A long and quirky look at 1,800 years of minimal Jewish involvement with a pseudoscience, adding little of use either to Jewish history or to the history of science. As he did with The Hebrew Goddess (not reviewed), Patai offers an oxymoronic title and a strained thesis: in this case, that Jews played a major role in the pursuit of the chimerical science of alchemy. While he admits that a only tiny minority of alchemists were Jews, Patai goes on to suggest—but never to prove—that ``the [Jewish] people at large may have believed in the reality of alchemy.'' He dredges up the belief of Hellenist and Muslim adepts of the early Middle Ages that biblical figures were alchemists. Such claims regarding the patriarch Jacob, for example, merely rest on his longevity (a prime alchemical goal) and the mention of a stone on which he props his head (inexplicably associated with the philosopher's stone). With an assortment of obscure charts, tables, and doctrines, the book moves from centuries of Hellenist and Muslim domination of alchemy (with only a Jew or two on the periphery) to 14th-century European Christendom. Apparently the only legitimate reason to connect Judaism to alchemy is that a few curious Jews recorded the ``science'' of their time in Hebrew and ``saved originally non-Jewish alchemical writing for posterity.'' Instead of attempting to establish a link between alchemy and Judaism, Patai might have explored centuries of Christendom's superstitious association of Jews with magical, esoteric, and dark arts. Moreover, he doesn't back up his claim that medieval alchemists were ``the forerunners of modern chemistry,'' so we can't even salvage something for the history of science from this wasteland of bizarre and rather useless information. The real alchemy here is the magical way academics can turn a simple thesis into a 587-page book and a gold mine of research grants.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-691-03290-4

Page Count: 587

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet