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  • Atheists of the Book

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    November 14, 2012 | 4:18 pm

    Jews have long been called the People of the Book, but the fact is that we elevate words and even letters to the realm of the sacred. The name of God is so holy in pious tradition that we are not permitted to speak it aloud, and some of the glorious wordplay of Jewish texts,...

  • Superman is Jewish?: People of the comic book

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    November 8, 2012 | 10:42 am

    Nothing is quite so purely American as the comic book, which is why it will come as a surprise to some readers to discover that philosopher Harry Brod regards Superman and Spider-Man and many other comic-book characters to be uniquely Jewish artifacts that offer crucial insights...

  • Celebrating Jewish Book Month

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 31, 2012 | 2:45 pm

    Nothing says more about the unsettled state of American publishing than the fact that Jonathan Adler is the only author who will be presenting a book event at the Skirball Cultural Center during Jewish Book Month. 

    Adler, of course, is famous as a designer, retailer and pop...

  • Tracing Jewish genetics

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 24, 2012 | 2:00 pm

    The single most hotly debated (and often heartbreaking) issue of Jewish identity is whether and to what extent we carry our Jewishness in our blood. It’s a question that took on life-and-death implications during the Spanish Inquisition and again during the Shoah, but it still...

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  • A map of the Bible

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 17, 2012 | 3:45 pm

    Yoram Hazony opens his new book, “The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture” (Cambridge University Press: $24.99), with a challenging question: “Is there something crucial missing in our understanding of what the Hebrew Bible is all about?” His answers are both surprising and...

  • Three women, the Israel Defense Forces, and the price of fear

    October 10, 2012 | 5:08 pm

    It’s hard to imagine anyone else’s reality.  We pretend we do in order not to feel so helpless.  But usually, we’re just guessing or faking it.  Thus, it is incredibly rare and spectacular to find an author who possesses the literary talent to transport us so completely and...

  • Rosner’s ‘Voter’s Guide’ offers an insider’s view

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 8, 2012 | 12:45 pm

    Every four years, the same question is asked in America: Which candidate will win the Jewish vote? With the 2012 presidential election teetering on a razor’s edge, however, the question takes on new importance and even a certain poignancy. That’s exactly why it caught the attention...

  • At what price progress?

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 3, 2012 | 4:32 pm

    Michael Chabon, the literary wunderkind, won a Pulitzer Prize for “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” which conjured up the American comic book industry in the glory days of the 1930s and 1940s. His latest novel, “Telegraph Avenue” (HarperCollins: $27.99), flashes forward...

  • ‘Jews and Booze,’ producers, consumers and some extortionists

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 27, 2012 | 5:11 pm

    Marni Davis had me with the title of her book, “Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition” (New York University Press: $32).  But the book itself, an academic monograph that is also highly readable, is an eye-opener.

    Davis, a history professor at Georgia State...

  • A troubadour’s journey

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 19, 2012 | 3:10 pm

    Among the most-played songs in my iTunes library are four immortal (and often-covered) compositions by Leonard Cohen: “Sisters of Mercy,” “Bird on a Wire,” “Hallelujah” and, of course, “Suzanne.” Significantly, “Hallejujah” is a meditation on the “sweet singer of Israel,” King...

  • Who is a Jew, anyway?

    September 14, 2012 | 3:31 pm

    Perhaps nobody who reads book reviews in The Jewish Journal would ever ask herself or himself, “Am I a Jew?” Perhaps the act of reading The Jewish Journal answers the question. After all, would somebody unsure of her or his Judaism seek out such a publication? On the other hand,...

  • From Salman Rushdie to Susan Straight, a fall harvest

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 10, 2012 | 3:49 pm

    Fall is high season for the publishing industry. Jewish Book Month, which arrives in November, may have a little something to do with it, and so does the stirring of activity that always follows Labor Day. But the most important reason, of course, is the approach of the gift-giving...

  • The illusion of a solution

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 5, 2012 | 10:50 am

    Of all the incendiary books that have been written about Israel over the last year or so, none is quite as fiery as "Israel: The Will to Prevail" by Danny Danon (Palgrave Macmillan: $26).

    Danon is a young activist in the Likud Party and serves as deputy speaker of the Knesset. He...

  • Paul Auster’s haunting view of aging

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 28, 2012 | 12:41 pm

    Paul Auster is best known and often praised for his postmodernist novels and short stories, including “The New York Trilogy” and “Sunset Park,” but his lifetime of literary achievement actually began with a 1982 memoir, “The Invention of Solitude,” his first published...

  • Distinct voices

    August 27, 2012 | 11:15 am

    A cantata is a musical composition typically composed of solos, duets, and other forms for voice, sung with instrumental accompaniment. Thus framed, the title of Jeffrey Lewis’s latest novel, “Berlin Cantata” (Haus, $15, ISBN 978-1-907822-43-8), aligns nicely with the book’s...

