Shining a Spotlight on Jewish Lives

To celebrate the launch of the new Jewish Lives series website, you can get 25% off purchases of books in the series and enter for a chance to win all 35 books.

The Jewish Lives series is a major series of interpretative biography designed to illuminate the imprint of Jewish figures upon literature, religion, philosophy, politics, cultural and economic life, and the arts and sciences. In the Jewish Lives series, subjects are paired with authors to elicit lively, deeply informed books that explore the range and depth of the Jewish experience from antiquity to the present.

Here are a few of our most recent titles:

Rabbi Akiva is a compelling and lucid account of the life and teachings of a founder of rabbinic Judaism and one of the most beloved heroes of Jewish history. Born in the Land of Israel around the year 50 C.E., Rabbi Akiva was the greatest rabbi of his time and one of the most important influences on Judaism as we know it today. Traditional sources tell how he was raised in poverty and unschooled in religious tradition but began to learn the Torah as an adult. In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., he helped shape a new direction for Judaism through his brilliance and his character. Mystic, legalist, theologian, and interpreter, he disputed with his colleagues in dramatic fashion yet was admired and beloved by his peers. Executed by Roman authorities for his insistence on teaching Torah in public, he became the exemplar of Jewish martyrdom.
Drawing on the latest historical and literary scholarship, this book goes beyond older biographies, untangling a complex assortment of ancient sources to present a clear and nuanced portrait of Talmudic hero Rabbi Akiva.

Read more about Rabbi Akiva.


Yitzhak Rabin is an insider’s perspective on the life and influence of Israel’s first native-born prime minister, his bold peace initiatives, and his tragic assassination. More than two decades have passed since prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, yet he remains an unusually intriguing and admired modern leader. A native-born Israeli, Rabin became an inextricable part of his nation’s pre-state history and subsequent evolution.

This revealing account of his life, character, and contributions draws not only on original research but also on the author’s recollections as one of Rabin’s closest aides.

Read more about Yitzhak Rabin.




Hayim Nahman Bialik is a moving inquiry into the dramatic life, epic success, and ultimate tragedy of the great Hebrew poet. By the time he was twenty-eight, Hayim Nahman Bialik was already considered the National Hebrew Poet. He had only published a single collection, but his deeply personal poetry established a profound link between the secular and the traditional that would become paramount to a national Jewish identity in the twentieth century. When he died unexpectedly in 1934, the outpouring of grief was unprecedented, confirming him as a father figure for the Zionist movement in Palestine, and around the world.

Using extensive research and elegant readings of Bialik’s poems, Avner Holtzman investigates the poet’s dramatic life, complex personality, beloved verse, and continued popularity. This clear-eyed and thorough biography explores how Bialik overcame intense personal struggles to become a charismatic literary leader at the core of modern Hebrew culture.

Read more about Hayim Nahman Bialik.



Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films is a portrait of the extraordinarily gifted movie director whose decades-long influence on American popular culture is unprecedented. “Everything about me is in my films,” Steven Spielberg has said. Taking this as a key to understanding the hugely successful moviemaker, Molly Haskell explores the full range of Spielberg’s works for the light they shine upon the man himself. Through such powerhouse hits as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones, to lesser-known masterworks like A.I. and Empire of the Sun, to the haunting Schindler’s List, Haskell shows how Spielberg’s uniquely evocative filmmaking and story-telling reveal the many ways in which his life, work, and times are entwined.

Organizing chapters around specific films, the distinguished critic discusses how Spielberg’s childhood in non-Jewish suburbs, his parents’ traumatic divorce, his return to Judaism upon his son’s birth, and other events echo in his work. She offers a brilliant portrait of the extraordinary director—a fearful boy living through his imagination who grew into a man whose openness, generosity of spirit, and creativity have enchanted audiences for more than 40 years.



Jewish Lives is a partnership of Yale University Press and the Leon D. Black Foundation. Ileene Smith is editorial director. Anita Shapira and Steven J. Zipperstein are series editors. To explore more titles, visit our website here.

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