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Your Jewish Books, Our Jewish Books, My Jewish Books

Welcome to our recommendations for new, classic, and eclectic Jewish books
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Please read our comments. To view more reviews and comments, to add your own, or to see the cover art, please click the listing.

[summer]


Summer comes but once a year, bringing with it SPF-36, Tisha b'Av, Elul, baseball, romance, and a yearning to read a significant or escapist book. Below are our SECOND PAGE OF comments on the latest Jewish books for Summer 1999.


[book] A Joyful Noise: Claiming the Songs of My Fathers. by Deborah Weisgall
Hardcover - 256 pages (September 1999) Atlantic Monthly Press.
As Psalm 100 begins, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord...serve the Lord with gladness." It is the statement that appears above the cantors' synagogue in Ivancice, Moravia/Slovakia. In "A Joyful Noise," Deborah Weisgall, a critic for The New York Times, tells a moving story of growing up with two remarkable men who lived life as if they were characters in an opera. Her Czech-born grandfather Abba served as a cantor in Baltimore; and her Czech-born father, Hugo, was an atonal opera composer, JTS teacher, and conducted the Baltimore synagogue's choir. They were descended from a long line cantors. Deborah grew up in this milieu in the 1950's, but as a girl, could not fully participate in the musical tradition of her forebears. A Joyful Noise recounts Deborah's turbulent search for a place within the family tradition, and finally, her triumphant discovery of a way to make the men who would exclude her - who are also the men she loves - listen to her voice. As in the prayer, Unasena Tokef, these men were like the great shofars, yet a still small voice needed to be heard. I can assure you will not survive Chapter 13 with dry eyes. While I was surprised that so much of the book is based in Weisgall's childhood, I nevertheless enjoyed the story. I highly recommend this book not only as a memoir, but as a book that evokes the feeling of growing up as a Jewish female in the 1950's, the cool and warm feeling of opening the door for Elijah during a seder, the Jewish flight to the suburbs, a lifelong desire to be noticed, and the pain of first love. I regret that I never happened upon their Maine synagogue for high holy day services. P.S. Abba would not have lain tefillin on a Shabbat, would he?




[book] The Same Embrace by Michael Lowenthal
Hardcover - 304 pages Penguin. A novel about the Rosenbaum twins. Jacob and Jonathan are identical twins, tied together by family, by shared history, by identical genes. In this novel, they battle themselves and one another to become individuals. Jacob comes out and Jonathan becomes Orthodox. In the words of the NYT, "The Same Embrace is an eloquent exploration of the nature of faith, the consequences of judgment and the stubborn endurance of family ties."




Illness and Health in The Jewish Tradition: Writings from the Bible to Today. Edited by David Freeman and Judith Z. Abrams
(July 1999). Jewish Publication Society. Compiled by a Harvard physician and medical professor, and the head of an adult Talmud study school (Maqom), this is a sourcebook of readings that can provide hope and comfort for those that are ill. There are 7 sections. The writings in each section are arranged chronologically from biblical through modern times. In the words of Publishers Weekly, "...in the section on "Rules and Ethics"... there is a Heschel essay titled "The Patient as a Person"...Other sections address such questions as "How can one cope with illness?"; "What kinds of lessons can be learned from suffering and illness?"; "Of what help is a rabbi in a situation where someone is suffering?"; "What are the responsibilities and rights of the patient, physician and community according to Jewish custom?"; "and "What constitutes good health?"




