2018-09-12 / Columns

Interesting new non-fiction books are available for all ages


Summer is leaving, and new books on a variety of topics are arriving. We gathered recently to discuss some of our libraries’ new nonfiction.

MINNA: “The Chosen Wars” by Steven R. Weisman, subtitled “How Judaism Became an American Religion,” is an historical narrative tracing American Judaism from the first arrivals in New Amsterdam to the dawn of 20th century mass immigration. The author’s thesis is that these new Americans forfeited their identity as a separate nation to fit into their new nation, as did other groups of immigrants. The book contains portraits of many important figures in American Jewish history and outlines changes in doctrine and practice for each branch of Judaism.

AMY: Some of the books we recommend are painful to read, but vitally important. One such book is Steven J. Zipperstein’s “Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History.” Zipperstein, a Russian Jewish history scholar, explores the causes of the horrendous pogrom of 1903 and its aftermath. Relying in part on longlost documents that shed light on Pavel Krushevan, one of the authors of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Zipperstein brings new insights into this man and other villains and heroes of Kishinev. This is a scholarly, yet very readable account of a watershed moment in Jewish history.

IRENE: “City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai,” is an intriguing real-life crime story that takes place in the 1930s as WWII is on the horizon. This well-researched book by Paul French illuminates the corruption, crime, and chaos of a cast of international characters who rule this city much to the chagrin of the local Chinese. We meet “Dapper” Joe Farren, who runs a syndicate of Viennese Jews, the press referring to him as a kind of China-based version of Flo Ziegfeld. Other figures, including New York mobster “Yasha” Katzenberg and tequila smuggler Carlos Garcia, round out this fascinating yet dark look at Shanghai, the “City of Devils.”

MINNA: Billy Rose is the subject of the new biography, “Not Bad for Delancey Street” by Mark Cohen. Fanny Brice’s husband was a famous producer of theatrical extravaganzas and an ardent supporter of Israel and his fellow Jews. This book chronicles his business and personal life in the middle of the 20th century’s major events.

AMY: Well here’s a first— the first book solely about the War Refugee Board of WWII. Created in 1944, the Board was America’s very overdue response to the need to help rescue Jews from Europe. In “Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe” by Rebecca Erbelding the author draws upon her decade of research and uses newly declassified documents to describe how Dept. of the Treasury lawyer John Pehle and his team used diplomats, spies, smugglers and others, as well as money laundering, forged papers, and a host of other techniques to bring Jews out. They saved thousands of lives, though millions had already been lost.

IRENE: With children going back to school this month, it’s a great time to share age-appropriate non-fiction with them. The magical artwork of Marc Chagall comes alive via a new expressive picture biography written by Caldecott Honor Book author Barb Rosenstock. “Through the Window” is illustrated by Mary Grandpre, best known as the illustrator of the Harry Potter books. This gorgeous story can be shared as a book, but you might want to consider checking out the Kindle edition and savor the artwork digitally with the next generation.

MINNA: “All the World Praises You” by Debra Band is an alef-bet book, usually a subject for young children, but this one contains information and details suitable for the older reader. Each letter is illuminated and accompanied by a Biblical quote referencing the natural world. Inspired by the medieval Jewish work, Perek Shira (Chapter of Song), the book is written in Hebrew and English and includes the author (a honeybee) and her granddaughter (a dahlia) on every page.

AMY: There’s a new book for children ages 6-9 that will bring smiles. “The Funniest Man In Baseball” by Audrey Vernick and Jennifer Bower tells the story of Max Patkin, a minor-league baseball player who gave up the game after an injury. Later he went back to pitching. One day he pitched to Joe DiMaggio, who hit it out of the park. Patkin threw his glove down and started chasing Joe around the bases, making faces and imitating him, and thus began his new, 50-year career as a minor league baseball clown. This is a fun, comical biography young baseball fans will enjoy.

For more information, contact us: Irene Afek at the Sanders Memorial Library of the Katz JCC (iafek@jfedsnj.org) and Cong. M’kor Shalom (library@mkorshalom.org); Minna Siegel at Temple Beth Sholom (msiegel@tbsonline.org); and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). 

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