Category Archives: Book Review

Hemingway at War

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Hemingway at War –
Ernest Hemingway’s Adventures as a World War II Correspondent
By Terry Mort
Pegasus Books/W.W. Norton 

Money can be easy to come by, especially and obviously when it’s inherited; integrity is not.

This is a terrific book.

Apart from being very readable and very honest – not to mention flawlessly written – its fifteen chapters take the reader on a perilous journey through wartime Europe, as brought to bear by that equally perilous and utmost of seemingly blokey characters, Ernest Hemingway. Yet even if you’re not into Hemingway, which admittedly I am, it’s the sort of book that’ll have you turning the pages with all the great haste regularity of a curious gazelle.

There again, we are talking about Ernest Hemingway; who not only led one of the most interesting and colourful lives this side of Oliver Reed and Keith Moon, but is perhaps someone, many would consider as among the first rock’n’roll writers of his generation. He was after all, married four times, was something of a rebel rouser (to put it mildly) and enjoyed a pint. All of which is painfully, yet marvellously captured throughout Hemingway at War – Ernest Hemingway’s Adventures as a World War II Correspondent.

Indeed, so far as Hemingway’s spell as a most reticent reporter during the Second World War is concerned, Terry Mort (whose previous books include The Hemingway Patrols, The Wrath of Cochise and The Monet Murders) has herein left no stone unturned.

The author has unearthed his subject with as much truth, daring and research as is surely possible.

For instance, as the outset of chapter two, Mort touches on Men at War – which Hemingway spent much of 1942 editing and to which he also contributed three selections from his own novels – which, in and of itself, could well trigger an abundance of debate among Hemingway aficionados: ””This book will not tell you how to die.” That is Hemingway being Hemingway, but not the best of him […]. And in what surely is an unintentional visitation of irony, he writes that Mussolini’s bluster and military posing were designed to cover up the fact that he had been fearful, even terrified, during World War I. Surely Hemingway would be enraged to know today that that is almost exactly the criticism that was, and is, levelled at him, in some quarters. Worse, that same criticism is also used to question his sexual identity – does a hairy chest conceal some different needs! He would not have liked that, either. And in fairness, that sort of analysis – the defence mechanism argument – is facile and in some cases has a whiff of agenda-driven criticism. But if you, meaning Hemingway, are going to use it, you cannot be surprised when others do it to you.”

Suffice to say, the above is loaded with what many could well assume to be high-octane ambiguity; especially from the stand-point of ”Mussolini’s bluster” and Hemingway’s chest quite possibly concealing ”some different needs.”

It’s all relative conjecture of course; although in historically literal terms, there is needless to say, no smoke without fire. Or in this particular instance, no cover up without the most boisterous need to both subvert and divert.

Assorted light is further shed on such thinking in chapter eleven, by which time, Hemingway, who was involved in the Liberation of Paris, was staying at the Ritz Hotel. Mort writes of Hemingway having initiated a reunion with his old friend and occasional benefactor, Sylvia Beach. Quoting from her memoir: ””There was still a lot of shooting going on, and we were getting tired of it, when one day a string of jeeps came up the street and stopped in front of my house […]. I flew downstairs; we met with a crash; he picked me up and swung me around and kissed me while the people in the street cheered.

We went up to Adrienne’s apartment and sat down. He was in battle dress, grimy and bloody. A machine gun clanked on the floor. He asked Adrienne for a piece of soap, and she gave him her last cake […].”

The author then goes on to (perhaps clarify?) by writing: ”Beach’s account of the meeting suggests strongly that it took place as Hemingway was entering the city. His ”bloody” and ”grimy” appearance does not suggest the appearance of a man who had just spent the night at the Ritz. And you would think he would not need a bar of soap – surely the could Ritz provide that. (Although there were shortages of everything after four years of occupation and rationing).”

The mere fact that Terry Mort writes of such open ended conundrum, is just one aspect of what accounts for Hemingway at War being such a valuable and weighty, if not quasi-inflammatory read.

