A beguiling meditation on Jewish achievements that shine brightly against a dark background.

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STARGAZING IN THE ATOMIC AGE

ESSAYS

The efflorescence of energy and creativity in Jewish communities in the traumatic 20th century is celebrated in these sparkling essays on Jewish intellectuals.

Goldman explores the lives and works of modern Jewish scientists, artists, composers, and writers, putting them in the context of the war, persecution, and migration to America, which shaped their lives and the larger Western culture in which they were rooted. She probes Einstein’s love of Mozart’s music; the kvetching vigor of the Hebrews as they journey out of Egypt in the book of Exodus; the restless, questioning mindset of Jewish scientists who helped develop the atom bomb; the love-hate relationship of painters Marc Chagall and Mark Rothko with the soulful yet blighted Russian homeland they fled; the resonances between Dante’s vision of hell in The Divine Comedyand Primo Levi’s memoirs of his imprisonment in Auschwitz; the exuberance and vitality of novelist Saul Bellow’s Jewish protagonists; and the strange beauty of fractal equations discovered by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot. Throughout the collection, she reminisces about her raucous family, especially her exuberant, exasperating father, Mike, a Harvard public health professor, whom she compares to physicist Richard Feynman for his gleeful iconoclasm in puncturing the pretensions of upper-crust WASPs. Goldman’s essays effervesce with unexpected discursions into everything from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to the art of emergency auto repairs; from this erudition, she retrieves unexpected but insightful relationships, wrapping it all in gorgeously evocative prose. (Hymning the indelible opening of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue,she writes, “The clarinet’s chromatic rush up the scale is American as a slide into home plate and Jewish as a village wedding dance, a Fifth Avenue strut with a swashbuckling nudge and wink, a street whistle that deepens into expressiveness as the music climbs upward: the melancholy brightness of klezmer stretched around the swagger of jazz.”) The result is an absorbing excavation of the Jewish experience.

A beguiling meditation on Jewish achievements that shine brightly against a dark background.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8203-5844-4

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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