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THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

A SOCIAL JUSTICE COMMENTARY

An engaging, challenging, and relevant commentary on an ancient source of wisdom.

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In this spiritual work, an influential rabbi analyzes the book of Proverbs through the lens of social justice.

Yanklowitz is the founder and head of Shamayim: Jewish Animal Advocacy and YATOM: The Jewish Foster and Adoption Network, and he frequently appears on lists of America’s most inspirational rabbis. With advanced degrees from Harvard and Columbia and as the author of almost two dozen books, he has an undisputed grasp of ancient Jewish thought and its contemporary applications. But he readily admits that this work, a commentary on the book of Proverbs, was “my most difficult one to write to date.” Moving chapter by chapter through Proverbs, the volume follows the predictable pattern of most Torah commentaries. It offers the original text in Hebrew side by side with an English translation and followed by editorial commentary by the author. Yanklowitz’s analysis comes in the form of 57 essays that center on themes related to social justice and personal application. While the book has a firm command of the ancient understandings of Proverbs and is accompanied by an impressive body of research reflected in the endnotes, it excels at disrupting the traditionalist impulses of religion. Readers are challenged to rebel against unjust systems of oppression, to always question authority, and to seek wisdom that transcends blind obedience to religious dogmas. And while the volume does not eschew traditional Jewish interpretations of Proverbs, it reads the texts “critically, with intellectual skepticism.” As such, the work grapples with occasional passages that deal with, for instance, archaic ideas related to gender. Given Proverbs’ lack of direct references to God, Yanklowitz convincingly argues that the biblical book “is accessible to a broad readership, believers and non-believers alike.” This commentary, despite its distinctly Jewish outlook, likewise has a broad appeal and should interest readers of varied religious backgrounds. Written in an accessible style and with a useful glossary for those unacquainted with Jewish terminology, the volume will also entice scholars, religious leaders, and lay readers. And while the essays can be a bit repetitive at times, this work nevertheless delivers another excellent commentary by a contemporary Jewish luminary.

An engaging, challenging, and relevant commentary on an ancient source of wisdom.

Pub Date: June 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-88123-376-6

Page Count: 472

Publisher: Central Conference of American Rabbis Press

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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