Naturally, not all of the 263 pages (excluding Introduction, Endnotes, Bibliography and Index) lean toward such supposition, as the following direct Hemingway quotation from a 1958 edition of the Paris Review – one among many – surely substantiates: ”All you can be sure about in a political-minded writer is that if his work should last, you will have to skip the politics when you read it.”

It’s not often a book will have one reading on the edge of one’s seat – but hey, this Hemingway. Replete with bluster and braggadocio.

David Marx

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Scandinavian Christmas

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Scandinavian Christmas
Over 80 Celebratory Recipes for the Festive Season
By Trine Hahnemann
Quadrille – £16.99

I love […] the way the world turns silent when covered in snow.

     ‘Christmas Baking’

There are many different ways to celebrate the four Advent Sundays in Scandinavia. Mainly it’s about getting together and celebrating the end of the year and…well…life!

     ‘Festive Brunch’

Celebrate one of the Advent Sundays outside. Play in the snow: remember there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Serve hot drinks, salmon sandwiches, and ‘nisse’ (elf) cake, make a stew and bake bread over the open fire; I’ll show you how […].

     ‘Advent: A Whole Month of Christmas’

More than anything else, Scandinavian Christmas – Over 80 Celebratory Recipes for the Festive Season is a veritable delight to both behold and partake in.

Not only does it lend an entirely different slant to that of the Festive Season – which, given that all these rather wonderful, mouth-watering recipes are anchored in Scandinavia, ought hardly be surprising – it’s also something of a quintessential inspiration. Prime reason being, Trine Hahnemann, fundamentally arrives at these festive meals by way of an entirely different route from that of which most of us are used to. Let alone consider.

Whether it’s Warm Chicory Salad, Roast Pork with Spices and Crisp crackling, or Rice Pudding with Cherry Sauce (‘The Christmas Eve Feast’); Salted Cod and Kale Pesto on Celeriac Brushetta or Mini Root Vegetable Cakes with Horseradish Cream (‘Christmas Party’).

There is indeed, an abundance of ‘newness’ involved here; and whenever things are new, they cannot help but thus invariably inspire.

That the authoress is an expert on, and an ambassador for modern-day Scandinavian food, has obviously helped to make these 140 pages (excluding Acknowledgements and Index) what they are: clear, concise, colour-coded and authentic; thereby making for a cool collection of Go Scandi recipes that even the most reticent of culinary festive tigers are able to embrace: ”It’s completely missing the point of Christmas to be totally stressed out! Select just those things from this book that you would like to cook, and have fun. Christmas is about celebrating life and ‘hygge,’ a Danish term that is almost untranslatable, but encompasses comfort, camaraderie, and good food and drink. So create your own celebrations on your own terms.”

As a result of Hahnemann going out of her way to substantiate the need to ”create your own celebrations on your own terms,” is precisely what accounts for Scandinavian Christmas being such an inviting and alternative template.

Divided into seven sections (‘Christmas Baking,’ ‘Gifts from the Kitchen,’ ‘Advent: A Whole Month of Christmas,’ ‘Festive Brunch,’ ‘Christmas Party,’ ‘The Christmas Eve Feast’ and ‘Christmas Day Smorgasbord’), this hardback celebrates a hybrid of traditional treats and the most sumptuous of modern-day, Scandinavian recipes.

Replete with more than evocative photography, I’d have to say that this book isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for many (potentially elongated) fun times in the kitchen – the coming together of the aforementioned ‘Nisse’ (elf) cake on page fifty-seven especially.

David Marx

Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism

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Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism 
U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-2015
By Melvyn P. Leffler
Princeton University Press – £32.95

Living under a cloud of fear like this robs a child of his spirit. It’s one thing to be afraid when someone’s holding a shotgun on you, but it’s another thing to be afraid of something that’s just not quite real. There were a lot of folks around who took this threat seriously, though, and it rubbed off on you. It was easy to become a victim of their strange fantasy… When the drill sirens went off, you had to lay under your desk facedown, not a muscle quivering and not make any noise. As if this could save you from the bombs dropping. The threat of annihilation was a scary thing.”

