to inspire debate.

Pub Date: March 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8276-1302-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Jewish Publication Society

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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