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By Steven Nadler
Published August 21, 2018
“Truly excellent” —Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton
An illuminating biography of the great Amsterdam rabbi and celebrated popularizer of Judaism in the seventeenth century
Menasseh ben Israel (1604–1657) was among the most accomplished and cosmopolitan rabbis of his time, and a pivotal intellectual figure in early modern Jewish history. He was one of the three rabbis of the “Portuguese Nation” in Amsterdam, a community that quickly earned renown worldwide for its mercantile and scholarly vitality.
Born in Lisbon, Menasseh and his family were forcibly converted to Catholicism but suspected of insincerity in their new faith. To avoid the horrors of the Inquisition, they fled first to southwestern France, and then to Amsterdam, where they finally settled. Menasseh played an important role during the formative decades of one of the most vital Jewish communities of early modern Europe, and was influential through his extraordinary work as a printer and his efforts on behalf of the readmission of Jews to England. In this lively biography, Steven Nadler provides a fresh perspective on this seminal figure.
By Wendy Lesser
Published October, 9, 2018
“A compact and incisive portrait” —Kirkus Reviews
A lively and inspired biography celebrating the centennial of this master choreographer, dancer, and stage director
Jerome Robbins (1918–1998) was born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz and grew up in Weehawken, New Jersey, where his Russian-Jewish immigrant parents owned the Comfort Corset Company. Robbins, who was drawn to dance at a young age, resisted the idea of joining the family business. In 1936 he began working with Gluck Sandor, who ran a dance group and convinced him to change his name to Jerome Robbins. He went on to become a choreographer and director who worked in ballet, on Broadway, and in film. His stage productions include West Side Story, Peter Pan, and Fiddler on the Roof. In this deft biography, Wendy Lesser presents Jerome Robbins’s life through his major dances, providing a sympathetic, detailed portrait of her subject.
By Adina Hoffman
Published February 12, 2019
“Electrifying” —Booklist, starred review
A vibrant portrait of one of the most accomplished and prolific American screenwriters, by an award-winning biographer and essayist
He was, according to Pauline Kael, “the greatest American screenwriter.” Jean-Luc Godard called him “a genius” who “invented 80 percent of what is used in Hollywood movies today.” Besides tossing off dozens of now-classic scripts—including Scarface,Twentieth Century, and Notorious—Ben Hecht was known in his day as ace reporter, celebrated playwright, taboo-busting novelist, and the most quick-witted of provocateurs. During World War II, he also emerged as an outspoken crusader for the imperiled Jews of Europe, and later he became a fierce propagandist for pre-1948 Palestine’s Jewish terrorist underground. Whatever the outrage he stirred, this self-declared “child of the century” came to embody much that defined America—especially Jewish America—in his time.
Hecht's fame has dimmed with the decades, but Adina Hoffman’s vivid portrait brings this charismatic and contradictory figure back to life on the page. Hecht was a renaissance man of dazzling sorts, and Hoffman—critically acclaimed biographer, former film critic, and eloquent commentator on Middle Eastern culture and politics—is uniquely suited to capture him in all his modes.