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No Joke: Making Jewish Humor (Library of Jewish Ideas) Hardcover – June 2, 2013


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Product Details

  • Series: Library of Jewish Ideas
  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (June 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691149461
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691149462
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Honorable Mention for the 2013 PROSE Award in Language & Linguistics, Association of American Publishers
Shortlisted for the 2014 Sophie Brody Medal, Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of the American Library Association

"[S]ubtle and provocative . . ."--Anthony Gottlieb, New York Times Book Review

"Ms. Wisse provides a rich assortment of mordant wit at the threshold of extinction."--Edward Kosner, Wall Street Journal

"Accessible to nonacademic audiences as well as scholars, this cultural history is a welcome addition to the study of humor in a sociopolitical context."--Publishers Weekly

"[E]xcellent. . . . I applaud the intellectual courage of this book, the breadth of Wisse's learning, the comprehensiveness of her ambitions, her unembarrassed declarations of pleasure in what she finds funny (and if we don't, that's tough on us), her unapologetic references to such serious students of comedy as Freud, whose writing on jokes it is easy to deride, and the confidence with which she moves from rabbis to writers to jesters, from literature to music hall and back. Comedy is comedy is comedy."--Howard Jacobson, Standpoint

"In the delightful book No Joke: Making Jewish Humor (Princeton University Press) Harvard professor Ruth Wisse evokes and applauds the genius of Jewish joking--as well as the brilliance of comic masterworks by writers like Heinrich Heine, Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, S.Y. Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Philip Roth. Wisse broadly traces modern Jewish humour around the world, teasing out its implications as she explores memorable and telling examples from German, Yiddish, English, Russian and Hebrew."--Canadian Jewish News

"[A] rare work of cultural scholarship that is also laugh-out-loud-funny . . ."--Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

"Wisse, Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard, surveys Jewish humor from Heinrich Heine and Franz Kafka to Larry David and Howard Jacobson, displaying its wit and comic genius at the same time that she looks behind its surface at the often painful and dangerous experiences it reflects."--Maron L. Waxman, Jewish Book Council

"Seriously funny, humorously serious, scholarly, witty and wise."--Kirkus Reviews

"[S]harp and thoughtful. . . . To her credit, Ms. Wisse offers no general theory of Jewish humour in her book, preferring description and textual analysis, at which she excels, to psycho-historical puffery."--Economist

"[Ruth Wisse] has produced an excellent treatise about Jewish comedy in all of its forms, focusing her gaze on how it has changed and responded to the shifting landscape of Jewish powerlessness."--Elaine Margolin, Jerusalem Post

"[R]ichly absorbing . . ."--Robert Fulford, National Post

"No Joke is a remarkable combination of scholarship and current concerns, written in elegant prose, which can be enjoyed three times: first, for the humor; second, for the erudition; and finally and most important, for its moral vision."--Rick Richman, Commentary

"Because Jewish humor arose in response to specific conditions of living, Wisse organizes chapters around locales and times: Germany, the Anglosphere, fascism (Hitler and Stalin) and modern Israel. Wisse calls humor the only folk art that isn't copyrighted."--Christian Century

"No Joke is a thought-provoking compilation of humorous stories woven almost seamlessly with history, and interpretive analysis. The author keeps it personal--sometimes moving comfortably into a relaxed and chatty tone--and she keeps it real."--Martin A. David, New York Journal of Books

"[No Joke] offer[s] a far-reaching discussion of the essential role humor plays in an ethnic group that historically has dwelt in the margins of the nations and cultures of others. . . . [N]o Joke is a comprehensive and insightful historical survey of Jewish humor and its perpetrators, ranging from Heinrich Heine to Woody Allen . . ."--Daniel Klein, Harvard Magazine

"From 19th century writer Heinrich Heine to the Post's own Joey Adams to Philip Roth and even Larry David, scholars and popular readers alike will find food for thought--and laughs--in Wisse's analysis of this oft-illicit genre."--Billy Heller, New York Post

"Wisse is an uncommonly graceful writer making No Joke a most pleasurable read. . . . [W]hile her book covers much well-trodden territory, she both synthesizes the ideas of others adroitly and provides an abundance of fresh insights of her own."--Matt Nesvisky, Jerusalem Report

"Wisse's smartly and sharply written book offers an alternative to Freud's book, but not a refutation of it."--Robert A. Segal, Times Higher Education

"[D]azzling . . ."--Martin Peretz, New York Observer

"[No Joke] is a dialogue of Wisse's powerful and agile mind with itself, frequently expressed in balanced, antithetical sentences that have the epigrammatic power of couplets by Alexander Pope."--Edward Alexander, Chicago Jewish Star