[book] Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire by Jason Goodwin
April 1999, 352 pages, Henry Holt. An anecdote-filled and breezy account of the long, troubled career of the Ottoman Empire. That empire endured for nearly 600 years and embraced not only a large territory--stretching, at one point, from the border of Iran to the gates of Vienna--but also hundreds of ethnic groups and three dozen nations. Did you ever wonder why so many Spanish Jews ended up in Turkey and the Ottoman Empire? Click the icon to read more expansive reviews.
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[book]Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews by David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson
Hardcover (Spring 1999). St Martins Press.
During the Inquisition, a bowl of Chicken soup could get you killed, not healed. It was food you could die for, If this book is not nominated for a Jewish Book Award, I don't know what will be. How is that for a recommendation? I came across this in the shelves the other day and was mesmerized. David Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson are a husband and wife team and teachers at the the University of Rhode Island. David is a past winner of the National Jewish Book Award, and he is a specialist in aljamas (Jewish neighborhoods), the converso Jews, the anusim (forced converts) and the meshumadim (willing coverts). Using cookbooks and Inquisition documents in Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan (including the rare 13th Century Al Andalus cookbook of the Cocina Hispano-Magribi), the authors have recreating over 90 recipes of the Converso community. During the Inquisitions in the Iberian peninsula, Jews and Moslems were killed, exiled, or converted. Some of the converted remained Jewish or Moslem and became crypto-jews, Crypto-Moslems, of Conversos. Spain expelled Jews in 1492 (you know, when Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue); Portugal expelled Jews in 1497. The recipes are well categorized, and make use of lamb, beef, fish, eggplant, greens, turnips, chickpeas, as well as mace, cinnamon, ginger, lavender, rue, portulaca, and dozens of other spices. Most recipes include histories and characters of the period, which is the prime motivation to purchase this book. For example, along of the recipes of Beatrice Nunez, we learn that she was arrested in 1485. Her maid turned her in to the Inquisition for the crime of maintaining a kosher kitchen. She also prepared a Sabbath stew of lamb, chickpeas and eggs. Proof enough to have her burned at the stake. Among my favorite recipes is Mayor Gonzalez's Egg and Carrot Casserole. She was imprisoned in 1483 for killing a goose in "the jewish way." Then there is Juan Sanchez's hamin of chickpeas, spinach and cabbage; and Maria de Luna's rasquillas honey pastries that she prepared for the post-Yom Kippur fast. She was arrested in 1505 for this crime. There is also Juan de Teva's Roast Lamb dish. Juan's father was a rabbi who was burned to death i n1484. The authors also include the Roast Chicken with Fruit and Almori recipe of Anton de Montoro. Senor de Montoro was a rag merchat in Cordoba, but is most well known as being the converso poet to the Court of Queen Isabel of Castile. De Montoro was accused of preparing stuffed radishes (a Jewish dish) and Pollo Judio (jewish chicken). Easily, this is among the top three Jewish Cookbooks of the year.


[book] New Talmudic Readings by Emanuel Levinas, translated from the French by R. Cohen
Hardcover - 120 pages (July 1999) Duquesne Univ Press. Emanuel Levinas, the important French Jewish Philosopher who passed away in December 1995. Levinas was the editor of Bar Ilan's Da'at journal for its first 10 years. His five collections of lectures on Talmud are much sought after (Oranim Seminar), as they seek to extract modern ethical, moral lessons from the topics under discussion in the Talmud. This new book presents some of the Talmud readings that were presented over the years at annual meetings of Franc'es Jewish philosophers. A truly philosophical outlook on the Talmud, one day people will speak of Levinas in the same way that they mention Heschel.
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[book] Mother of My Mother: The Intricate Bond Between the Generations by Hope Edelman
Hardcover - 256 pages (Summer 1999). How mothers and grandmothers influence their daughters and granddaughters. Click to read more.
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[book] Birth of Shylock & the Death of Zero Mostel by Arnold Wesker
Hardcover - 400 pages (1999). Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice-the epitome of money-grabbing avarice and cruelty-is, Arnold Wesker believes, "a libel on the Jews" and a reflection of Elizabethan racism. Wesker, one of Britain's most revered playwrights, decided to create a counter portrait to the Bard's offensive character by writing his own play, Shylock, in which the Jew is compassionate, intelligent, and deeply moral. John Dexter, the world-renowned director, arranged to have it open on Broadway in 1977 with Zero Mostel in the lead. The play promised to be a great box-office draw, with high advance bookings, thanks to Mostel. That's why the Shuberts backed him. But after the first preview in Philadelphia, Mostel fell ill and died within days. The play opened on Broadway with Mostel's understudy, but its momentum had been fatally damaged and it spiraled into disaster. In this extraordinary book, Wesker records how the people involved-including many of New York's cultural elite-interacted in the making, and unmaking, of an extraordinary theatrical event.
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[book] The Greatest Poems of the Bible. Translated by James Kugel
$22 before our discount. The Free Press. Not til September 1999.
A readers companion to the poems of the Bible, with Kugel's insights into their hidden beauties of deeper meanings. What do the psalms tell us about the nature of the soul? What do the shirim/songs and proverbs tell us about monotheism and the afterlife? Kugel is a Professor of Hebrew Lit at Harvard, and a Prof at Bar Ilan. I had the privilege of sitting in on some of his lectures in NYC, and he is a great teacher and writer, so buy the book and go and learn.
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Click here to purchase Kugel's January 1999 book titled, Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era by James L. Kugel


