How did Humphrey Bogart end up telling Lauren Bacall a Talmudic story in the film Key Largo, and what does that have to do with Plato’s theory of recollection—or American Jewish assimilation? Precisely what poem of Robert Frost’s inspired Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and how did Walter Benjamin learn about the remarkable stones of Sinai? Abraham Socher wears his learning lightly. These witty and original essays embody the spirit of the liberal arts, but the highlight of this collection may be his devastating account of the illiberal arts at work in Oberlin College, where he taught for eighteen years.
“A lively gathering of essays . . . Socher’s mode of close reading demonstrates the interpretive power that resides in deep Jewish learning."—Jewish Book Council
"Socher is one of the sharpest observers of Jewish America in our times. These essays, tracing a journey from a yeshiva to Oberlin College and from Franz Kafka to Rabbi Kook, are a loving, cutting, whimsical, and wise look at a Jewish moment that he senses might be ending.”—Matti Friedman, author of Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel
"A true reckoning of Jewish ideas and Western thought and culture—both classic and popular—and its discontents, especially as played out on the contemporary university campus.”—Tradition
“In an era where our intellectual life is muddy with ideology, our religious life muddy with politics, our political life muddy with moral posturing, and our morality muddy with self-righteousness, Abe Socher performs an enormous public service and clears away the mud. In this moving collection, he offers us what we direly need: clarity.”—Dara Horn, author of People Love Dead Jews
“With a lightness of touch and freshness of interpretation, Socher’s essays flash with wry humor and measured chagrin. They are also an eloquent, exacting defense of moral seriousness—and of Jewishness itself.”—Benjamin Balint, author of Kafka’s Last Trial
“These beautiful essays by a leading Jewish-American intellectual portray with minute precision our cultural moment—a pleasure and an alarm at one and the same time.”—Yitzhak Melamed, Charlotte Bloomberg Professor of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University, author of Spinoza’s Metaphysics: Substance and Thought
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Abraham Socher is the editor of the Jewish Review of Books, which he founded, and a professor emeritus of Jewish Studies and Religion at Oberlin College. His recent edition of the Autobiography of Solomon Maimon (Princeton University Press) was a finalist for a National Jewish Book Award. Socher lives with his family in Beachwood, Ohio.