Benjamin Disraeli ($21), by Adam Kirsch, is a lively biography of the great British statesman who personified a 19th-century England that was increasingly open to Jews. Kirsch writes about Disraeli’s ambition, his views, and his accomplishments against the background of Disraeli’s own conflicts about his Jewish identity. Of interest to the modern reader is how conservative the Tory politician actually was.
Ariel Sabar’s lovely little book, My Father’s Paradise (Algonquin, $25.95), is at once a history of the Kurdish Jews and a family memoir. Ariel’s father, Yona, the last child Bar Mitzvahed in Zakho in northern Iraq, grew up speaking Aramaic, the language that dominated the Middle East at the time of Jesus. After Israel was founded, the Iraqi Jews were forced to immigrate there. Israel was not prepared for the enormous influx of very poor, unskilled and in some cases illiterate Jews from Arab countries, and Ariel’s grandparents, Rahamim and Miryam, who had been respected citizens in Zakho, were subject to bruising discrimination. Nevertheless, Yona went to university in Israel and graduate school at Yale and now is a professor at UCLA. His story is the remarkable leap from a primitive village to the most sophisticated Western life. Ariel Sabar, a journalist, wrote this book as an act of repentance for his teenage defiance and embarrassment of his hopelessly unhip father.
Modeled after spiritual devotionals, The Intellectual Devotional: Modern Culture (Rodale, $24) provides brief readings on modern culture (principally that of the American and English-speaking world), from Archie Bunker to Zionism. The 365 entries, drawn from categories such as Personalities, Literature, Music, Film, Ideas and Trends, invite reading one piece each day for a year, and each entry consists of a brief overview of the subject followed by “Additional Facts.” Authors David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim have made the entries light and uncontroversial—they’re a fun and informative way to brush up on what one really should know already.