                                                                   Bob Dylan
                                                                   Chronicles, 2004

That the above was written by Bob Dylan in his book, Chronicles (on pages 29/30), should go some way in both dismantling and deciphering the American psyche throughout much of the last century as well as the beginning of the twenty-first. That Dylan is of unquestionably severe intellect, and is rather renowned for his seething honesty, ought further highlight the very substantial link that lies at the heart betwixt American paranoia and its own self-induced perplexity.

After all, the very first part of this book’s title alone (Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism) immediately conveys a troubled, underlying essence of its own design.

The mere fact that U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security has to ”safeguard” it’s very own ”democratic capitalism,” is surely something of a political blight that has burdened North America for many years. Much of the manifestation of which has invariably been ingrained within the very fibre of American thinking. The above opening quote of which is a prime example.

One does need to remember however, that what Dylan professed to, absolutely wasn’t, and still isn’t something to be taken lightly.

It still isn’t something to be merely brushed aside, as if mere words; even if said words, were spoken by one of the most utmost of intellects in the world today. But where Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism – U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-2015 comes into its own, is its quintessential acknowledgement that what Dylan was saying, still remains at the very core of American psychosis.

And if psychosis – as characterised by an impaired relationship with reality; in other words: a symptom of serious mental disorder – isn’t at the helm of the current American presidency, then I really, really don’t know what is. Neither for that matter, may Melvyn P. Leffler (who, apart from having written For the Soul of Mankind and A Preponderance of Power and is also the Edward Stettinius Professor of American History at the University of Virginia), because these eleven chapters rather frustratingly conclude in 2015.

That said, in Chapter Two’s ‘Herbert Hoover, the ”New Era,” and American Foreign Policy, 1921-1929,’ Leffler does have the clarity of literary mind to regale readers with an excerpt from 1921 no less, made by the then Secretary of Commerce, Robert H. van Meter:

”There is nothing that would give such hope of recovery in life and living as to have this terrible burden and menace [arms expenditures] taken from the minds and backs of men. As Secretary of Commerce, if I were to review in order of importance those things of the world that would best restore commerce, I would inevitably arrive at the removal of this, the first and primary obstruction.”

Again, it does need to be remembered that van Mater wrote this (to President Warren G. Harding) in 1921. So is it any wonder that thirty years later, a young Dylan was perpetually being ingrained with the preposterous notion that cowering beneath his school-desk would save him from nuclear annihilation?

The notion of Dylan wanting to ”die in his own footsteps,” as aided and worryingly abetted by American Foreign Policy ever since God knows when, is herein brought to bear amid perhaps some of the finest essays written on the subject in a long time.

As such, these 335 pages (excluding Preface and Index) are, as the author of The World America Made, Robert Kagan, has since said: ”Always provocative, never doctrinaire, and often surprising in its lessons.”

David Marx

Springsteen – Album By Album

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Springsteen – Album By Album
By Ryan White
Introduced by Peter Ames Carlin
Carlton Books – £15.99

     The older you get, the more it means.

Bruce Springsteen,
Stadium of Light,
Sunderland, UK (21/06/2012)

A few days ago, it was announced and confirmed that Bruce Springsteen’s stint on Broadway (five nights a week) has now been extended to run until next June, 2018.

What with tickets being not only exceedingly hard to get hold of, but selling and changing hands for literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars; I find myself wanting to clamour onto a Manhattan rooftop – somewhere in the vicinity of the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th Street – and through a large megaphone, scream the following words:

Hasn’t Bruce Springsteen made enough money yet?
Isn’t four-hundred-and sixty million dollars enough?
Isn’t four-hundred-and sixty million dollars (and counting) enough for him to at least think about giving a little something back? Back to his incredibly devoted fans – who, for many, many years, have always, always stood by him?
Just how much more money does he need to accumulate playing live, in order ”to provide for my family” (page 499 of his book, Born To Run)?
Indeed, how many risible hoops do his fans need to continue jumping through – as if dumbstruck, performing seals, with nothing better to do than outwardly fawn; while simultaneously hurling a menagerie of credit cards out unto the starstruck wind, ad infinitum – until such a time as fairness and decency descend?

