Category Archives: Books

50 Children

The new book, “50 Children” tells the remarkable story of two Philadelphia-area Jews who, at the dawn of World War II, went to extraordinary lengths fighting red tape on both sides of the Atlantic to save the lives of children on the brink of the Holocaust in Europe. The book is the more detailed and expanded companion to the HBO documentary “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus”.

You can read an interview with the author and documentary film-maker about the subject here: New book explores 50 children rescued from Nazis by US Jews | The Times of Israel


Destiny of the Republic: A Book Review

Presidential History Blog

Its subtitle, “A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” says it all.

The Assassination of James A. Garfield

Shooting a President, his lingering death, unbelievably incompetent doctors and a deranged assassin makes for a fine and exciting story. Truth is frequently much better than fiction! Author Candice Millard is a skillful and careful historian-narrator, but not a riveting storyteller.

Book Review Destiny of the Republic Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

James Garfield (1831-81) was definitely a dark horse president, nominated and elected because few people outside the political sphere knew of him. It was also fifteen years post-Civil War, and the bloody shirt was still more attractive as a motivator than real political leadership.

Author Millard is a big fan of President Garfield, and with just cause: James Garfield was decent, articulate and intelligent man, with a good sense…

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International Children’s Book Day and Mark Twain Remembrance Day

One of the ubiquitous features of online searching and shopping is the “Recommended for You” list; every major site has algorithms to identify items you will probably like based on what you’ve already read or purchased. A significant side effect is what has been termed Filter Bubbles – since we are increasingly exposed to ideas similar to our own, we are less and less exposed to alternative viewpoints, with obvious costs to society.

When I buy a book from Amazon I rarely get a recommendation that surprises me. In honor of International Children’s Book Day (April 2) and Mark Twain Remembrance Day (April 21), I suggest you look at Mark Twain’s wonderful recommended reading list for children from 1887. But first, take a moment to think about which authors might be mentioned there… Any successful predictions? For an interesting discussion of Twain’s list, see this article in

I was in the bookstore yesterday and overheard a father trying to get his son excited about “The Wind in the Willows.” If the kid had enough sense to listen, I suspect he’ll try to convince his own son or daughter to read the same book one day – or maybe download it directly to their neural interface.

In any case, some books last the test of time – and should be recommended reading to all. Feel free to suggest some personal favorites in the Comments section!

When General Grant Expelled the Jews

On December 17, 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant issued General Orders No. 11, permanently expelling all Jews living in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi, within 24 hours. The order regarding “this class of people” read as follows:

“The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.

Post commanders will see that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters….”

This shameful episode in U.S. history is analyzed in depth by Prof. Jonathan Sarna in his fascinating book on the subject, When General Grant Expelled the Jews. (If you don’t have time to read the book, I recommend you read this interview with the author.)

Grant’s order came on the heels of his growing frustration with speculators and businessmen trading illegally in the conquered South; it was tragically exacerbated by the knowledge that his own father was one of these traders. Here you can see a letter where Grant talks about the episode with his father; he clearly wanted to put it all behind him…

President Lincoln rescinded the order as soon as he heard of it, but the damage – both to Grant’s political prospects, and to the self-confidence of American Jewry – would not be erased as quickly.

In 1868 Grant ran for president. For the first time in American history, a Jewish issue played a prominent role in a presidential campaign—the question of multiple loyalties. When selecting a presidential candidate, should Jews cast aside parochial concerns and consider only the national interest? Or should General Orders No. 11 be the primary factor in determining how Jews ought to vote?

In the end the Jewish vote did not have a significant impact on the election results, and in a letter intended to be published by the press, Grant clearly showed regret:

“I have no prejudice against sect or race, but want each individual to be judged by his own merit.”

Grant went on to appoint an unprecedented number of Jews to  higher office, responded quickly when told of persecutions against Jews in Europe, and denounced an order expelling 2,000 Jews from areas of Russia. He insisted that religion be kept out of public schools, and was the first president to attend a synagogue dedication. When he died, many synagogues said the traditional Mourners’ Prayer in his honor.

In recent years, many scholars have revised the prevalent perception of the Grant presidency as a failed one. When we look at this episode in his life, it appears that President Grant had undergone a transformative process – one that is central to Jewish belief – the process of repentance.

New Book On 19th-Century Jerusalem – “Tourists, Travellers and Hotels in 19th-Century Jerusalem”

A new book called “Tourists, Travellers and Hotels in 19th-Century Jerusalem,” provides a comprehensive study of the trends and developments of that period. Throughout the 19th century, numerous travelers made their trip to Jerusalem, including writers Herman Melville, Mark Twain, General Ulysses S. Grant, and the explorer Charles Warren.

Among other topics, the book describes the rise of commercial hotels in Jerusalem, modes of travel, early guidebooks, the rise of travel bureaus such as the Thomas Cook & Son Company, and the role of Freemasonry among tourism vendors.

Based on travel books and memoirs, drawing on unpublished photographs (there are over 300 detailed images in the book), letters, and drafted manuscripts, this study will be of interest to scholar and layperson alike.