"Wisse, arguably the foremost Yiddishist in North America, has produced a jewel of a book on Jewish humor, replete with academic erudition and often side-splitting jokes. She is equally at home in the works of Heinrich Heine, Sholem Aleichem, I.B. Singer, the Israelis, and Philip Roth, as well as among Borscht Belt comedians in the Catskills, or with Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. . . . This is a wise, well-written, and unique analysis of why Jews laugh."--Choice

"With her book packed with juicy Jewish quips and tales from across the ages, Wisse shows she has a good sense of humor, too."--Dan Pine, J, the News Weekly of Northern California

"[T]he proper way to launch an appraisal of No Joke: Making Jewish Humor, Ruth Wisse's excursion through the world of Jewish jocularity, is to immediately brand her book as intellectually bracing, disarmingly entertaining, and disturbingly candid. . . . [No Joke] leaves the reader with an excellent view of the subject . . ."--Jonathan Lazarus, New Jersey Jewish Standard

"In No Joke, Wisse follows laughter from the Yiddish heartland to the Borscht Belt and beyond, providing a comprehensive look at what has kept our oft-oppressed people laughing for so many years."--Matt Robinson, Jewish Journal of Massachusetts

"No Joke: Making Jewish Humor is the perfect combination of the scholarly and the populist, with some excellent jokes thrown in--not least that at the foot of page 122 (you need to buy the book!) which while old still hasn't lost its comic power. Enjoy, enjoy: what's not to like!"--Dr Charles H. Middleburgh, Middleburgh Blog

"Even as it invites readers to consider the pleasures and profits of Jewish humor, the book asks difficult but fascinating questions: Can the excess and extreme self ridicule of Jewish humor go too far and backfire in the process? And is 'leave 'em laughing' the wisest motto for a people that others have intended to sweep off the stage of history?"--World Book Industry

From the Back Cover

"Ruth Wisse's electrifying undressing of Jewish wit catapults us well past Freud's far more inhibited perceptions and into the naked precincts of tragic insight. Riffing through the laughter thrown up by the interpenetrations of language, history, and the political culture of variegated societies, Wisse uncovers subversion, paradox, fright, anger, grief, and the often defeated imagination of reversal. Tickle the funny bone long enough, she warns, and hilarity will expose dread. This stirringly original study of Jewish joking reveals the darker irony that underlies the comedic ironies of the Jewish mind at play."--Cynthia Ozick

"One of the most interesting and insightful books about comedy I've ever read. I learned a lot, and I laughed a lot."--B. J. Novak, writer and actor, The Office

"This is a wise and witty book, and a necessary one, too, because Jewish humor hasn't always received the commentary and analysis it deserves. Almost every page of this fine new work offers something to learn from or laugh about--or both."--William Novak, coeditor of The Big Book of Jewish Humor

"The funniest thing since we let the goyim into show business."--David Mamet

"It's a treat. The jokes are abundant, well chosen, and funny; and Ruth Wisse brings Harvard scholarship to our wonderful Yiddish treasury of humor. A salute and congratulations to Professor Wisse."--Herman Wouk

"An essential examination of Jewish humor. Ruth Wisse ably traces the subject through high literature and low culture, from Heine to Borat, offering new and glimmering insights in each case. She takes on the difficult questions, not least the one of utility: has humor helped the Jews, and does it help them still? No Joke is vastly erudite, deeply informative, and delightfully written--plus it's got plenty of good jokes. What more could one ask for?"--Jeremy Dauber, Columbia University

"No Joke is both an anthology and running interpretation of Jewish humor. Ruth Wisse provides original treatments of Heine, Kafka, Sholem Aleichem, Israel Zangwill, Leonard Q. Ross (Leo Rosten), Sh. Y. Agnon, and Philip Roth, among many others. In an age of books that cover four or five disparate figures and call themselves wide-ranging, No Joke is a return to the ambition of comprehensiveness and to the confidence that scholarship might appeal to the common educated reader. I can't recommend the book more highly."--D. G. Myers, Ohio State University

Customer Reviews

This is clearly not a joke book although it does contain some very funny jokes.
Michael Cahn
Too much attention is lavished on self-deprecation rather than the aggressive assaults, for example, of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce.
Joseph Dorinson
Ruth Wisse is one of the great teachers and critics of Jewish and especially Yiddish Literature working today.
Shalom Freedman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Serge J. Van Steenkiste on May 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ruth Wisse shares with her readers both the context and a map to better understand the diverse fountainheads of Jewish humor. Ms. Wisse defends the Eurocentrism of her examination of Jewish humor by pointing out that Jews of Arab lands have not acquired a comparable reputation for Jewish humor. Furthermore, the author started her Eurocentric examination of Jewish humor with the controversial 19th-century Francophile Heinrich Heine. Ms. Wisse acknowledges that the roots of Jewish humor go as far back as the Bible and Talmud. Think for example about Genesis 18:12 and Ecclesiastes 3:4.