[book] Random Harvest: The Novellas of Chaim Nahman Bialik, and David Patterson (Translator), and Ezra Spicehandler (Translator)
Hardcover - 352 pages (Summer 1999). The first English collection of the novellas of one of the leading figures in modern Hebrew literature Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934) is celebrated as one of the leading figures in modern Jewish literature. Although most famous for his Hebrew poems, Bialik was also a master of short prose. Often expressing a realism and social awareness associated with the Russia of his youth, Bialik's stories showcase his gift for lyricism, his deft use of symbolism, and his sense of humor, captured in engaging vignettes of life in the Ukrainian countryside. The translators hail from Oxford and HUC. Click to read more.
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[book] Jerusalem in America's Foreign Policy, 1947-1997 by Shlomo Slonim
Hardcover (September 1998), a mere $135. 420 pages. In the words of Ha'Aretz in June 1999, "The issue of Jerusalem is now on our doorstep, and the dilemma, of course, is how to preserve the policy of all Israeli governments to date -- that Jerusalem in its entirety is the capital of Israel -- while coping with the demands of the Palestinians." This impressive and orderly book presents a thorough analysis of America's foreign policy views towards Jerusalem, starting with pre State views (UN corpus separatum Resolution 181 that combined Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Motza, Ein Kerem, Shuafat and Abu Dis), the views of Truman and Clark Clifford, versus Truman's State Department policy wonks; The American response to Count Bernadotte; LBJ and Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg; the statements of Ambassador Charles Yost after the 67 war; the 1969 Rogers Plan; Camp David etc. Did you know that between 1953 and 1967, American ambassadors presented their credentials to Israel in Jerusalem?
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[book] Ancient Siege Warfare by Paul Bentley Kern
Hardcover - 448 pages (June 1999). Ancient siege warfare played an important role in the sacking of Jerusalem and Masada. It was a form of total war that often ended in the sack of a city and the massacre or enslavement of entire populations. Leaders from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar all commanded great sieges that ended in fearsome slaughters. The ancient Hebrew prophets and Greek poets described siege warfare as a world without limits or structure or morality, in which men violated deep-seated taboos about sex, pregnancy, and death. Here Professor of History Paul Bentley Kern examines the reasons siege warfare could unleash such unrestrained violence--and why we today are reminded of our terrible vulnerability even in the age of modern war, when fortification and formal siege are thought to be long over.
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[book] A Heart of Wisdom: Making the Jewish Journey from Mid-Life Through the Elder Years by Susan Berrin (Editor)
Paperback - 384 pages (1999) Jewish Lights. Growing older is a life-long process. By mid-life we begin to focus our attention and invest not only for our financial and physical security but also for our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual well-being as elders by acknowledging the challenges and conditions of aging. Neither the daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly cycles of Jewish living are age-specific. As young, middle-aged, or older people, we continue to be partners with God and the human family in sustaining and being sustained by our fragile world. This book has fifty contributors who explore aging from a Jewish perspective: How does being Jewish influence our relationships with the elderly? How does being Jewish influence our own aging? How does living, thinking, and worshipping as a Jew affect us as we age? How do we retain our dignity as we age? This book contains over 40 essays, poems and ceremonies by current luminaries, including Pogrebin, Kaminsky, Olitzky, Diamond, Siegel, Kushner, Kotzberg, Schacter-Shalomi, Shavli, Teicher, Ginsberg, and Medjuck. Click to read more...
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[book] Yosl Rakover Talks to God. By Zvi Kolitz. Translated by Carol Brown Janeway, Afterword by Leon Wieseltier.
Hardcover (not until November 1999) Pantheon Books. As the German tanks rolled into Warsaw and destroyed the Jewish ghetto, one of the few remaining fighters, Yosl Rakover, wrote out his last words to God, sealed them in a glass bottle, and thrust it into the rubble. The text surfaced in the 1950s and it was broadcast on Radio Berlin, where Thomas Mann acclaimed it as a religious masterpiece...... But guess what? The text was actually written in 1946 for a Yiddish newspaper in Buenos Aires, by a young Jew named Zvi Kolitz (who currently resides in NYC) This is the story of what happended to the text and to Kolitz in the 50 years since the story was published. A European best seller.
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[book] Give Us a King! Samuel, Saul, and David. A New Translation of Samuel I and II. by Everett Fox (Editor).
Hardcover (November 1999) Schocken Books. Fox's translation of the Torah is so useful and now indispensable, how can you do without this latest volume? This is a masterful translation of the story of King David. Samuel I and II contain some of the best known bible stories, such as Samuel rise to prophecy, the tragedy of Saul, the rise of David, the love affairs of David, Bathsheba, the birth of Solomon. This new translation recapture the poetics of the Hebrew original. Illustrated by the Israeli artist, Schwebel.
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[book] Friday the Rabbi Wore Lace: Jewish Lesbian Erotica by Karen X. Tulchinsky (Editor)
Paperback - 200 pages 1 edition (November 1998). Caril Behr's placidly outrageous "Ofra and Tal" is worth the price of the book. In true Jewish tradition, this book features literate, steamy erotica told with humor, heart, and chutzpah.
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[book] A People Apart: The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939 by David Vital
Hardcover - 976 PAGES (August 1999) Oxford Univ Press. In 1789, France granted full citizenship to Jews. In 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and continued to destroy Europe's Jews. In this HUGE book, David Vital provides us with a comprehensive history of the Jewish communities of Europe between these two markers. He especially provides an interesting analysis of the Jewish participation in Zionism and socialism; the story of the Haskalah; the rise of anti-Semitism; and the contrast (and similiarities) between Jews and others in their reactions to European events and movements.
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[book] Raising Jewish Children: How to Add Wonder and Spirituality to Your Child's Everyday Life by Rabbi Daniel Gordis
Hardcover - 336 pages (September 1999). Rabbi Gordis, author of "God Was Not in The Fire" and "Does The World Need the Jews" offers us this timely book for the Fall 1999. It should be read by any parent that is questing for ways to share our heriatge with one's children. Rabbi Gordis, the dean of the rabbinical school of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, explains how and why Shabbat and various holidays are celebrated and uncovers the insights, the meanings and the morals that can be conveyed to our kids. As the Shema says that we should diligently teach our children as if we are grinding it in like molars (teeth), Gordis is a blacksmith who shows how we can forge a "Jewish identity" through joy and teaching.
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[book] Between Redemption and Doom; The Strains of German Jewish Modernism by Noah Isenberg
Hardcover - 232 pages (May 1999) Univ of Nebraska Press. Wesleyan Professor of German Studies, Noah Isenberg studies German Jewish identity through the literary, film , and art works of such people as Kafka, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and others, from WWI through Nazism. Some mocked their unassimilated "Eastern Jewish" relatives, while others railed against assimilation. [P.S. check out the Ben-Gurion/Beersheva Conference on Kafka and Zionism in October 99]
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[book] The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 by Wladyslaw Szpilman, translated by Anthea Bell from Pilish
Hardcover (not until September 1999) Picador. Szpilman was a noted pianist on Polish Radio prior to the German invasion of Poland in the Fall of 1939. He was incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1945, he published this memoir, but it was banned by the Communists. Now, at age 88, his chronicle has been published in English. Szpilman's work is not only a history, but it has been called a literary masterpiece for its understated but descriptive use of language. Included in the book is his story of how a German captain saved his life, how the Ghetto Jews adjusted to the new restrictions each day, and why his family, knowing full well that 90% would be killed in the death camps, followed the round-up orders for deportation.
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[book] I Will Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer VOLUME 2 1941-1945. by Victor Klemperer
Hardcover-544 pages, (August 1999) Random House. Click to read more. This is the second volume of the translation from the 1700 page German best seller about the life of Victor Klemperer in Germany as a "protected Jew" during WWII. It is the most vivid account of life in Germany during the war. Throw away your Anne Frank and read this. Volume 1 was named one of the Notable Books of 1998. Look for a 13-part TV series to be based on these diaries.
Click here to BUY VOLUME 2 for the period 1933-1941
Click here to BUY VOLUME 1 for the period 1933-1941



