I'm too tired today to do a serious post and I haven't written about books in awhile, so let's do that for a change. I have tried reading many recreations of Sherlock Holmes, always hoping someone will succeed in bringing the great detective back to life, yet I always end up disappointed. I'm sorry, but Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota (to take one example) just doesn't work. The best I have found so far (and this shows you just how bad the pickings are) is some of the Laurie King stuff, but the substitution of a Jewish girl for Watson reaches its limits. Finally, I have found the holy grail. Will Thomas’ Barker and LLewelyn series is as good as it gets. No, it’s not Holmes and Watson, but the period setting is the same and the characters have so much in common with the original pair that you will love it just the same. My only complaint is that the mysteries are more adventure stories than true puzzles in the Agatha Christie sense, and at times the ending seems a bit forced or abrupt, like the author wasn't sure himself how to wrap things up, but these are really just quibbles and don't detract much from the overall enjoyment of the read. The first in the series, "Some Danger Involved," involves the Jewish community of London. The portrayal of Jewish life is a mishmash of partially correct information mixed with some glaring mistakes, but considering the author lives out there in Oklahoma, I'm willing to give him a pass and say nice try. If anyone knows a better series that imitates the great detective (or a great classical detective series I haven't read), please speak up.
Earlier in the summer I read Jeffrey Gurock’s “Orthodox Jews in America,” which may be of interest to some. Hopefully it comes as no surprise that Orthodoxy has evolved greatly since the early 1900's when most of our ancestors arrived. For example, once upon a time Orthodoxy made a concerted effort to try to keep as many people under its umbrella as possible, with “traditional” congregations that had mixed pews and synagogues that held 8:00 Friday night kabbalas Shabbos services even in winter to accommodate those that had to work late being semi-tolerated on the fringes. Day schools were a rarity, and the survival of Orthodoxy was seriously in question. Thank G-d we have “improved” to the point that we now have Orthodox Jews to spare and can now toss folks out of the fold without batting an eyelash (OK, maybe that was too cynical a comment). Be that as it may, the book’s weakness is its overemphasis on the YU/Ramaz world which the author is most familiar with. I think there is something like 50,000 Satmar in America, perhaps a greater number than all those who identify as modern orthodox, yet I don’t think they get a single page. Lubavitch gets a page or two. A complete history this is not, but it’s still worth a look.
I can't say I have read much else lately that has captivated me. Tyler Cowen is intriguing (I like behavioral economics, social and cognitive psychology, and he mixes it all together). I enjoyed the new bio of Antonin Scalia. I’m in the middle of Eric Metaxes’ bio of Dietrich Bonhoffer, but it is slow going and I would have liked more on Bonhoffer's intellectual output and more insight into his psychology. Any recommendations? My tastes are pretty eclectic, so surprise me.