Tag Archives: philosophy

“Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times,” by Anne C. Heller

At once concise and thorough, Anne C. Heller’s achievement in this carefully focused biography and appraisal makes the case for the good short book. The skillful compression of facts, contexts, and impact allows for a great feeling of kinetic energy. It is a book that, like its subject, feels ready to explode.  A_Life_in_Dark_Times

Heller’s point of attack is the publication and immediate aftermath of Arendt’s most notorious book, Eichmann in Jerusalem—a wise and dramatically effective choice. Demystifying the arch-villain into an unimaginative functionary, Arendt formulated the term “the banality of evil” to suggest that the monster within people like Eichmann is marked by an astounding ordinariness. The publication outraged Arendt’s admirers, including a large swath of the intellectual Jewish community, and sent this major woman thinker—who always felt herself an outcast—into a degree of social and occupational exile that was painful and perplexing.

This outsider perspective was in part the product of Arendt’s Jewish identity, a facet of her being that underwent several transformations, each treated by Heller with good sense and sensitivity. . . .

To read the full review, click hereHannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne C. Heller | Jewish Book Council

See also my interview with biographer Anne C. Heller: Interview with Anne C. Heller, Author of ‘Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times’

Also see: Remaking the image of Adolph Eichmann’s Jerusalem trial | Phil Jason Reviews B

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Maimonides and the Book That Changed Judaism: Secrets of “The Guide for the Perplexed”

by Micah Goodman; Yedidya Sinclair, trans.

University of Nebraska Press / Jewish Publication Society
296 Pages. Hardcover $34.95

Review by Philip K. Jason

Micah Goodman has taken up the challenge of rendering this classic of Jewish philosophy more accessible, but it will never be totally accessible. By design, Maimonides left his guide filled with leaps and contradictions and cloaked revelations, daring his readers to make connections, resolve or at least meditate on the contradictions, and expose what means and beliefs has been disguised.

Goodman’s way is to regroup the guide’s scattered arguments and propositions and proofs into a kind of coherence that will release more of its power and bring out the relationships between the Rambam’s main concerns and 21st century life.

Also, by injecting copious references to the Rambam’s other major work, Mishneh Torah, Goodman widens our understandings of the great thinker’s intentions, range, wisdom, and boundless curiosity.

Those familiar with the tenants and methods of Jacque Derrida’s deconstruction movement in twentieth century literary criticism will find some affinities between it and Goodman’s achievement—and the achievement of Maimonides as well.

Maimonides abhorred the infantilism of literal readings of the biblical text that maintained anthropomorphic understandings of God. Bringing the unknowable and unfathomable perfection down to human scale robs the human seeker of true glimpses of the divine. . . .

To read the entire review as it appears on the Jewish Book Council website, click here: Maimonides and the Book That Changed Judaism | Jewish Book Council

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Primo Levi: The Matter of a Life

Primo Levi: The Matter of a Life, by Berel Lang. Yale University Press, 192 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

Professor Lang has developed an unusual plan to explore the life of an unusual writer. Modeling the approach in part on one of Levi’s books, Lang begins with a chapter called “The End” and concludes with one called “The Beginning” followed, naturally, by “Preface.” This somewhat playful strategy enacts Lang’s concern with possible confu­sions of chronology and causality. It allows him, as well, to guide us with proper tentative­ness through such issues as whether or not Levi would have become an author without the experience of surviving the Holocaust. Lang

The inside chapters, the meat of the meal, consider “The War,” “Writing,” “The Jewish Question,” and “Thinking.” Lang provides the necessary wartime context for understanding the exceptional situation of Italy and of Italian Jews before, during, and after World War II. He also examines the transition in Levi’s professional identity from chemist (chemi­cal engineer and chemical plant manager) to writer. In this discussion, he underscores Levi’s insistence that the scientific and artistic modes are not adversarial. Lang sees Levi as feeling his way into a balancing act. While the precision and clarity necessary in scientific work find their way effectively into Levi’s prose style, perhaps his poetry is handicapped by literalism. . . .

To see the entire review, as posted on the Jewish Book Council blog this past week and slated for a forthcoming issue of Jewish Book World, click here: Review of Primo Levi: The Matter of a Life by Berel Lang | Jewish Book Council

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