The People and the Books

18 Classics of Jewish Literature

Adam Kirsch (Author)

Overview | Formats

An essential exploration of a rich literary tradition from the Bible to modern times, by a “rare literary authority” (New York Times Book Review) and “one of our keenest critics” (Washington Post).

Jews have long embraced their identity as “the people of the book.” But outside of the Bible, much of the Jewish literary tradition remains little known to nonspecialist readers. The People and the Books shows how central questions and themes of our history and culture are reflected in the Jewish literary canon: the nature of God, the right way to understand the Bible, the relationship of the Jews to their Promised Land, and the challenges of living as a minority in Diaspora. Adam Kirsch explores eighteen classic texts, including the biblical books of Deuteronomy and Esther, the philosophy of Maimonides, the autobiography of the medieval businesswoman Glückel of Hameln, and the Zionist manifestoes of Theodor Herzl. From the Jews of Roman Egypt to the mystical devotees of Hasidism in Eastern Europe, The People and the Books brings the treasures of Jewish literature to life and offers new ways to think about their enduring power and influence.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • October 2016
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24176-1
  • 6.6 × 9.6 in / 432 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, but excluding the British Commonwealth.

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverThe People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature


Endorsements & Reviews

“[A]n astute and accessible introduction to 18 Jewish literary classics... [Kirsch's] laser focus on these works' most topical themes makes them feel so urgent that curious readers of any religious persuasion will want to read them all.” — Dara Horn, Wall Street Journal

“Lucid, vivid and likely to provide helpful instruction… [Kirsch] has, like Simon Schama, a keen eye for the revelatory detail in discussing his historical subjects.” — New York Times Book Review

“Anyone looking for a single-volume introduction to Jewish civilization… will find nothing better in print… A deeply serious meditation on the meaning of Jewish existence.”

“[A]n entertaining and enlightening review of eighteen classic works and, at the same time, Judaism’s most important ideas and ideals. It deserves to be on the Jewish bookshelf along with the eighteen books it opens for its reader.” — Jewish Book Council

“Through profiles of eighteen indelible figures and chronicles...Adam Kirsch uncovers the unfailing excitements of a living, creative, and abiding civilization. And more: in this superbly clarifying panorama, he illumines how in the history of ideas Jews, despite so many permutations of approach, have faithfully adhered to a single sublime Idea.” — Cynthia Ozick

“The people of the book are often unaware of the books of their people. Kirsch opens, unfurls, and illuminates the great works of Jewish tradition and history; he is our intellectual Sherpa, guiding us sure-footedly through the heights.” — Rabbi David Wolpe, author of David: The Divided Heart

“Luminous… The secret of the Jews, [Kirsch] shows, is found within these classic works. Anyone interested in penetrating that secret should read The People and the Books.” — Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University

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