To a certain degree, it’s a real tough and confusing one.
I myself have been a huge Springsteen fan for years. As such, it’s almost impossible to dismiss all the great music he’s put out over the years. BUT, isn’t it high time for him to remember what it was once like being a fan himself?

When the above mentioned book, Born To Run was published, he did a book signing in London, yet had the audacity to charge fans £20.00 to queue up! Supposedly to pay for security. Whatdafuckingfuck? Surely his label could have splashed out a few quid to pay for a couple of gorillas to ”protect him?”

It is indeed quite upsetting/disturbing, to come to the cold, harsh realisation that someone you’ve admired for so many years, has evolved into someone for whom the only thing that now truly matters is money.

As a result, listening to ‘Thunder Road’ just isn’t the same any more.
What’s more, it never will be.

What was it Dylan once said, ”it’s funny how money brings out the worst in people,” which is why I prefer to remember a time when Springsteen was indeed, wild and innocent. With a huge dollop of emphasis on innocent, which is where this altogether terrific book comes in.

Other than being a well-considered and highly authoritative overview of the artist’s work, Springsteen – Album By Album, is a lavishly compiled, hardback compilation, that harks back to a time when Bruce Springsteen still had a hungry heart. From his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ right the way through to High Hopes, the book is littered with thought provoking drop-quotes (such as the opening quote of this review) and is filled with some truly great – colour and black &white – photographs covering Springsteen’s entire career.

Written by Ryan White, and with an Introduction by Peter Ames Carlin – whose book Bruce I reviewed in 2012 – these 288 pages invariably drip with nostalgia. And all things considered – Springsteen’s aforementioned, current penchant (if not infatuation) with money for instance – this ought not be deemed a bad thing. After all, as long-standing side-kick, Steve Van Zandt said of Springsteen in 2011: ”He had the balls to be cornball […] to risk being sentimental.”

Hmm, but clearly not that sentimental.
Not sentimental enough to give his fans some sort of financial break – that’s for sure.

Rather than trying to secure tickets by lining the pockets of countless agents and touts, middle-men and of course, Bruce Springsteen himself; or queuing up for literally hours on end in the cold in the hope of seeing Bruce play a few acoustic songs, you’d be far better off watching the nigh endless Bruce footage on YouTube and buying this truly wonderful book.

Wonderful in the sense that one can still glean a fragment of the truth.

David Marx

 

Italian Street Food

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Italian Street Food –
Recipes From Italy’s Bars and Hidden Laneways
By Paola Bacha
Smith Street Books – £25.00

Like most great eateries the length and breadth of many a foreign land, it’s always those off the beaten track which prove to be the most inexpensive and inviting. Not to mention usually the best. Only problem is – if such be the word – is actually locating them.

So far as Italy is concerned, this all round terrific book may well tick a number of surprisingly unconsidered, gastronomical purposes (and boxes). Namely, that you can learn to rustle-up an assortment of proper, delicious Italian street food of your own.

Something which, to all intents and cuisine induced purposes, ain’t no bad thing signor.

Who wouldn’t want to be in a position of being able to bring such regional delights as Pizzette con Gorgonzola e Fungi (Gorgonzola and Mushroom Pizette), Suppli al Telefono con Ragu (Suppli with Meat Ragu) or Pizza Bianca con Mortazza (Roman Mortadella Sandwich) to life – in the relative comfort of their own kitchen?

Being something of a foodie myself, I do have to say Italian Street Food – Recipes From Italy’s Bars and Hidden Laneways, is something of a true delight to both behold and fervently indulge in.

As let’s face it, ”food is central to the Italian way of life.”

Just as authoress Paola Bacchia makes exceedingly clear in this book’s fine Introduction: ”I have never met an Italian who did not mention food in almost every conversation. Describing what their last meal or spuntino (snack) was or what their next one will be, invariably with a strong opinion on the dish. And just like my father had repeated to me, for the average Italian, their mamma is the best cook, maybe only surpassed by nonna (grandmother) before she hands on the baton […] to the next generation. Region, provenance and seasonality always matters to them, so it stands to reason that street food in Italy combines all of these elements […].”

Just as, to a certain degree, do these 271 pages.

