“I am hooked on books. If I had unlimited space in my home and unlimited shekels in my bank account, I know that my library would at least triple in size on an annual basis.” – Rabbi Berel Wein
As a noted author and voluminous reader himself, Rabbi Berel Wein brings vast knowledge and life experience to each of his reviews. Here is a listing of some of his recommended readings excerpted from the Wein Press or various lectures he has given.
General Jewish History
A History of the Jews by Paul M. Johnson – Though the first third of the book, which is “Biblical history,” should be skipped, this non-Jewish historian gives clear, accurate, and moving insights into the miracle of Jewish survival.
Behold a People who Stands Alone – the written account of adebate between Rabbi Yaakov Herzog and historian Sir Arnold Toynbee.
General World History
The Secular City by Harvey Gallagher Cox – a Christian theologian’s description of modern society
The True Believer: Thoughts on The Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer – a short book by an American longshoreman who gives a deft analysis of the origins of fanaticism
The March of Follyby Barbara Tuchman – chronicles the grossest policy errors in history, and includes a chapter on King Solomon’s son King Rechavam. My favorite chapter records King George’s mistakes in the American Revolutionary War.
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century by Barbara Tuchman – excellent source for the fate of the Jews during the Black Plague and in Medieval Europe in general
World War I
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman– a definitive and immensely readable account of the first month of the First World War.
The Holocaust and World War II
The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945 by Lucy Davidowicz – a thorough history that will give you a detailed picture of the fate of the Jewish people from the ghettos to the death camps
The Pity of it All by Amos Elon – a portrayal of Jewish life in Germany from the 18th century until the Holocaust. Highlights the assimilation and anti-Semitism that went hand in hand in the mass extermination of German Jewry.
The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War by Sir Martin Gilbert – the most heart-rending Holocaust book I have ever read, but one of the best. The author weaves together historical fact with interviews from Holocaust survivors so that the atmosphere, grim and frightening as it was, comes alive for the reader.
Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen – documents the active participation of German civilians in the mass murder of the Jewish people and chronicles the decades of anti-Semitic indoctrination that made it possible
Doctors Under Hitler by Michael H. Kater – a shocking account of the plethora of medical doctors who were officers in the S.S.
Do Not Raise Your Hand Against the Boy by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau – the former Israeli Chief Rabbi’s personal account of his own experiences in the Holocaust.
Day of Battle by Rick Middleton – traces the bloody campaign of the WW II Allies in Sicily and Italy. This part of World War II is almost a sideshow to the main struggles against Germany, but the book personalizes the struggles of the armed men who fought Fascist Italy.
One by One by One by Judith Miller – interviews with Holocaust survivors and witnesses conducted by the New York Times journalist who herself is the non-Jewish daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer – definitive classic on Hitler’s Germany
Adolf Hitler by John Toland – a 1200-page biography covering his early life, his obsessive anti-Semitism, and his unlikely rise to power. If we measured books the way we measure gold, 1200 pages would be a valuable book, which this is.
Israeli History and Society
Members of the Tribe by Zev Chafets - an astute and funny book on modern Israel by Menachem Begin’s former press secretary.
Perfidy by Ben Hecht – a powerful indictment of the behavior of Zionist and American Jewish leaders during the Holocaust.
The War of Atonement by Chaim Herzog – an insider’s view on what went wrong during the Yom Kippur War. This ought to be required reading for every general in the IDF.
What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response by BernardLewis – answers the question uppermost on our minds: what went wrong with the peace process and what can be done about it?
The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism by Conor Cruise O’Brien – insights into Middle East politics from the point of view of Ireland’s UN representative who, because of alphabetical seating, sat between the representatives of Israel and Iraq for 15 years.
Jewish Life in America
Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York by Stephen Birmingham – German Jewish immigrants and their success story
Two Jewish Justices: Outcasts in the Promised Land by Robert Burt – a comparison of Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter, both of whom served on the U.S. Supreme Court
An Empire of their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood by Neal Gabler – a fascinating history of how secular Jews rose to power at the dawning of the movie industry and used the new medium to promote an agenda of assimilation into American society.
The Sanctity of the Synagogueby Baruch Litvin – chronicles the court case brought all the way up to Michigan Supreme Court to preserve the mechitza in a Conservative synagogue
American History and Society
The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom – an excellent analysis of how the concept of classical education has been replaced with a dangerous moral relativism.
