A multifaceted story artfully woven by an expert historian.

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THE STORY OF THE JEWS

FINDING THE WORDS 1000 BC-1492 AD

Witty, nimble and completely in his element, Schama (History and Art History/Columbia Univ.; Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Politics, Ice Cream, Churchill, and My Mother, 2011, etc.), in a book tie-in to a PBS and BBC series, fashions a long-planned “labor of love” that nicely dovetails the biblical account with the archaeological record.

Indeed, as this densely written effort accompanies the visual story, the author fixes on a tangible element (such as papyrus, shard or document) in each chapter as a point of departure in advancing the early history of the Jews. For example, a missive in papyrus by a father to his missionary son from an island in the Upper Nile circa 475 B.C. illustrates the thriving expat Jewish community in Egypt, despite the dire “perdition” narrative about Egypt being written at the same time by the first Hebrew sages in Judea and Babylon. The remains of early synagogues in Hellenized Cyrenaica and elsewhere, built in a classical Greek temple style, with graphic mosaics, reveal how the Jews were intimately situated in their crossover surroundings. The inscriptions and excavations at Zafar (in present-day Yemen) attest to the Judaic conversion of the Kingdom of Himyar in the late fourth century, evidence that “the Jews were far from a tenuous, alien presence amid the ethnically Arab world of the Hijaz and the Himyar.” In the long litany of persecution and suppression, climaxing but scarcely ceasing with the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70, the Jews had to scatter, taking their words with them, and the Torah was later enriched by the “picayune” codifications of the Mishnah and Talmud, all as a way “to rebuild Jerusalem in the imagination and memory.” Schama is relentless in faulting the break between Christianity and Judaism as the spur to the subsequent phobia against the “pariah tribe.”

A multifaceted story artfully woven by an expert historian.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-053918-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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