A nuanced, carefully considered comparison of the deep-seated beliefs that pervade both groups.

THE CHOSEN PEOPLES

AMERICA, ISRAEL, AND THE ORDEALS OF DIVINE ELECTION

A treatise on the roots and consequences of believing that one’s people and oneself are chosen by God, specifically in the cases of Israel and the United States.

In the first half of the book, Gitlin (Journalism and Sociology/Columbia Univ.; The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals, 2007, etc.) and Tablet magazine editor Leibovitz (Aliya: Three Generations of American-Jewish Immigration to Israel, 2005) consider Jewish history from the time of the Torah through the Zionist occupation of Israel in the 1960s. They look closely at the origins of the Hebrew children’s divine election and its evolving interpretations through the centuries. So abiding and pervasive was the idea of chosenness in Jewish culture, the authors argue, that it united both secular and religious Jews in justifying the creation of a nation-state in the Holy Land. The second half of the book traces American history from Puritan colonists, who considered themselves the inheritors of God’s covenant with Israel, through all of the major 19th- and 20th-century presidents. As the idea of America grew, so too did its people’s faith in their exceptional status as God’s gift to the world and their divine purpose in bringing his kingdom to earth, whether in the form of ever-spreading Christian salvation, democracy or social justice. The final two chapters delve into the authors’ opinions about chosenness and how it governs the actions of even the so-called “unchosen.” Gitlin and Leibovitz draw apt comparisons between the two cultures’ often violent uprooting of the respective native peoples—Palestinians and Indians—that got in the way of their manifest destinies. Although the section on American history flows more smoothly, the Jewish chapters offer a more complex examination of how the idea of chosenness has figured both politically and psychologically. The book offers lively, approachable scholarship for the lay reader and student of history alike, featuring sharply rendered arguments at a pace that rewards sustained attention without oversimplifying.

A nuanced, carefully considered comparison of the deep-seated beliefs that pervade both groups.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-3235-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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