Replete with an array of (predominantly) colour photographs, it goes without saying that Italian Street Food essentially depicts that what it says on the tin/cover Although what fundamentally accounts for the quality and prime difference in Italian (street) food, is the vast variance in regionality: ”It is as much about geography as it is about tradition; what grows locally and is plentiful is more likely to be a key part of a particular dish. A traditional porchetta (roast pork) roll made by an artisan porchettaio (porchetta-maker) in Abruzzo will probably taste different from a porchetta roll eaten in Umbria. It might be made with different herbs (wild fennel in Umbria and rosemary in Abruzzo), the pig will have been raised on different land with different feed, and there will be some secret ingredient or cooking method handed down from mamma (or another family member equally qualified in the kitchen) that makes their porchetta better than everyone one else’s.”

It’s true.
My Italian mates are forever carping on about how their mother simply makes the best this, that or the other. And while there’s absolutely no debate to be had, let alone considered; amid these nine succulent chapters lie many an answer as to what may substantially qualify one Taralli al Limone (Lemon Taralli) being different or at least better from another.

Along with a helpful section entitled ‘Notes on Ingredients,’ this most mouth-watering of cookery books is altogether way too meraviglioso for words.

Not to mention a fine addition to any serious contender in the cucina.

David Marx

The Lies of the Land

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The Lies of the Land –
A Brief History of Political Dishonesty
By Adam Macqueen
Atlantic Books – £14.99

When truth is not spoken to power, the powerful do not always speak the truth.

         (‘Where Power Lies’)

They are the lies uttered by those in charge, told because they felt it was their duty to lie: that by doing so, they were serving what is often called the ‘greater good’ and that the end justified the means. They are the lies told because the people in power convinced themselves that they knew best. That they had a superior ability to see ‘the bigger picture’ and discern the ‘moral truth’ of a situation (as opposed to the boring, black-and-white details bogging down the folks closer to ground level). The lies told because it was the ‘right’ thing to do.

         (‘Where Power Lies’)

Talk about a literary nail in the coffin of politically induced fabrication.

The Lies of the Land – A Brief History of Political Dishonesty, calls it, tells it, and shares a menagerie of despicable lies that have been told over the years; either by, or on behalf of those who supposedly have the people’s best interests at heart.

Namely the leaders and politicians that are not only at the vanguard of Westminster, but many of the world’s capitals. As Adam Macqueen has so prophetically written in the book’s Introduction: ”As sure as night follows day, the louder you shout about your opponent’s lies, the less obliged you feel to tell the truth yourself.”
Indeed.

As these hardly surprising, yet highly accurate and well written nine chapters make exceptionally clear, those in whom we are asked put our trust, are the most least likely people whom we would trust were we to bump into them on the tube or at some risible cocktail party along Whitehall.

Riddled with complete and utter contempt for that which we oft refer to as the truth, so many of those at the helm of the political persuasion, are themselves, no better than blatant criminals. In fact, many are worse, as again, The Lies of the Land remind us throughout.

For instance, on page 200 of chapter seven’s afore-quoted ‘Where Power Lies,’ the author, writing in reference to Margaret Thatcher and the sinking of the Belgrano during the horribly pointless Falklands War, quotes Labour MP, Tam Dalyell: ”He was a veteran conspiracy theorist, in many cases not without good cause, and in this particular case he and many others were convinced that the Belgrano had been sunk in order to scupper a peace plan which the US and Argentina’s neighbour Peru had been attempting to broker, so that Mrs Thatcher could pursue a war she had decided she had to win at all costs. In a 1987 polemic against the prime minister, Dalyell thundered: ‘I say she is guilty of gross deception. I say…she is guilty of calculated murder, not for the national interests of our country, not for the protection of our servicemen, but for her own political ends.”’

Suffice to say, to stumble upon such soaring home-truths again and again throughout these 337 pages, is what counters for this book being such a fascinating read. Or, as Matthew d’Ancona, author of Post-Truth and Guardian columnist has since said: ”An excellent guide through the thickets of political mendacity. Brilliantly-researched, intelligent, and lucid, this book is essential reading.”

There you go: essential reading.

