Books on Jewish history
October 18, 2015 2:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for exceptionally well written books on topics in Jewish history that don't focus on the Holocaust, the modern state of Israel, or are "complete" histories (i.e. "A History of the Jews")

I really just want to read some great non-fiction books about Jewish history (or biographies)-- it can be as broad as something like the history of Jews in Spain or as specific as a biography of Hillel, just well researched and engagingly written.
posted by gwint to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
A couple of books on the history of Yiddish written for a non-academic audience (which will, obviously, include the Holocaust and Israel, but not as the primary focus; the Katz in particular challenges the typical narratives about Yiddish and Israel/the Holocaust):

Yiddish, a Nation of Words by Miriam Weinstein

Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish by Dovid Katz
posted by damayanti at 2:29 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

For the Anglo-Jewish context, Todd M. Endelman has a couple of nicely-written and accessible books: The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000 or, more narrowly, The Jews of Georgian England, 1714-1830.

On the blood libel, try E. M. Rose's very recent The Murder of William of Norwich (origins) and Jonathan Frankel's The Damascus Affair (modern revival).

Finally, David I. Kertzer's The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara tracks a famous nineteenth-century Italian scandal.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:45 PM on October 18, 2015

The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson Biography of the last Lubavitch Rebbe

Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler's Soldier's Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe Compelling true story on how said Rebbe's father-in-law and family got out of Europe. I know it's Holocaust, but it's suspenseful and interesting.

Rachel Calof's Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains A Laura Ingalls Wilderesque non-fiction story, only it's Jewish and a little colder (North Dakota).

A little more contemporary (2007 and back): Among Righteous Men: A Tale of Vigilantes and Vindication in Hasidic Crown Heights, stories of the Hasidic sect wars, past and present, in New York

Hasidic People: A Place in the New World A history and contemporary (up to 1993) study of the Hasidim, also in New York.
posted by Melismata at 4:09 PM on October 18, 2015

The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln
posted by wens at 4:22 PM on October 18, 2015

I highly recommend The Pity of It All, which is a history of the Jews in Germany up until 1933.
posted by brookeb at 4:29 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom--and Revenge
posted by Sophont at 7:09 PM on October 18, 2015

I loved Constantine's Sword
posted by grobstein at 8:28 PM on October 18, 2015

I really liked Kurlansky's A Chosen Few: The Resurrection of European Jewry. It's not about the Holocaust but does use it as its framing element basically saying "OK we know what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, but what happened to them in the decades afterwards?" Tough Jews : Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams is all about Jewish gangsters. Slightly further afield is Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book basically about the creation of the comic book form by Jewish immigrants.
posted by jessamyn at 9:42 PM on October 18, 2015

The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire, about Jewish immigrants and their role in the rag trade and how it differed between those who settled in America versus the UK.
posted by PenDevil at 1:08 AM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do local histories count? "Uncommon Threads: Threads That Wove the Fabric of Baltimore Jewish Life" is an excellent book by a local Baltimore author.
posted by brownrd at 5:47 AM on October 19, 2015

Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah by Gershom Scholem
posted by OmieWise at 7:22 AM on October 19, 2015

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