[book] Haikus for Jews by David Bader
Hardcover - 96 pages (September 1999).
So you thought I would
Write a Jewish haiku to
Sell this book. Guess not
Bader, the author of "How to Be an Extremely Reform Jew" provides us with the essence of the faith in 17 syllable portions. Like the Japanese ahiku, the Jewish haiku includes 'a kigo', or a 'season word' hinting at a time of year. For example, a Japanese haiku would use "russet" in Fall, and "dragonfly" in Summer. A Jewish haiku maye use "extra sweater" in Winter or "Gefilte Fish" at Pesach. A sample?
No fins, no flippers
The gefilte fish swims with
Some difficulty
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[book] The Second Avenue Deli Cookbook: Recipes and Memories from Abe Lebewohl's Legendary New York Kitchen by Sharon Lebewohl and Rena Bulkin.
Not til October 1999. Hardcover. Villard. A cookbook from New York's legendary 2nd Avenue deli in the East Village, where 400,000 meals are served each year. Co-authored by Abe's daughter, it contains 166 of its famous recipes, including appetizer recipes, chopped liver, salads, kugels, challah-apple stuffing, 6 different latkes, rice-pudding brule, kasha varnishkes, and I can go on and on. The book also includes recipes from 28 of its famous clientele, including Paul Reiser and Dustin Hoffman. Abe Lebewohl was murdered in 1997 by a thief, and the case remains unsolved. The Polish-born Lebewohl started as a soda jerk in Brooklyn's Coney Island deli, became a counterman and then an owner. He fed the homeless, strikers, Mets fans, tourists, and neighbors. The deli uses 1,000 pounds of cole slaw per day. That's a lot of cabbage even for the East Village. He once sent a magazine 350 pounds of chopped liver to be in a photo shoot.
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[book] Trifles Make Perfection : The Selected Essays of Joseph Wechsberg by Joseph Wechsberg and David A. Morowitz (editor)
Hardcover (June 1999). A collection of the elegant writings on music, art, and food of Joseph Wechsberg, a former writer for The New Yorker and Gourmet who passed away in the 1970's. The collection includes his essay on "The Children of Lidice," about the Germanization of a Czech boy during WWII.
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Some Enjoyable, but not so Jewish Books

