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  • 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...

  • Israel’s ‘Unmaking’

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    November 28, 2011 | 4:59 pm

    No book review I’ve written for The Jewish Journal has prompted as much feedback as the one I wrote about “A New Voice for Israel” by Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of J Street. His argument that Israel must make uncomfortable compromises and take dire risks in order to secure...

  • The mirror of history

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 4, 2011 | 7:00 pm

    My first encounter with Jewish genealogy came when I was invited to give a talk at the annual meeting of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies on the question of whether any living Jew can plausibly claim to have descended from King David.  To the...

  • An insider’s view of also being an outsider

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 27, 2011 | 6:17 pm

    Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a variant of Gresham’s law at work in the arts and letters of the digital age: Is bad writing driving out good? The sheer volume and velocity of the blogosphere, for example, seems to hide the moments of discernment and reflection.

    Now and then,...

  • Awakening to ‘Beasts’ of Hitler’s Berlin

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 31, 2011 | 9:59 am

    Erik Larson attracted a loyal and appreciative readership — and that includes me — with his potent blend of social history and serial murder in the best-selling “The Devil in the White City,” a work of meticulous research that reads like a thriller. Now he puts the same...

  • Moroccan murder mystery weaves web of deception

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 2, 2011 | 5:43 pm

    From the opening passage of “The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World” by Joseph Braude (Spiegel & Grau: $26), we suddenly find ourselves in an atmospheric scene right out of “Casablanca” — an empty alleyway in the storied...

  • The Jewish story behind 264 netsukes

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 27, 2011 | 6:03 pm

    Memoir has come to be regarded nowadays as a highly corrupted literary form, but we are reminded of how rich and meaningful a memoir can be in “The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” by Edmund de Waal (Picador, $16.00). First published in 2010 to great critical acclaim,...

  • Wild Wild Left Coast

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 1, 2011 | 12:47 pm

    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...

  • Change and Stasis: The Ever-Evolving American Synagogue

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    June 21, 2011 | 5:26 pm

    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...

  • Summer reads in all varieties

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    May 31, 2011 | 1:07 pm

    Some beloved and celebrated authors will hit the road in support of their latest books as this summer begins. Here are a few of the most intriguing titles and some of the places where their authors will be reading and signing their books in Southern California:

    Lisa See, author of...

  • A skeptic looks at why we believe

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    May 24, 2011 | 5:35 pm

    Based on firsthand experience, I can say that if you find yourself in a room with Michael Shermer, he’s likely to be the smartest guy present, and I do not mean in the Enron sense.  Shermer, author of “Why People Believe Weird Things” and “The Science of Good and Evil,”...

  • The book festival gets a new home

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    April 26, 2011 | 5:05 pm

    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...

  • ‘Jerusalem’ — ancient symbol, modern struggles

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    March 29, 2011 | 5:25 pm

    Blood has been spilled yet again in the streets of Jerusalem in recent days, and so there is a certain urgency that inevitably attaches itself to “Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World” by James Carroll (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28). Carroll...

  • The benefits of making mistakes

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    March 23, 2011 | 5:18 pm

    “Writers don’t die of typhus,” goes one of my favorite quotations from the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer. “They die of typos.”

    Alina Tugend, however, is one writer who sees errors as an opportunity for redemption and improvement both for individuals and institutions. Indeed, as she...

  • The City Where ‘Everything’ Began

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    March 10, 2011 | 10:35 am

    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...

  • Religion’s power in the face of death

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    February 23, 2011 | 6:25 pm

    Contemporary Bible scholars tend to look at religion as the object of study rather than the source of inspiration, or so we might conclude from their writings.  But something quite different can happen when they are confronted with the kind of life experiences for which religion has...

  • Crossing UFOs and sacred texts in a whodunit

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    January 27, 2011 | 1:30 pm

    Starting with its beguiling title, “Journal of a UFO Investigator” by David Halperin (Viking, $25.95) is an enchantment from beginning to end, a coming-of-age story that is also a kind of whodunit and, above all, an eerie adventure tale set in the subculture of flying saucers and...

  • Facing the terror inside us

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    January 19, 2011 | 10:49 am

    I first encountered the work of Erika Dreifus at her literary blog, “My Machberet,” which I quickly bookmarked as a must-read site (erikadreifus.com), and I was so impressed by her acuity, discernment and style that I invited her to contribute book reviews to The Jewish Journal....

  • The City of Lights at its darkest hour

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    December 16, 2010 | 10:28 am

    Adolf Hitler may have been bloody in tooth and claw, but he was enough of an aesthete to understand that Paris was the center of gravity for European culture. On the only visit he made to the city during World War II, he went sight-seeing like any other tourist, then or now. Still,...