Jewish sports heroes? You betcha! From boxers like Barney Ross, who dominated the professional ranks in the 1920s and ‘30s, to playground basketball stars who went on to be pros, like Red Holzman and Doph Schayes, to Sid Luckman who originated the position of the modern dropback quarterback, Jews have had an enormous impact on American sports. In Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame (Twelve, $26.99), Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy have compiled fifty biographical portraits that entertain, enlighten, and educate. The range of subjects is diverse, and so are the contributors. They include Simon Schama, David Brooks, Jane Leavy, Sholom Auslander, and David Remn
Resurrecting Hebrew ($21) is the story of how Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s efforts to rescue a dead language, Hebrew, and restore it as a spoken language, were central to the Zionist effort. Ilan Stavans shows how the tensions between the Diaspora and Israel play out in the arena of language. Stavans recalls his personal journey as well as offering a compact history of modern Hebrew.
“Moses Maimonides, the foremost Jewish scholar of all time and one of the greatest minds in the Western world, was born circa 1138.” In his biography, Maimonides (Doubleday, $35), Joel Kraemer, emeritus professor of Social Thought at the University of Chicago, recreates the times in which the physician-philosopher lived, as well as what can be found about his life. Kraemer depends heavily on Maimonides’s own extraordinary writings. While still in his thirties, Maimonides compiled his compendium of Jewish law, called the Mishneh Torah. He also wrote letters that are themselves considered basic texts in Judaism. His masterpiece, the Guide to the Perplexed, was completed near the end of the twelfth century, when Maimonides was in his early fifties. I recommend this book to all those interested in Islamic life in the Middle Ages as well as to Jews interested in learning more about Judaism’s most important philosopher.