Books in Brief

November 2021

The murder of eleven Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in October 2018 was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. But Mark Oppenheimer, former New York Times religion columnist, focuses less on the gunman and the shooting than on, as the subtitle has it, the soul of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in which it occurred, drawing from interviews with residents and non-residents, rabbis and historians, high-schoolers and senior citizens. In places recalling Jane Jacobs’s observations on the vitality of city life, Squirrel Hill also examines the century-old currents of Judaism in Pittsburgh; the range and variety of belief visible in the aftermath of the attack; and the response of a diverse, close-knit community to a tragedy that drew global attention and controversial visits from not only activists and curiosity-seekers but also politicians (Donald Trump) and celebrities (Tom Hanks). (You can find our interview with Mark Oppenheimer on the Commonweal Podcast.)

Squirrel Hill
The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood

Mark Oppenheimer
Knopf
$28.95 | 296 pp.   

 

Climate change, contends journalist Kate Aronoff in Overheated, isn’t “a market failure or consumer choice problem,” and market solutions alone are insufficient. What we need instead is a critical role for the state: regulations informed by science, rather than nonbinding proposals; large-scale government spending to enable an orderly energy transition; and democratic oversight that accounts for the needs of the marginalized, free from the influence of greenwashed fossil-fuel companies. Winning support for these changes, however, requires a vision of what a green future could look like—something more than a wasteland or a techno-utopia for the rich. In Overheated, alongside accounts of the hypocrisy and injustice that led to our current crisis, there is also a generous vision of a Green New Deal that upholds human dignity, protects workers and families, and encourages both individual and ecological flourishing. 

Overheated
How Capitalism Broke the Planet—and How We Fight Back

Kate Aronoff
Bold Type Books
$30 | 432 pp.

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Perhaps best known as the gimlet-eyed chronicler of Gilded Age New York aristocracy, Edith Wharton was also a skilled ghost-story writer. One of her last writing projects was assembling Ghosts, a collection of haunting short stories that she wrote between 1902 and 1937. Recently republished by NYRB Classics, Ghosts includes an introduction by Wharton herself, in which she writes the ability to enjoy such stories had become “almost atrophied in the modern man.” This wasn’t due to such modern inventions as electricity, she argued: “What the ghost really needs is not echoing passages and hidden doors behind tapestry, but only continuity and silence.” Wharton’s purpose in gathering these ghost stories was to preserve those silent spaces and to celebrate the opportunities for sending a “cold shiver down one’s spine.”

Ghosts
Stories

Edith Wharton
NYRB Classics
$16.95 | 288 pp.

Published in the November 2021 issue: 

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