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Coming Soon – Spring 2020
Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader
By Derek Penslar
The life of Theodor Herzl (1860–1904) was as puzzling as it was brief. How did this cosmopolitan and assimilated European Jew become the leader of the Zionist movement? How could he be both an artist and a statesman, a rationalist and an aesthete, a stern moralist yet possessed of deep, and at times dark, passions? And why did scores of thousands of Jews, many of them from traditional, observant backgrounds, embrace Herzl as their leader?
Drawing on a vast body of Herzl’s personal, literary, and political writings, historian Derek Penslar shows that Herzl’s path to Zionism had as much to do with personal crises as it did with antisemitism. Once Herzl devoted himself to Zionism, Penslar shows, he distinguished himself as a consummate leader—possessed of indefatigable energy, organizational ability, and electrifying charisma. Herzl became a screen onto which Jews of his era could project their deepest needs and longings.
Derek Penslar is the William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University. His previous books include Jews and the Military: A History and Shylock’s Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe.
Houdini: The Elusive American
By Adam Begley
In 1916, the war in Europe having prevented a tour abroad, Harry Houdini wrote a film treatment for a rollicking motion picture. Though the movie was never made, its title, “The Marvelous Adventures of Houdini: The Justly Celebrated Elusive American,” provides a succinct summary of the Master Mystifier’s life.
Born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, Houdini grew up an impoverished Jewish immigrant in the Midwest and became world-famous thanks to talent, industry, and ferocious determination. He concealed as a matter of temperament and professional ethics the secrets of his sensational success. Nobody knows how Houdini performed some of his dazzling, death-defying tricks, and nobody knows, finally, why he felt compelled to punish and imprison himself over and over again. Must a self-liberator also be a self-torturer? Tracking the restless Houdini’s wide-ranging exploits, acclaimed biographer Adam Begley asks the essential question: What kind of man was this?
Adam Begley is the author of Updike and The Great Nadar. He was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, and for many years the books editor of The New York Observer. He lives in England.
Stan Lee: A Life in Comics
By Liel Leibovitz
Few artists have had as much of an impact on American popular culture as Stan Lee. The characters he created—Spider-Man and Iron Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four—occupy Hollywood’s imagination and production schedules, generate billions at the box office, and come as close as anything we have to a shared American mythology.
This illuminating biography focuses as much on Lee’s ideas as it does on his unlikely rise to stardom. It surveys his cultural and religious upbringing and draws surprising connections between celebrated comic book heroes and the ancient tales of the Bible, the Talmud, and Jewish mysticism. Was Spider-Man just a reincarnation of Cain? Is the Incredible Hulk simply Adam by another name? From close readings of Lee’s work to little-known anecdotes from Marvel’s history, the book paints a portrait of Lee that goes much deeper than one of his signature onscreen cameos.
Liel Leibovitz is the author of A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen. He is a senior writer for Tablet magazine and a cohost of its popular podcast, Unorthodox. He lives in New York City.