Feature Stories

New Jewish bio series debuts

Jewish Ledger | 3-25-11

NEW HAVEN – Some of the most creative human endeavors result from a question.
On March 26, Yale University Press will publish “Solomon,” the fourth book in its new biographical series, “Jewish Lives,” a collaboration with the Leon D. Black Foundation that explores the breadth and complexity of Jewish experience from antiquity through the present.
The series was the idea of financial investor Leon D. Black, says Jewish Lives editorial director Ileene Smith. “It was a response to a question posed by one of his sons about what it means to be Jewish,” she says. “Many people ruminate over this question. By inventing this series, Leon does something very concrete: he enables worlds of insight into the nature of Jewish experience and legacy from antiquity through the present. He creates a library of Jewish biography.”
Subjects and authors are chosen through elaborate consideration by series editors Steven J. Zipperstein and Anita Shapira and the Yale University Press, in consultation with Leon Black, says Smith. “It’s always a fascinating conversation driven by enthusiasm for a particular writer and an appreciation of how that writer might pair with those subjects that are a priority for us,” she says. “We strive in each case for a sense of inevitability about the pairings.”
While certainly not unexplored subject matter, Smith says that the Jewish Lives series brings a new approach to well-traveled biographical terrain.”Having recently heard first chapters of two of our books delivered in public settings – Adam Phillips’s ‘Freud’ and Rachel Cohen’s ‘Bernard Berenson’ – it is clear to me that we offer originality of perspective; that all the thought that goes into the pairings of subject and author results in very distinctive, highly-readable books,” she says. “Our first book — Robert Gottlieb’s “Sarah Bernhardt” — really set the tone. No one has ever written about the great actress with as much brio and understanding of the woman behind the legend. And the reviews were spectacular.”
Smith says that the series was launched with a biography of  Sarah Bernhardt because her life raises so many powerful questions about what it means to be Jewish. “Though she converted to Catholicism, she felt deeply identified as a Jew throughout her life,” she says. “Then there is the sheer fascination of her life, especially through the eyes of Bob Gottlieb, and her enduring legacy as the greatest actress who ever lived.”
At this point, 29 books have been acquired, and there will ultimately be as many as 100, says Smith, published over the course of the next decade.
“Readers who engage with the entire series will embark on an unforgettable journey into the heart of Jewish identity and legacy,” Smith says.

Solomon, by Steven Weitzman

Later this month, the Press will release “Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom” by Steven Weitzman, the Daniel E. Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion at Stanford University. He was awarded the Gustave O. Arlt Prize for Outstanding Scholarship in the Humanities for his first book, “Song and Story in Biblical Narrative,” and has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Yad-Hadiv Foundation. His other books include “Surviving Sacrilege” and “The Jews: A History.”
Robert Alter, longtime professor of Hebrew language and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, writes of the book, “Steve Weitzman turns the challenge of writing a biography of King Solomon into a meditation on the quest for unattainable knowledge, an enterprise equally embodied in the figure of Solomon in Scripture and in legend. There is something deeply human about this appealing book of intellectual distinction.”

Bios on the bookshelves

To date, three books have been published in the Yale University Press “Jewish Lives” series:

Sarah, by Robert Gottlieb

“Sarah Bernhardt”
by Robert Gottlieb:
Robert Gottlieb is the author of the acclaimed “Balanchine: The Ballet Maker.” He writes for the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and other publications, and is dance critic for the New York Observer. His illustrious publishing career included positions as editor in chief at Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf, and The New Yorker.




Moses Mendelssohn, by Shmuel Feiner

“Moses Mendelssohn”
by Shmuel Feiner:
Shmuel Feiner is Professor of Modern Jewish History at Bar Ilan University and holds the Samuel Braun Chair for the History of the Jews in Prussia. He is the author of “Haskalah and History: The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Historical Consciousness” (2002) and “The Jewish Enlightenment” (2004), winner of the Koret Jewish Book Award.




Hank Greenberg, by Mark Kurlansky

“Hank Greenberg”
by Mark Kurlansky:
Mark Kurlansky is most recently the author of “The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macorís.” Kurlansky has written, edited, or contributed to 20 books, which have won numerous prizes. His previous books “Cod,” “Salt,” “1968,” and “The Food of a Younger Land” were all New York Times best-sellers.





Forthcoming Jewish Lives titles include:

Bernard Berenson by Rachel Cohen
Leonard Bernstein by Allen Shawn
Leon Blum by Paula Hyman
Louis Brandeis by Jeffrey Rosen
Martin Buber by Paul Mendes-Flohr
Moshe Dayan by Mordecai Bar-On
Benjamin Disraeli by David Cesarani
Bob Dylan by Ron Rosenbaum
Sigmund Freud by Adam Phillips
George Gershwin by Gary Giddins
Emma Goldman by Vivian Gornick
Hank Greenberg by Mark Kurlansky
Lillian Hellman by Dorothy Gallagher
Ze’ev Jabotinsky by Hillel Halkin
Jacob by Yair Zakovich
Franz Kafka by Saul Friedlander
Abraham Isaac Kook by Yehuda Mirsky
Primo Levi by Berel Lang
Moses Maimonides by Moshe Halbertal
Groucho Marx by Lee Siegel
Marcel Proust by Ben Taylor
Rashi by Jack Miles
Walter Rathenau by Shulamit Volkov
Leon Trotsky by Joshua Rubenstein

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