  • Mickey Cohen’s colorful life of crime

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 22, 2012 | 4:08 pm

    Meyer Harris Cohen was born in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in imperial Russia, immigrated with his family to the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn and reached Los Angeles’ Jewish point of entry in Boyle Heights in 1915. Up to this point, the spare details of his biography are...

  • How Jewish is relativity?

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 8, 2012 | 3:14 pm

    “If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world,” Albert Einstein quipped in 1922. “Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am...

  • Madeleine Albright reveals secret past in ‘Prague Winter’

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 1, 2012 | 4:06 pm

    Madeleine Albright and Christopher Hitchens are two famous figures who discovered their Jewish ancestry only in adulthood. The discovery did nothing to temper Hitchens’ harsh view of religion in general or the State of Israel in particular. For Albright, by contrast, the belated...

  • A son and his Jewish mother

    July 31, 2012 | 10:00 am

    A pervasive Jewish mythology has always idealized the mother-son relationship.  But Proust knew better.  Shortly after his mother’s death, he wrote an article in Le Figaro about a man who bludgeoned his mother to death and attempted to speculate what might have ignited this man’s...

  • A family, accomplished but without much gain

    July 29, 2012 | 12:00 pm

    Joshua Henkin, author of “The World Without You” (Pantheon Books, $25.95), has frequently said in interviews that he first fell head over heels in love with reading and then convinced himself he could become a writer because he intuitively sensed what was missing in other...

  • Ellen Levy’s unlikely quest to find herself in the Amazon

    July 27, 2012 | 10:00 am

    “Amazons: A Love Story” (University of Missouri Press: $24.95) is a highly unusual, poignant coming-of-age saga by a half-Jewish writer nearly off the scale in candor and braininess. Her name is E.J. (Ellen) Levy. My bet is that any lover of words who takes the time to read her...

  • Re-examining Twain’s work, Clemens’ life

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 25, 2012 | 11:07 am

    Ira Fistell is a familiar and even beloved figure in the Los Angeles radio market, where he long served as an exceptionally amiable, thoughtful and well-informed talk-show host on subjects ranging from politics and religion to vintage trains and Mississippi steamboats. Along with...

  • Biblical politics

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 19, 2012 | 1:11 pm

    Michael Walzer frankly announces at the outset of “In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible” (Yale University Press: $28.00) that he is approaching the Scriptures not as a biblical scholar but as a political thinker.  “The Bible is, above all, a religious book,” he...

  • ...With liberty, justice and religion for all

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 11, 2012 | 12:10 pm

    The biblical reference in the title of Stephen Prothero’s “The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation” (HarperOne: $29.99) is purely metaphorical. Although Prothero is a professor of religion and the best-selling author of “Religious Literacy” and...

  • Israel in the eyes of Harvey Pekar

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 5, 2012 | 4:47 pm

    Ever since Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” won a Pulitzer Prize, no apologies need to be made for the aspirations of comic book artists to enter the realm of literature.  R. Crumb, for example, recently rendered nothing less exalted than the Book of Genesis as a graphic novel.  And...

  • Irving Berlin: ‘master of secular religion’

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    June 26, 2012 | 12:05 pm

    “What Irving Berlin did for the modern musical theatre,” Alan Lerner once quipped, “was to make it possible.”

    But Jeffrey Magee, author of “Irving Berlin’s American Musical Theater” (Oxford University Press: $35), appears to believe that Lerner’s praise is an understatement...

  • Asking God and Allah to talk

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    June 20, 2012 | 2:08 pm

    Journalist and filmmaker Ruth Broyde Sharone is an activist and a visionary in what she calls “interfaith engagement,” but she is also a realist, which makes her something of a rarity among those Jews who still hold out hope for rapprochement between Jews and Muslims in the...

  • Dennis Prager: Man of hard truths

    By David Suissa

    June 20, 2012 | 11:48 am

    As I was reading Dennis Prager’s new book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,” I found myself increasingly frustrated. The words themselves didn’t bother me; rather, it was that silly contraption I was holding in my hands, what’s known as...

  • Himmler’s brain

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    June 6, 2012 | 11:38 am

    Not long ago, I reviewed Peter Longerich’s benchmark biography of Heinrich Himmler in these pages—a work of meticulous and compelling scholarship about the master architect of the Final Solution, a mostly ordinary human being whose claim on history is that he succeeded in putting...

  • Anne Frank, in her family’s eyes

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    May 23, 2012 | 5:53 pm

    Anne Frank, the single most famous name among the six million victims of the Shoah, entered the realm of history and literature with the posthumous publication of her own diary and has been used — and, some would argue, abused — by others who have depicted her on the stage and...

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