Biography
Wed, 09/15/2010
Jewish Week Book Critic
Hillel: If Not Now, When?
Hillel: If Not Now, When?

This fall, Yale University Press is launching a new biography series, Jewish Lives. Robert Gottlieb’s “Sarah; The Life of Sarah Bernhardt” (September) is the first in the series, and the first biography in decades of the woman considered the most famous actress in the world. The intrepid, energetic Bernhardt played many classic roles and traveled to perform for soldiers under bombardment in World War I, even after she had a leg amputated. Gottlieb captures her romantic spirit and ever-dramatic ways, on and off stage — she performed through her late 70s. Gottlieb also has had a legendary career, as a book editor, editor of The New Yorker, author and distinguished dance critic.

Rabbi JosephTelushkin’s “ Hillel: If Not Now, When?,” the latest title in the Schocken/Nextbook “Jewish Encounters” series, is a biography of the great sage of 2000 years ago, whose interests in Jewish inclusion were unusual and controversial for his time – and notable for ours.

“Judah L. Magnes: An American Jewish Nonconformist” by Daniel P. Kotzin (Syracuse University Press, September) reveals the full story of Magnes’s diverse career. An American reform rabbi who advocated for change back to a more traditional outlook, he served at Congregation Emanu-El in Manhattan and, after disagreements with his congregation over his views, at the conservative Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. He helped found and served as first chancellor of Hebrew University. In the 1930s and 40s, he was a leading advocate for a binational plan for Palestine.

“A Global Life: My Journey among Rich and Poor, from Sydney to Wall Street to the World Bank” by James D. Wolfensohn (Public Affairs, October) is the autobiography of the Australian-born financier and humanitarian who for 10 years led the World Bank, where he worked to shift the distribution of wealth in the world.