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Maimonides: The Life and World of one of Civilization's Greatest Minds Hardcover – October 28, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1947, when he was 14, Kraemer started to study Maimonides. Now, the 75-year-old professor emeritus at the University of Chicago has produced his magnum opus, a definitive biography of medieval Judaism's chief intellectual sage. To prepare himself, Kraemer mastered many languages, traveled throughout the world and studied innumerable documents, including those found in the Genizah, the storeroom of Cairo's Ben Ezra synagogue. The impressive results of Kraemer's diligent research are set forth in this learned book, supported by 90 pages of footnotes. He offers a splendid analysis of Maimonides's major works: Commentary on the Mishnah; Mishneh Torah and Guide to the Perplexed (which Kraemer calls Guide of the Perplexed.) The erudite presentation includes vital information about the life of Maimonides, tracing his path from his birth in Spain to his move to Morocco, his visit to Palestine and, finally, to his settling in Egypt. Kraemer's imposing contribution is designed for his fellow scholars. General readers should turn to the more fathomable 2005 biography, Maimonides by Sherwin B. Nuland, from Nextbook/Schocken's Jewish Encounters series and just published in paper. (Oct. 28)
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From Booklist

Kraemer’s comprehensive study of the great medieval philosopher and Jewish theologian Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides) shows that Maimonides’ wisdom arose in no small part from having feet in multiple worlds. Although a product of Andalusia and the Mahgreb, Maimonides set down roots in Egypt; a pious Jew, he successfully navigated corridors of power dominated by Islam. A dedicated writer and scholar, he nevertheless spent a significant portion of his life immersed in the daily exigencies of medicine, business, government, and law. Perhaps most significant from a philosophical perspective, Maimonides was both an expert on the Talmud and an intellectual heir to Aristotle’s rationalism. Such multifaceted experiences, shows Kraemer, made Maimonides a gifted synthesizer of ideas, and an exemplar of the richness of twelfth-century Mediterranean culture. Kraemer, too, has a talent for synthesis, distilling Maimonides’ entire corpus of writing (including copious correspondence) and a small mountain of secondary sources (some apocryphal) into a fluid and accessible narrative. Lucid descriptions of medieval Mediterranean life—including commerce, political intrigue, and the constant interplay between cultures—will be compelling even for readers unfamiliar with Maimonides’ contributions to philosophy. --Brendan Driscoll

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 621 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038551199X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385511995
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By David Crumm on November 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In this era of turbulent change, we need to savor the spiritual wisdom of people who thrived in such eras before us.

In January, during Interfaith Heroes Month, Daniel Buttry wrote a short tribute to the 12th-century Maimonides among 31 short profiles in his book, "Interfaith Heroes." Buttry's summary remains a pretty good snapshot of this towering figure: "Maimonides was one of the greatest Jewish thinkers ever, producing foundational philosophical works on Judaism. ... He also was known for the breadth of his thinking and scholarship. He wrote medical works in Arabic ... and he worked diligently to reconcile scientific teachings with the teachings of his faith. ... Because Maimonides was open to diversity and was knowledgeable about many different streams ... he was able to weave together ancient Greco-Roman, medieval Arab, Jewish and Western cultures while retaining clear and cogent roots in his own Jewish faith."

In short: This is a guy we need to consult today in our own period of cultural upheaval!

Dr. Joel Kraemer has spent 60 years of his own life studying Maimonides--including many years Dr. Kraemer devoted to learning the languages that Maimonides himself mastered. Fortunately, Dr. Kraemer's lifelong pursuit of the great sage has ended in the gift of this eye-opening exploration of Maimonides' life, work and wisdom.

This book could not have come at a better moment.

If you like to dive into challenging, in-depth biographies, like David McCullough's "
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By bbb000 on December 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Maimonides lived from 1135 to 1204, first in cities of Spain, then travelled to Morocco & Palestine and finally settling in Cairo Egypt, where he eventually became the undiputed leader and principal teacher of the Jewish community of Egypt. As Jewry main 'dude', modern term, in terms of legal authority and philosopher, he was humane and tough minded, a comfort to jews and the main disciplinarian of heresy. He wrote that it was incumbent upon a jew restricted in practice of his worship to depart to another location, as he himself had been repeatedly forced to do at the hands of the Almohads, a fundamentalist Islamic group that took control of the Spanish peninsula in 1148 and gave non-muslims the choice of conversion or death. Echoes of what is happening in our times. But he also said, " If a man asks me, Shall I be slain or utter the formula of Islam?" I answer "Utter the formula and live."

Maimonides transformed Judaism, composing its Thirteen commandments of faith. the celebrated 12th commandment, " I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the messiah, and though he tarry, i will wait daily for his coming - he entered popular consiousness. His "Guide for the Perplexed" written in Arabic and finished in 1190, further recast Judaism, offering a philosophical interpretation of the Scriptures far removed from the conventional readings of his, and our own, times.

Today, Maimonides stands for an austerely doctrinal Judaism, the severe reprimand of all forms of idolatry and the combining of Jewish learning with secular science and Aristotillean philosophy( by way of Islamic intellectuals such as Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushid and others).
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on November 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Outside of students of religion and philosophers, the only ones who can be expected to know the name Maimonides are those youngsters who attended Hebrew School. The great 12th-century thinker composed a "ladder of charity" that ranks his preference from best (helping the individual find a job so he may take care of himself) to worst (giving begrudgingly). Since Jews are taught at an early age about the importance of charity, it's a perfect fit.

And that's pretty much it, which is a shame for someone who would have been called a Renaissance man had he been born a couple of centuries later.

Scholar, philosopher, doctor, astronomer, poet: Maimonides apparently mastered many disciplines during his lifetime. I say "apparently" because, as well researched as Joel L. Kramer's new biography obviously is, something seems to be lacking. He spends much more time on "the world" aspect and less on "the life." Despite the depth of Kraemer's epic, he acknowledges, "where there are gaps in Maimonides' life, they are often filled with legend and surmise so that his life is surrounded by myth."

Indeed, no sooner does the author mention his birth than he expounds on Cordoba and the surrounding regions, Andalusian Jewish culture and the educational methods of the day. There are gaps in the biographical data that he seeks to fill, with mixed results. Much of Maimonides's world is fascinating, as Kramer explains the day-to-day routines, the political and royal machinations, the exultations and hazards of long-distance travel.

As a Jew, Maimonides seems to have come out better than his co-religionists (although it seems he converted, as many were forced to do in those tenuous times, it was to Islam rather than Christianity).
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