[book] Nudist on the Late Shift: And Other True Tales of Silicon Valley by Po Bronson
Hardcover - 288 pages (July 1999). Po Bronson, the voice of the Silicon valley, helps us to understand valley culture while describing the pursuit of gold within what may be the next Yahoo!, Hotmail, which declined many an offer until a mere $400 million offer came from Bill Gates.



[book] Apocalypses : Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs Through the Ages by Eugen Weber
Hardcover - 288 pages (April 1999) Harvard Univ Press. Writing with curiosity and empathy about such varied topics as the eschatological fallout from Halley's comet and Y2K survivalism, Weber turns up a few intriguing facts...Weber fittingly describes his work as a travel book, recording a journey through the ages, tracing the millenial fears and longings in the West from the pre-Christian roots in Hebrew, Persian, and Greek Stoic thought, all the way up to Waco, Jonestown, and Heaven's Gate. Click to read more...
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[book] See Jane Win: The Rimm Report on How 1,000 Girls Became Successful Women by Sylvia B. Rimm, Sara Rimm-Kaufman (Contributor), Ilonna Jane Rimm (Contributor)
Hardcover - 352 pages (May 1999) Crown Pub.
A noted child psychologist presents the conclusions of her extensive survey among more than 1,000 successful women, exploring what they each had in common with their upbringing and how parents can give their own daughters the same advantages.




[book] See Jane Win: The Rimm Report on How 1,000 Girls Became Successful Women by Sylvia B. Rimm, Sara Rimm-Kaufman (Contributor), Ilonna Jane Rimm (Contributor)
Hardcover - 352 pages (May 1999) Crown Pub.
A noted child psychologist presents the conclusions of her extensive survey among more than 1,000 successful women, exploring what they each had in common with their upbringing and how parents can give their own daughters the same advantages.




[book] A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Paperback - 284 pages (May 4, 1999).
Short of doing it yourself, the best way of escaping into nature is to read a book like ... A Walk in the Woods.... a funny book, full of dry humor in the native-American grain..




[book] Courtesans and Fishcakes. The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens by James Davidson
Paperback - 400 pages (August 1999) HarperCollins.
What is a Greek book doing in a Jewish bookstore?? I loved this book becuase in its description of the daily life of Classical Athens one can get an idea of the comparisons and contrasts to Classical Judea. Booklist wrote, "Eating, drinking, and sex are the consuming passions historian Davidson examines in his first book, an entertaining and illuminating work. Believing that knowledge of private lives is key to understanding ancient Greek culture, Davidson has combed what little literary evidence exists to determine how the Greeks of classical Athens viewed the pleasures of the flesh. The first appetite he examines is the Greeks' passion for fish, an obsession that produced a complex hierarchy of seafoods, myriad associations of fish with seduction, and comedies and commentaries on such subjects as the deviousness of fishmongers. Davidson also chronicles the Greeks' ritualized approaches to wining and dining and explores the world of Athenian sex, a shadowland where decent women avoided the gazes of men, and women of the streets were, in fact, homeless. Davidson also discusses at length the complex world of Greek sexuality and the active commercial market for homosexual sex and heterosexual concubines or courtesans.




[book] Guns, Germs, and Steel : The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Paperback - 480 pages (April 1999).
Diamond, a professor of physiology at UCLA, suggests that the geography of Eurasia was best suited to farming, the domestication of animals, and the free flow of information. The more populous cultures that developed as a result had more complex forms of government and communication--and increased resistance to disease.










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