Five Inspiring Books to Read This Summer

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Read These Books For A Great Summer

I think I must have been born reading a book.

I can’t hardly remember a time when I didn’t read books.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like as a kid I did nothing except read.

Summers when I was growing up were active times. Days were filled with bicycle riding, playing baseball, swimming at the neighbor’s pool, and going to the beach.

I have fond memories of all of those activities.

When I wasn’t outdoors though, I’d probably be curled up in the large orange chair that we had in our living room reading a book.

(Yeah, it really was an orange chair. Hard to believe, but so far as I can recall my parents actually paid money for it.)

I favored the orange chair not because it was beautiful (it wasn’t) or because it was comfortable (it wasn’t).

What it did have was one most prized quality: location. The orange chair was right next to our record player. So I could put on a stack of my favorite LPs (remember those?) and read and listen to music all afternoon.

I suppose you already have your summer reading list all set. However, I hope these five short reviews convince you to add these books to the top of your list.

1. Radical Responsibility – Celebrating the Thought of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Radical Responsibility
I have to admit, as an American I’ve never paid much attention to the career of Rabbi Sacks.

Sure, every once in a while I’d come across one of his divrei Torah, but that was it. I never looked more deeply into his writings.

Now, having read Radical Responsibility I regret my previous lack of interest and I’m inspired to read more of his works.

Radical Responsibility is a compilation of fourteen essays written to celebrate the thought of Rabbi Sacks upon his retirement from the position of Chief Rabbi.

In this collection, both the editors and the authors have used Jonathan Sacks’s work as a catalyst for further reflection. … The wide-ranging articles … are witness to Jonathan Sacks’s ability not only to produce innovative intellectual work of his own, but also to stimulate other thinkers from a variety of backgrounds in creative ways.
– from the Introduction

If you’re already familiar with Rabbi Sacks’s writings, then grab this book. I’m sure you’ll gain a deeper understanding of his thoughts. analyses. If you’re like me and unfamiliar with his writings, then Radical Responsibility can serve as a good introduction.

2. Doublelife – One Family – Two Faiths – and a Journey of Hope


I have a love / hate relationship with this book.

When I was first presented with the opportunity to receive a review copy, I declined. I didn’t think that this book was my style.

Then, out of the blue, I was sent a copy anyway.

Uhmmm, I thought, the blurbs on the back don’t sound bad. I’ll give it a try.

Then I read the prologue and nearly threw the book away. I’ll be honest, the way the story of Esther is used to introduce this book still bugs me.

Here’s the Doublelife story in a nutshell: A Jewish boy (Harold) doesn’t care that much about being Jewish and marries a non-Jewish girl (Gayle). After they’ve been married a few years, he starts thinking more deeply about what it means to be Jewish. This makes her start thinking too.

The book is the letters that Gayle and Harold wrote to each other from the time they met until (spoiler alert) she converted.

On one level this book is about the problems and (rare) opportunities of intermarriage.

On another level, I now see that Doublelife deals with a broader issue. Everyone changes. Even if they don’t intend to. How married people cope with changes in themselves and their spouse determines if their relationship flourishes or withers.

3. The Israel Test

The Israel Test

George Gilder begins The Israel Test with a bang:

The central issue in international politics, dividing the world into two fractious armies, is the tiny state of Israel. …
The test can be summarized by a few questions: What is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or in other accomplishment? Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you seethe at it?

From this beginning Mr. Gilder discusses many issues facing the world and how Israel and Jews play a major role in them.

One of his main points is that anti-Semitism, both overt and covert, colors how many nations treat their Jewish citizens. They are willing to allow their hatred to skew their policies to their own economic detriment.

Though Mr. Gilder is a supporter and fan of the state of Israel, he is not shy about pointing out some of its weaknesses. In fact, he claims that even Israel almost failed it’s own Israel Test.

As I was reading this book it seemed to me that some of the policy hot-buttons in Israel today signal a new test. I wonder if the country will be able to pass.

4. Still the Best Hope – Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph

Still the Best Hope
Dennis Prager begins with a modest statement:

I have written this book because I am convinced that there is a way to end most evil. And ending evil is the most important task humans can ever undertake.

Mr. Prager claims that there are three value systems competing for the hearts and minds of people today: Leftist, Islamist, and American.

This competition shapes much of the present world, and the outcome will shape humanity’s future.

This book is an exploration of these three systems: what they believe about the world and human nature, what they have achieved, and what a world dominated by one of them will be like.

Mr. Prager states that Americanism is built on three pillars: Liberty, In God We Trust, and E Pluribus Unum. He explains the meaning of each pillar. More importantly, he shows how other nations can adopt these pillars without giving up their own unique culture.

I urge everyone to read this book to get a clearer understanding of what America and American values can mean to the rest of the world.

5. Freiing Out – Why People Go Off the Derech & What We Can Do About It

Freiing Out

Of the five books this is the only one that I’ve previously reviewed. You can read my full review here.

If you have kids, you need to read this book. I think Freiing Out will help you understand some of the issues they are facing at home and in school.

Some of the feedback I got from my previous review is that Freiing Out is too focused on the chareidi experience in North America.

That is partially true. The author, Binyamin Tanny, grew up in a chareidi family in Canada. As a result, he often writes about his experiences in that world.

However, I think that most of the same issues exist in the Modern Orthodox and National Religious communities.

The kippot may be different colors or the skirts may be different lengths, but from what I see and hear, the kids are facing a lot of the same issues.

Summing Up

I hope you have a great summer. Be sure to include these books in it!

Reminder: Please help support Thinking Torah by making purchases through the Amazon links on this site.

Radical Responsibility edited by Michael J. Harris. Published by Maggid Books. I was given a review copy by the publisher.

Doublelife by Harold and Gayle Berman. Published by Longhill Press. I was given a review copy by the publisher.

The Israel Test by George Gilder. My review is based on the 2009 edition. A second, revised edition was published in 2012.

Still the Best Hope by Dennis Prager. Published by Broadside Books.

Freiing Out by Rabbi Binyamin Tanny. Published by Penina Press. I was given a review copy by the publisher.

Thank you to Roger Salz – Flickr for the picture of the boy reading.

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