I began reading Jonathan Kirsch’s “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris” (Liveright Publishing Co., 2013) with considerable skepticism.
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 Dennis Prager, he was a host of "Religion on the Line," a Sunday evening colloquy that brought clergy of various faiths together and proved that theological shoptalk could be compelling to a general audience.
Imagine a private conversation - at moments, an intimate conversation - between two public intellectuals whose careers have been devoted to understanding the wider world in which we find ourselves. One is facing imminent death, and the other is recording the conversation in a valiant effort to preserve the dying man’s final thoughts.
One way to mark the chronology of the counterculture, a pastime that is beloved by the baby boomers, is by reference to rock festivals. Woodstock and Altamont, for example, are now fully transformed into transcendent symbols of life and death, good and evil, the beginning and end of something. But the real starting point, the uber-festival, was Monterey.
California is defined, both geographically and psychologically, by the fact that the state sits on the ragged edge of the continent — “an ambiguous portion of the whole state,” as Philip L. Fradkin puts it in “The Left Coast: California on the Edge” (University of California Press: $29.95), a superb work of art and text that seeks to understand what we really mean when we casually refer to “the Coast.”
Perhaps the single biggest surprise in “The Synagogue in America: A Short History,” by Marc Lee Raphael (New York University Press: $30), is its sheer entertainment value. Raphael, who holds the Nathan Gumenick chair of Judaic studies at the College of William and Mary, has produced a short, highly readable and wholly illuminating study that will delight anyone who has ever sat in shul and told himself the beloved old Jewish joke that ends with the punch line: “To that one, I never go.”
The headliners at the 2011 edition of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books range from literary luminaries like Carolyn See, Dave Eggers, T.C. Boyle and Jennifer Egan, to fitness icon Jillian Michaels and master prestidigitator Ricky Jay, but the biggest news is the change of venue. After a 15-year run at the UCLA campus, the event has moved to the lively and welcoming campus of the University of Southern California in downtown Los Angeles.
To sum up the exotic history of the Black Sea port of Odessa, Charles King, in “Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams” (Norton: $27.95), describes “a city that had been scouted by a Neapolitan mercenary, named by a Russian empress, governed by her one-eyed secret husband, built by two exiled French noblemen, modernized by a Cambridge-educated count, and celebrated by his wife’s Russian lover.” The Yiddish phrase Lebn vi Got in Odes! (“Live like God in Odessa!”), according to King, “could be a blessing, a curse, or a jab at the puffed-up pretensions of city folk.”
Barack Obama has been fated to lead the nation in interesting times, including a free-fall recession, a natural disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a bitter and ongoing battle over healthcare reform, and the sea-changes that are only now welling up in the Middle East.
If there is a Palestinian Arab who deserves to feel aggrieved, surely it is Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. Three of his daughters and a niece were killed by a shell fired by the Israel Defense Forces during the fighting in Gaza in 2009. Yet Dr. Abuelaish has refused to resort to recrimination and struggles instead to make sense of these tragic deaths.
Robert Alter is the 2009 recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award, a lifetime achievement award named after my late father and given each year by the Los Angeles Times. It will be my honor to hand the award to Alter, a role I have been asked to perform on a few memorable occasions over the years. But never before have I discharged my duties with a greater sense of pleasure, admiration and enthusiasm. Alter is, as I once wrote in a review of his work in the L.A. Times, “one of the living masters of biblical criticism and translation.”
Jonathan Kirsch's compelling new book, "A History of the End of the World" is discussed and compared to other views about the end-time.
With best-selling books like "The Harlot by the Side of the Road" and "Moses: A Life," Jonathan Kirsch has been pioneering an unusual genre that combines themes religious, historical and literary, written with a Jewish sensibility.
"The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold History of the Jewish People," by Jonathan Kirsch (Viking Press, $14.95).
Jonathan Kirsch lives a double life that many lawyers only dream of.
If Jonathan Kirsch's purpose in writing "Moses: A Life," was to offer the reader a mightily researched, comprehensive chronicle of midrashic, scholarly, secular, Christian and even some Muslim commentaries about Moses and the events immediately surrounding his life as told in the Bible, he has succeeded. Anyone seeking explanations for a given period or event related to Moses need simply look to this well-organized volume. Even the most learned will find previously unfamiliar material explained in a clear, intelligent and accessible fashion. While not everything he has collected is exciting, there is a tremendous amount of fascinating material for anyone interested in Moses and his family as well as some wonderful insights.