Ms. Wisse nicely mixes her telling of Jewish comedy, satire, and irony with the cultural, political, and socio-economic context in which this humor (has) flourished. She explores Jewish humor in the German, Yiddish, British/American, Russian, and Hebrew spheres. Ms. Wisse rightly draws the attention of her readers to the importance of acceptance of levity among many Jews, reflecting on their eventful history. Humor thrives in an environment in which contrarieties, suspense, and even insecurity are readily embraced. For this reason, some readers will feel at times uncomfortable with some Jewish humor that can be perceived as Anti-Semitic.

In summary, Ms. Wisse provides her audience with a well-articulated roadmap to better grasp the genesis and development of Jewish humor across different geographies in the past two centuries.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Ruth Wisse is one of the great teachers and critics of Jewish and especially Yiddish Literature working today. She is a wide- ranging writer who has also analyzed persuasively Israel and the Jewish people's political difficulties. Here she describes the way Jewish humor has worked in different geographical and cultural areas through the past two centures. Beginning with the Germany of Heine, and going to the Yiddish language world whose great star was Sholom Aleichem , she also describes the worlds of greatest oppression in Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia and then the world of Anglo- Saxon British and American humor. She too has a chapter on the humor of a society some have stereotyped as humorless, Israel. She brings to the description and analysis formidable powers of observation and explanation. She helps us understand the humor appreciated by Freud and that of Kafka, Babel ,Agnon, Philip Roth and others. She touches upon the intensity and self- critical quality of much Jewish humor as well as capacity for complexity, contradiction and irony. She shows that it is not just one thing, but varies in style tone with times and troubles. She too shows how it has been a remedy for the sufferings of the Jews, but warns too that the remedy may bear within it , when hypercritical a danger of its own. Throughout the work are interspersed Jewish jokes that give a special kind of pleasure in reading the work.
Anyone who cares about things Jewish and anyone who cares about things humorous, and especially anyone who cares about both of these things will love this book.
Enjoy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Julian Berengaut on June 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A wonderful book. Read it and enjoy it and then do it again. Some of the jokes will be familiar, many will not. What will come as a surprise is how much of history will be reflected in these stories (and, yes, another name for jokes a very short well-written story with a twist at the end).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael Cahn on June 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is clearly not a joke book although it does contain some very funny jokes. The jokes are not free standing, but are there to demonstrate a particular point. Some of the points are very dark, like Jewish jokes about Nazi cruelty, as well asjokes refering to other persecutions. It also gives incites into many comedians and historical figures. I feel the book is important, and not siply an easy read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Les in DC on September 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you're expecting Henny Youngman or Mel Brooks on every page you'll be disappointed
This is a relatively dry, cerebral, academic history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ruth on August 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Ruth Wisse is a scholar, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a great writer, and a very funny Jew.

The book is well researched (it has endnotes and an 11-page index!), but it is so joyful and entertaining you'll never notice you're actually being educated.

She's pretty sneaky that way.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ira Beckerman on June 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ruth Wisse's aptly named No Joke: Making Jewish Humor is such a densely written black hole that no light escapes it and emits no laughter, being caught in its own extreme gravitas. One wonders what category Ms. Wisse would have for a Jew who has the chutzpah to write a book on Jewish Humor that was completely humorless.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Dorinson on July 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Written by an accomplished scholar perched among Harvard's prestigious faculty, this book proved disappointing. I benefitted from Prof. Wisse's discourse on Heine and his contemporaries. The rest, except for a novel foray into Israeli humor, lacked a compelling narrative. Too much attention is lavished on self-deprecation rather than the aggressive assaults, for example, of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce. Given the rich literature that informs this protean subject, the author is parsimonious in her citations and limited, indeed ideosyncratic, in scope. I bought the book with great expectaions only to discover that Jewish Humor, in this treatment is blessed with brevity but short on wit. Leo Rosten's "Joy of Jewish Humor" goes AWOL in this ambitious but underachieving book.
Joe Dorinson
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No Joke: Making Jewish Humor (Library of Jewish Ideas)
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