Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Briefly Noted

The Original Black Elite, by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor (Amistad). In the decades following the Civil War, a proud "colored aristocracy" emerged. This history focusses on two of its members--Daniel Murray, the son of a former slave, who, in 1897, became chief of periodicals at the Library of Congress, and his wife, Anna, a descendant of one of John Brown's raiders. Taylor documents the inaugural balls they organized, the properties they owned, and their political efforts on behalf of their race. Ultimately, affluence, respectability, and their light complexions couldn't save them from the humiliations of Jim Crow. By 1919, Murray had been demoted, his salary slashed, and he was forbidden to dine in the library's public cafeteria.

The Genius of Judaism, by Bernard-Henri Levy, translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy (Random House). The French philosopher and telegenic celebrity offers a meditation on the "inner work on Judaism," which he says has guided his adventures in revolutionary politics, in an eclectic treatise that includes a long examination of resurgent anti-Semitism. His arguments tend to be wayward; a defense of his support for intervention in Libya takes the form of an interpretation of the Book of Jonah. And there are moments of real contradiction, as when he calls the Holocaust a "crime without parallel" but then professes befuddlement at the phenomenon of "competitive victimhood." Still, Levy writes with passion. When people stop reading Judaism's great texts, "to challenge and oppose them no more," he declares, "the genius dies. …

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