The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman – a scathing account of how modern society robs children of the innocence and joy that is rightfully theirs.
The History of Communism
The Gulag: A History by Anne Appelbaum – a bleak though definitive picture of life in the Soviet prisons
The Great Terror: A Reassessment by Robert Conquest – A no-holds-barred analysis of Stalin’s murderous regime written by one of that era’s most respected historians.
The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine by Robert Conquest– from the same author as above, a description of the devastating effects of the collectivization of farms on Russian peasantry.
The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam – fascinating study of the Korean War, its antecedents and later political and global consequences
Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin by George F. Kennan – a government insider’s analysis of Russia during the Cold War, including eerily prophetic predictions of its ultimate self-destruction.
Russia Under the Bolshevik Regimeby Richard Pipes – a factual presentation of the revolution that put Lenin in power and a scrutinizing look into the terror he exerted to keep himself there. Answers the mind-boggling question of how a small faction of thugs was able to successfully overthrow the deeply entrenched Romanov monarchy.
A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881-present by Zvi Y. Gitelman – a photo-history of Jewish life before and after the Communist revolution. Includes rarely seen photos taken from behind the Iron Curtain.
Mivtza Chasuna by Yosef Mendelowitz – an inspiring record of how one heroic Jew kept the Torah and mitzvos even in the prisons of Siberia. (In Hebrew only)
The History of Islam
Islam:From the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople by Bernard Lewis – though chronicling the early history of Islam, this book clearly illustrates the historic patterns that give rise to both moderate and fundamentalist Islam, a dichotomy playing out all to painfully in the world today.
What’s Bothering Rashi? by Rabbi Dr. Avigdor Bonchek – a concise handbook which explains the philosophical and grammatical conundrums that provoked Rashi’s commentary. This little book is an invaluable tool for any serious student of Chumash with Rashi.
Iyov/Job translated and annotated by Rabbi Moshe Eisenman – a clear and accessible English translation of the Book of Job with an outstanding overview to deepen the reader’s understanding.
The Tablernacle by Rabbi Moshe Levine – stunningly beautiful photographs of a model of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) constructed with painstaking attention to the details outlined in Chumash. More than any other book, this one will make the Mishkan come to life for children and adults alike.
Disputation at Barcelonaby Nachmanides, translated by Rabbi Dr. Charles Chavel – definitive translation of the Ramban’s own record of his forced debate with Pablo Christiani, an excellent statement and explanation of the basics of Jewish faith.
Biographies of Great Jews
The Mussar Movement: Its History, Leading Personalities and Doctrines by Rabbi Dov Katz – an extensive bookdescribing the teachings andbiographies of the greatest of mussar leaders.
The Life and Works of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin by Rabbi Moses M.Yoshor – The definitive biography on the great Torah giant of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Fossils and Faith: Understanding Torah and Science by Nathan Aviezer – explains the fossil record from a Torah perspective
A Brief History of Time by Steven Hawkings – the author, himself paralyzed by Lou Gerrig’s disease, introduces his book with the statement that the study of physics is actually the study of God. The book will strengthen your faith in God and man.
Cosmos by Carl Sagan – worthwhile for the beautiful photographs and its explanations of the universe, but the author is nonetheless a believer in the “big bang” theory
The Denial of Death by Ernst Becker – an outstanding book that gives readers insight into their own psychological make-up, but also describes the author’s own extraordinary life – from liberating the concentration camps to teshuva.
Biographies of Non-Jews who Changed World History
Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday– a thoroughly researched and well-documented portrait of the absolutely unscrupulous and murderous Communist dictator.
The Essential Galbraith by John Kenneth Galbraith – autobiography of the Nobel laureate who served as economic adviser to four American presidents. At times, a funny book.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory by William Manchester – this “expert’s” analysis of Hitler proves just how wrong “experts” can be.
John Adams by David McCullough – based mostly on personal letters, this biography gives a clear picture not only of the man but of all the American founding fathers, their way of thinking, and the times they lived in.
Truman by David McCullough – From his moralistic upbringing to the world-changing decisions of his political career, this book details the life and motivations of the American president most responsible for the existence of the State of Israel.
The Patriarch by David Nasaw - A very well written biography of Joseph Kennedy. It details the events and happenings of the life of this most controversial person. The Kennedy family itself approved of the idea of the biography though the author assures his readers that they had no control whatsoever over the contents of the book or over the judgments and opinions expressed by the author.