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Debra Hindlemann Webster
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I suppose it begins with the book jacket, which is elegant, no-nonsense, and straightforward. The content of the book only gets better from there. Mr. Maimon (as I refer to him), happens to be one of my heroes. This volume, which is thorough, laced with appositives and careful elucidating explanations, clearly defines why I feel the way I do.
The author is succinct, logical, exceedingly well organized--no doubt Maimonidean himself--and the book, in my opinion, is exquisitely sensitive to Maimon the man, as well as to the philosopher/logician/astronomer/physician. The book covers his entire life in the initial biographical chapter that is about one quarter of the book. The rest of the book is devoted to Maimonides' most significant works--his "Commentary on the Mishneh," "The Commandments," "The Mishneh Torah" and "The Guide for the Perplexed." Halbertal refers to additional compositions; however, the focus of the book is primarily reflective of these--the best, most influential, and most powerful of Maimonides' writings.
Maimonides, himself, in addition to his incredible mind, was funny, sarcastic, brash, impatient, rude; in short, he was straightforward to a fault, and had no positive sentiment for the "stupid" or the "foolish," as he referred to them. It is important to note that he was as caring and feeling about those whom he loved, as he was passionate about those whose ire he raised. The author covers all aspects of this extraordinarily gifted gentleman; not infrequently exasperating in his insistence that his way was the right and only way: At one moment, Halbertal actually refers to Maimon's behavior as that of a "harebrained amateur!" (This, to add depth of thought, and chuckles, too, regarding the most profound of all medieval thinkers).
I think one has to be a little bit peculiar to relish such a book as this--printed by Princeton, that seems to do a wonderful job of choosing its authors--because Maimonides in today's world, by many would be deemed as somewhat esoteric; even among Jews, themselves. Mr. Maimon took no prisoners when he wrote, slammed head-on into the established Jewish scholars of his day; and those with whom he took issue, all the way back to the time of the "other" Moses. Had he been burned at the stake or excommunicated, it would have been fitting, albeit so hideously wrong. However for me, being an eccentric, I fairly swoon over his principles: Provincially Jewish to the core; but grounded, developed, and enhanced by the classical thinkers of Greece, Rome, and the golden age of Islam.
I say this book "rocks."
It is at once an introduction to the magnificence of Maimonides, and it is a summation, too; depending upon the reader. For the novice such as myself, who craves information about Mr. Maimon, Halbertal's volume is superb. I would imagine that for the knowledgeable reader, "Maimonides: Life and Thought" would be a sublime refresher, synthesizer, and assistant with insightful information.
It's tough going on the one hand; I find myself wanting the primary sources. On the other, it's deliciously rich, beautifully written, not without witty similes and metaphors. It's terrific! What can I say? As for the translator (the book was originally published in 2009, in Hebrew), the 2014 (yes) English edition's eloquence is clean, fluid, and filled with fun vocabulary to delight: Three cheers for Joel Linsider!
So for me, I think "Maimonides: Life and Thought," by Moshe Halbertal, is a million times better than any Harry Potter tome; and between us, many times more spellbinding... Enjoy.