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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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