‘If you are after sensational celebrity stories from my 52 years in the music business, stop reading now; this book is not for you,” writes Elkie Brooks in the foreword to her new memoir. This is either very brave or very stupid, given that “sensational celebrity stories” are precisely what so many people seek in entertainment industry insider biographies.
In the early 1950s, Latvian-born Jewish photographer Philippe Halsman devised an unusual method for encouraging his subjects to reveal their personalities: he asked them to jump, and pressed the shutter while they were mid-air.
A life-enhancing history of the triumph of hope over persecution, Just Send Me Word, by Orlando Figes (Allen Lane, £20) is a must for all romantics and indeed students of Stalin. It carries the sub-title, A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag, which captures a grim reality, but its spirit glows gloriously.
Sir Sigmund Sternberg is a case study in contradiction. A strongly identifying Jew and Zionist, brought up in a prosperous Orthodox business family in Hungary, he has never fitted into the Anglo-Jewish establishment.
"Maybe it was the pent-up energy of dozens of thwarted Jewish gener-ations confined to the ghettos of Europe… or maybe it was with him in the cradle, the intangible thing that made him go”. Either way, for Rich Cohen, the extraordinary story of the “banana king” Samuel Zemurray is “a parable of the American dream”.
Hans Fallada was a member of that extraordinary generation of central European writers who have been rediscovered in recent years. Born in 1893, a contemporary of Walter Benjamin, Joseph Roth and Bertolt Brecht, he published more than 20 novels, mainly in the 1930s and ’40s, before dying in 1947 in his mid-50s.
As a reader, it’s not unusual to wish you could spend time with the fictional characters whose lives you have followed. But rarely have I found myself so entranced by a book’s setting that I wished to visit it and experience it first-hand.
In 1848, the 28-year-old Mary Ann Evans (yet to metamorphose into George Eliot) wrote the following to John Sibree, an apprentice soul-mate: “My Gentile nature kicks most resolutely against any assumption of superiority in the Jews, and is almost ready to echo Voltaire’s vituperation.
At the age of 95, Bernard Lewis has written (with the help of his partner) a fascinating account of his extraordinary life and the events and influences that have made him the world’s most eminent historian on the Middle East.