Following their previous collaboration, this is another zany book for Jews and those who love them.


Three comic writers delve into what it means to be Jewish.

Barry, Mansbach, and Zweibel (For This We Left Egypt? A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them, 2017) team up again in an irreverent take on Jewish life, culture, and lore. No topic is off limits for jokes that range from silly to sophomoric: the Holocaust (“there was still, in the end, a positive side of the Holocaust,” the authors declare, before abruptly changing their minds); the Arab-Israeli conflict (Israel has won all wars since 1948 “because militarily the Israeli armed forces are the Harlem Globetrotters of the Middle East”); and anti-Semitism. “Are you an anti-Semite?” the authors ask, providing a quiz to test which of many Jewish stereotypes a responder believes. Are Jews “opinionated, pushy, and prone to butting in?” Or are they “clannish, secretive, and reclusive”? Either answer will brand you as an anti-Semite. More Jewish stereotypes fuel jokes about Jewish customs, holidays, food, attitudes toward interfaith marriage, teachings of the Talmud, and, not least, sex: “Q. What is Jewish foreplay? A. Three hours of begging.” Of the three authors, Barry, a Presbyterian married to a Cuban-Jewish woman, is not “technically Jewish,” but he admits that he has attended many High Holiday services, “some of which lasted longer than the Korean conflict.” The authors found that they had to bone up on the Old Testament and the “incredibly weird shit” in the Torah to make fun of biblical stories, people, and God’s sometimes-incomprehensible commandments, such as the requirement that every male newborn be circumcised. “A surprising amount of research goes into the crafting of every single cheap dick joke we write,” Mansbach reveals. Although some readers might be offended by the repeated characterization of Jews as cheap, argumentative, and opinionated—“two Jews, three opinions” the saying goes—Barry sees self-deprecating Jewish humor as “an important psychological mechanism for coping with misfortune, and Jews have had a LOT of misfortune, especially when you compare them to the Presbyterians.”

Following their previous collaboration, this is another zany book for Jews and those who love them.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-19196-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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