Thursday, December 15, 2011

A bunch of books I think you should buy

Ho, ho, ho. It's holiday time again. And though I insist that our holiday season ended two months ago, I find that I like giving people unsolicited advice. So here is your official DovBear holiday list of:

Books I think you should buy 

The Sages, by Binyamin Lau 

Why did the Sages say what they said? The appealing thesis of this book is that some of the great teachings of the Sages as recorded in Ethics of our Fathers were a response to current events. The Sages weren't merely giving generic good advice. They were also telling Jews how to think about the world they lived in, and providing theological answers to world affairs. (Rabbi) (Dr.) Lau also does a very good job of explaining how famous rivals such as Hillel and Shamai disagreed while also telling us why their disputes occurred. His history, at times, is spotty, though Lau warns us at the outset that he is not a historian, but a Rabbi attempting to understand the teachings of the Sages on their own terms. If Chazal believed thought something had occurred Lau plays along and explains things from thier point of view, without engaging in tiresome debunkings. The writing (a translation of Lau's original Hebrew) is, by the way, superb.

Papal Sin, by Gary Wills 

I suppose some DovBear readers may be to young to remember this, but back in Ye Olde Days of Jewish blogging (2005) I caused quite a stir among the 20-30 people who read Jewish blogs by refusing to join the general Jewish mourning for Pope John Paul II. Most of the other JBlogs rushed out ahead of the Church in declaring him a saint, but I demurred, pointing out that the guy was not so hot. Some of the important evidence came from this book, which I additionally recommend on the grounds that Gary Wills is a majestic writer.

The Popes Against the Jews, by David I. Kitzer
Could the Holocaust have occured without the Church? Of course not. It was the Church that taught Europe to hate the Jews, first because they had rejected Jesus, and then on the additional grounds that Jewish blood was tainted. What is not widely known is just how the Church fanned the flames of anti-Semitic hatred in the late 19th and early 20th century. In this book Kirtzer, a top shelf historian, provided countless cites from Vatican newspapers and Vatican documents to show us exactly how the Church contributed to the development and rise of modern antisemitism.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan 

If that mediocre movie convinced you  that Atonement is a cheap romance, with a trite ending, please believe me when I say you couldn't be more wrong. Sure, the book is something of a love story, but its also a story about the truth, and how the truth can mean different things to different people while remaining entirely true. James Wood, the great critic,  tells you everything you need to know in this review. Its is, quite simply, the finest work of fiction I have ever read.

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