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Book Reviews

Hey all,

I wanted to do some individual book reviews on these books but with all the time off over Pesach my reading volume kinda jumped up, so here are some of my recent reads since the last time I did a book post here:

  1. Sin•a•gogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought by Rabbi David Bashevkin

  2. Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore

  3. Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present by Michael B. Oren

  4. A History of Palestine: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Founding of the State of Israel by Gudrun Kramer

  5. A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind by Michael Axworthy

  6. Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry by Bernard Lewis

Sin•a•gogue was great to read, but I don’t know that I can articulate a review on it as well as I would like. I think it is well worth the read, it is Orthodox focused as Bashevkin is the director of education for NCSY and has smicha from REITS.

Jerusalem: The Biography was by far the easiest to read, it was very well written and uses a variety of sources. It is more academic-focused but when he doesn’t have the history of a period he goes back to the religious sources (for all 3 Judaism, Islam, Christianity). It does a good job of covering a lot of history even though the focus is only on Jerusalem.

Power, Faith, and Fantasy was fascinating and full of tidbits that I didn’t know, and overall painted a great view of America’s interaction with NMEA. It also covers quite a bit of Jewish history, of Jews in the US and history of American support for Zionism, especially among Evangelicals.

A History of Palestine, this is a very academic read but it is one of the least biased and well-researched histories of the area that I have seen. It is also more modern, so it draws on newer research. I would also say that Tessler’s A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is fairly neutral but he makes some claims which have been shown to be false (like Palestinians are descendants of the Philistines). Anyway, for anyone looking for a good fact-based neutral history of the region, this is it.

A History of Iran, expanding my NMEA knowledge to get specific on Iran. Obviously contains some Jewish history as well but not as focused on that. It was a good read, although some chapters it felt like the author modified a speech or writing from elsewhere for the chapter. It made you feel like you were sort of “airdropped” into the middle of a subject until you got where he was going with it.

Race and Slavery in the Middle East, I wanted to read this because there is a lot of political fighting that effectively tries to paint Muslims as 100% evil based on slavery. A lot of it isn’t true and a lot of it is pushed by Anti-Islamists. So I set out to answer the question myself, it is a good book but academic-focused. Some have an issue with Lewis calling him a neo-con but I think that is mostly because he is clearly sympathetic to ‘western ideals’ in his writing, unlike other Arabic historians who write from an Arabic perspective.

There are also 2 movies/series that I would recommend if you have time:

Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City based on the book above (2) and narrated by the author. You should be able to stream off the BBC site or at your local library or Amazon Prime, I think also has it.

The Story of the Jews narrated by Simon Schama, on PBS and probably your local library. This is based on his 2 part book series of the same name.

Shabbat Shalom Everyone!

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