David Marx

Ordinary Jews

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Ordinary Jews –
Choice and Survival during the Holocaust
By Evgeny Finkel
Princeton University Press – £24.95

Killings and seizures for forced labour began in mid-August 1941. Initially the Germans, assisted by Ukrainian and Lithuanian auxiliary troops and by the Belorussian police, seized males, who were then taken to the central square of the ghetto, beaten, and driven away to an unknown destination. None of them returned home. According to some sources, starting in late August women also were captured. About 5,000 people were caught and later executed during the August round-ups. The first large-scale massacre took place on November 7, 1941, the anniversary of the October Revolution. Ghetto inhabitants knew that something was brewing because skilled craftsmen, professionals and members of the Judenrat were moved to the ”Russian” part of the city on the evening of November 6th. Yet the scale of the killing shocked everyone. Local Jews, building on their historical experience, called it a ”pogrom.” The general assumption was that people would simply be thrown out of their apartments and probably beaten – no one imagined large-scale shootings in which thousands (10,000-12,000 is the estimated number) would perish.

         (‘Setting the Stage’)

Many made desperate attempts to escape when it was perceived as the last chance to survive, sometimes jumping off the trains carrying them to death camps. The vast majority perished, either hit by the moving trains, shot by German guards, betrayed, or killed by local Poles. In March of 1943, George Turlo, a non-Jew, took a train from Bialystok to Warsaw. ”During the first portion [of the journey],” he recalled, ”the train was stopping very often on the rail tracks, and a putrefied smell, stench, was coming from the outside. And I saw the German soldiers pouring the gasoline on some bodies along the track. And somebody told me this was the latest convoy from [the] Bialystok ghetto to…Treblinka. Only a few were lucky enough to survive the jump. Those who did had to navigate a hostile and unfamiliar terrain – physical, but more importantly also human and social. Gedaliyah Wender was ten years old when his father threw him and his sister out of a train bound to Treblinka; his mother jumped as well. His mother and sister were badly wounded in the jump, and it was clear they would not survive. In the last moments of her life the mother had to prepare her son for independent survival – she taught him how to say ”bread” and other essential words in Polish, because Gedaliyah had no knowledge of the language whatsoever.

          (‘Evasion’)

To say this is a mind-bogglingly tough read, would be something of an understatement.

To this day, I still find it nigh impossible to comprehend just how Europe’s Jewish population coped with what surely has to be one of the darkest (if not the darkest) periods in human history. As Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker (April 6, 2015): ”[…] the Nazi concentration camp stands as the ultimate system of evil. The very names of of the camps – Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz – have the sound of malevolent incantation […] full of the kind of details that ordinarily appear only in Dantesque visions.”

Indeed, said visions aren’t worth thinking about.
They’re far too disturbing to come to (remote) terms with, even though Ordinary Jews – Choice and Survival during the Holocaust doesn’t so much focus on the Konzentrationlager (concentration camp) itself, but rather, that despicable penultimate place, the ghetto.

In focusing on the three Jewish ghettos of Minsk, Krakow and Bialystok, Evgeny Finkel brings to light the degree to which the Jewish response to Nazi genocide differed, depending on their experiences with pre-war polices that either ”promoted or discouraged their integration into non-Jewish society.” And like many books written on the subject, it’s the whole matter of fact mode of writing that in a way, is the most disturbing and distressing.

That’s not to say Finkel doesn’t care about his subject. Nothing could be further from the undeniable truth. He, along with his peers, clearly care very much.

It’s the sheer density of relentless suffering and the awful extent to which human nature can become so bestial and so ghastly (so quickly). Again, it doesn’t bear worth thinking about; which in turn, reiterates the issue as to why we choose to read about such horror(s) to begin with. If, as Kirsch writes: ”It is to merely to revel in the grotesque, then learning about this evil is itself a species of evil, a further exploitation of the dead.”

Like the eight chapters of this most sensitive of investigations, the actual execution of the reading itself is a tough call; yet Ordinary Jews is an ultimately important contribution toward the many writings on the subject of the Holocaust.

It’s complexity and deftness lies in Finkel’s telling, which, if truth be told, resonates with all the clarity of subdued beauty.

David Marx