What I’ve Been Reading
As well as trying to complete my PhD, I managed to read a selection of books during my Sabbatical. Some I’d been meaning to read for years, others just took my fancy. By author, they are:
Yehuda Avner – The Prime Ministers
Several people recommended this book and I wasn't disappointed. It's an easy, absorbing read, packed with fascinating insights, heavy on adulation of Menachem Begin.
Eliezer Berkovits – Not in Heaven
I am a great fan of Berkovits and his ideas. The first 70% of this book is a sensitive and thoughtful description of the nature of halachah, its origins, function and development. However, I found the last section unnecessarily polemical, and much too radical in its objectives.
J. Bronowski and Bruce Mazlish – The Western Intellectual Tradition
I'd been trying to read this one since I was at university. Delightful and informative, it filled in lots of gaps in my knowledge of the period; it's a little dated, but excellent nonetheless.
Paulo Coelho – 10 assorted books, including The Alchemist and The Zahir
Coelho's writings are at once intense and gentle. His conviction of the possibility of personal and world-wide transformation no matter the circumstances is endearing. He clearly has many influences in his understanding of human nature, including the Talmud. Thought-provoking, sometimes offensive, but always gripping.
Charles Dickens – Oliver Twist
I'd seen the film. but never read the book. I really liked it and it's encouraged me to persevere with Dickens.
Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Adolescent
The least-known of Dostoevsky's five great novels, it is as insightful and dark as his others, excepting, perhaps, 'Devils'. It's also funny and easy to read.
George Eliot – Daniel Deronda
Christian Zionism in a novel form. I'd always wondered why there's a George Eliot Street in Jerusalem. It's very slow to get going, and a little fragmented, but it offers a fascinating glimpse of a vision for Jews in the Land from the perspective of a non-Jewish supporter.
Jay Harris – How do we know this? Midrash and the Fragmentation of Modern Judaism
A detailed academic, yet readable, study of the development of midrashic and other texts, with a lot of emphasis on modern and post-modern developments, including opposition to and defence of traditional readings, all focused on the impact of these changes on the complexion of the modern Jewish world.
Isaac Husik – A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy
A classic of 100 years ago. Not especially readable, but invaluable background for almost any modern Jewish philosophical enquiry. Not enough emphasis on more mystically-inclined mediaevalists, but a worthwhile read.
Franz Kafka – The Metamorphosis and The Trial
Kafka-esque, disturbing and thought-provoking. I particularly liked the former, and how it explores the nature of familial allegiances.
John Milton – Paradise lost and Paradise Regained
A bit of a struggle - just as well the Kindle has a built-in dictionary which includes references to Greek mythology. What I understood of them was rewarding, especially Milton's understanding of human character and angst, but I need to reread them with a commentary of some sort.
Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Troubling and, in places, incomprehensible. Nonetheless, his nihilism is overwhelming, as is his constant refrain of the power of humans in a godless (or god-dead) world. It's not hard to see how madmen could and have used his ideas.
Marcel Proust – Swann’s Way
I surprised myself with this one, which I rather enjoyed, even though not very much actually happens. Proust's effortless portrayal of human interactions and his representation of memory, and specially the impact of involuntary thoughts, is remarkable. I am hoping to try the other seven volumes some time soon, at least before my next Sabbatical.
Charles Taylor – The Ethics of Authenticity
Challenging and powerful attempt to place individuality into an ethical context, balancing the need for authentic self-expression with responsibility to others and society. In many ways, a very Jewish approach.