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  • You should expect -- at the very least -- blasphemous irreverence whenever you pick up a book by "underground" comic artist genius Robert Crumb. But with The Book of Genesis Illustrated we get a pretty straight retelling (mostly in Robert Alter's superb new translation) of one of the oldest and most gripping stories that has ever been told:

    Envisioning the first book of the Bible like no one before him, Robert Crumb, the legendary illustrator, retells the story of Genesis in a profoundly honest and deeply moving way. Originally thinking that he would do a takeoff of Adam and Eve, Crumb became so fascinated by the Bible's language -- "a text so great and so strange that it lends itself readily to graphic depictions" -- that he decided instead to do a literal interpretation using the text word for word, assembled primarily from the translations of Robert Alter and the King James Version.

    Now, readers of every persuasion -- Crumb fans, comic book lovers, and believers -- can gain astonishing new insights from these harrowing, tragic, and even juicy stories. Crumb's Book of Genesis reintroduces us to the bountiful tree-lined garden of Adam and Eve, the massive ark of Noah with beasts of every kind, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by brimstone and fire that rained from the heavens, and the Egypt of the Pharaoh, where Joseph's embalmed body is carried in a coffin, in a scene as elegiac as any in Genesis.

    Using clues from the text and peeling away the theological and scholarly interpretations that have often obscured the Bible's most dramatic stories, Crumb fleshes out a parade of biblical originals: from the serpent in Eden, the humanoid reptile appearing like an alien out of a science fiction movie, to Jacob, a "kind of depressed guy who doesn't strike you as physically courageous", and his bother, Esau, "a rough and kick-ass guy", to Abraham's wife, Sarah, more fetching than most woman at ninety, to God himself, "a standard Charlton Heston-like figure with long white hair and a flowing beard".

    As Crumb writes in his introduction, "the stories of this people, the Hebrews, were then something more than just stories, they were the foundation, the source, in writing, of religious and political power, handed down by God Himself". Crumb's Book of Genesis, the culmination of five years of painstaking work, is a tapestry of masterly detail and storytelling that celebrates the astonishing diversity of the one of our greatest artistic geniuses.

  • Jonathan Safran Foer "spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood-facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child's behalf-his casual questioning took on an urgency. His quest for answers ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits -- from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth -- and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting. Marked by Foer's profound moral ferocity and unvarying generosity, as well as the vibrant style and creativity that made his previous books, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, widely loved, Eating Animals is a celebration and a reckoning, a story about the stories we've told-and the stories we now need to tell." (The quote below from the review in New York Times.)

    When you sit down to eat sushi or grilled sea bass, do you stop and think about Nemo the cartoon fish and his chatty little friends? When you order Chicken McNuggets at McDonald's, do you picture Chicken Little fretting that the sky might fall? When you gorge yourself on spare ribs with barbecue sauce, do you pause to remember Babe the movie pig or Wilbur from Charlotte's Web?

    Even if animal rights and animal welfare advocates don't anthropomorphize mammals and fish and birds, they want us to think about these creatures as sentient beings who feel pain and terror, and they want us to think about the horrible lives and deaths those beings suffer so that gluttonous human beings can stuff their faces with fleshy protein. The more uncompromising are against the eating of any animals. Others promote humane, old-fashioned agriculture, while denouncing the consumption of animals bred on factory farms -- those awful assembly-line-like operations that raise chickens, pigs and other animals in unnatural, overcrowded conditions and pose considerable health risks to workers, neighbors and consumers.

    The journalist Michael Pollan explored some of these issues in his 2006 best seller The Omnivore's Dilemma, and now, in Eating Animals, the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer takes on a similar task. Because Eating Animals remains heavily indebted to Mr. Pollan's book, along with Peter Singer's Animal Liberation and the work of various reporters, Mr. Foer's chief contribution to the subject seems to lie in the use of his literary gifts -- showcased in the two novels Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close -- to give the reader some very visceral, very gruesome descriptions of factory farming and the slaughterhouse (more...)

  • Perhaps it is the whiff of Christmas in the air, but I'm feeling quite childlike today. This year there seems to be a flood of great pop-up books on the market, and this one is particularly fine: a fun, interactive book with pop-up scenes, press-out dinosaurs and a handy spotter's guide:

    Help Tyrannosaurus rex chase a herd of hadrosaurs among the rocky cliffs of T-rex Valley and find the Maiasaura babies' mummy in the forest. Have a headbutt competition with the Triceratops beneath the fiery Triceratops Volcano and meet all the prehistoric residents of Diplodocus Lake. Use the spotter guide to find out whose footprints wind across every scene.

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    Shlomo Sand's controversial, important, compelling and utterly fascinating The Invention of the Jewish People (a huge bestseller in Israel and France) is finally available in English. A landmark title -- it has now been translated into more languages than any other Israeli history book -- it fully deserves the widest readership:

    All modern nation states have a story of their origins, passed down through both official and popular culture, and yet few of these accounts have proved as divisive and influential as the Israeli national myth. The well-known tale of Jewish exile at the hands of the Romans during the first century AD, and the assertion of both cultural and racial continuity through to the Jewish people of the present day, resonates far beyond Israel's borders. Despite its use as a justification for Jewish settlement in Palestine and the project of a Greater Israel, there have been few scholarly investigations into the historical accuracy of the story as a whole.

    In this bold and ambitious new book, Shlomo Sand shows that the Israeli national myth has its origins in the nineteenth century, rather than in biblical times -- when Jewish historians, like scholars in many other cultures, reconstituted an imagined people in order to model a future nation. Sand forensically dissects the official story -- and demonstrates the construction of a nationalist myth and the collective mystification that this requires.

    A bestseller in Israel and France, Shlomo Sand's book has sparked a widespread and lively debate. Should the Jewish people regard themselves as genetically distinct and identifiable across the millennia -- or should that doctrine now be left behind and if the myth of the Jewish state is dismantled, could this open a path toward a more inclusive Israeli state, content within its borders?

  • |

    Shlomo Sand's controversial, important, compelling and utterly fascinating The Invention of the Jewish People (a huge bestseller in Israel and France) is finally available in English. A landmark title -- it has now been translated into more languages than any other Israeli history book -- it fully deserves the widest readership:

    All modern nation states have a story of their origins, passed down through both official and popular culture, and yet few of these accounts have proved as divisive and influential as the Israeli national myth. The well-known tale of Jewish exile at the hands of the Romans during the first century AD, and the assertion of both cultural and racial continuity through to the Jewish people of the present day, resonates far beyond Israel's borders. Despite its use as a justification for Jewish settlement in Palestine and the project of a Greater Israel, there have been few scholarly investigations into the historical accuracy of the story as a whole.

    In this bold and ambitious new book, Shlomo Sand shows that the Israeli national myth has its origins in the nineteenth century, rather than in biblical times -- when Jewish historians, like scholars in many other cultures, reconstituted an imagined people in order to model a future nation. Sand forensically dissects the official story -- and demonstrates the construction of a nationalist myth and the collective mystification that this requires.

    A bestseller in Israel and France, Shlomo Sand's book has sparked a widespread and lively debate. Should the Jewish people regard themselves as genetically distinct and identifiable across the millennia -- or should that doctrine now be left behind and if the myth of the Jewish state is dismantled, could this open a path toward a more inclusive Israeli state, content within its borders?

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