This is reposted as a reminder: have you already purchased the book?
Wise old people cautioned me more than once not to be misled by hasty first impressions. Of course, I never listened, preferring my own first impressions to be replaced by my own second impressions. Which, in turn, etc.
So, to let the story develop naturally, here are my first impressions of the author and of that book: professor Ze'ev Maghen and his book Imagine - John Lennon & the Jews: A Philosophical Rampage. In that sequence. The impression of the book as it developed on the basis of its title alone and of the professor - on the basis of the first sentence and a half from his bio blurb on Amazon.
a) The Professor
Ze'ev Maghen is a Professor of Arabic Literature and Islamic History and Chairman of the Department of Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He has lectured widely in the United States, Europe, Turkey, Russia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, India, Panama, Guatemala...Uhu. Clearly a dessicated ultra-religious alter kacker*. Knows everything about the use of seventeenth sura in XII-th century in Tabriz to cure incontinence or summat. Twelve children, smells of ancient manuscripts, cholent and used nappies**.
(*) When I say "alter kacker", believe me - I mean an alter kacker.
(**) Mind you, some of my best friends work in BIU!
b) The Book
Well, come on, people. Really. Why would such a person (see above) call a book Imagine - John Lennon & the Jews: A Philosophical Rampage, unless (and only unless) he somehow got his scrawny mitts on incontrovertible proof that John's aunt on his maternal grandfather's son-in-law's side was inordinately fond of a Jewish hooligan ("der shtarker") from a working class family in Liverpool and almost (but not quite) allowed him to kiss her on their way from a late night poetry reading.
Clearly the darn book will analyze the resulting complications in John's worldview in general and his view on the Jooish Question in particular... oy vey... but a promise is a promise. And the book is in the mail already.
c) Oh boy, was I mistaken or was I mistaken...
What now? The man is not what he seemed to be, and the book is something absolutely different... so how do I get out of this situation? Don't panic. Yes, this is the first thing to do... or, rather, not to do. So, while not panicking, how do I go about it now?
Format. Of course, the answer is clear: change the format. This childish a, b, c method that lead me to a disaster must be replaced. Remember, you were going to review a book. Which is definitely a product. How do you relate to a product? Obviously in terms of pros and cons. It is a format that will a) confuse the heck out of the reader; b) break the old framework and c)... wait, something is wrong right here and now... OK, no matter, let's have a go.
The book Imagine - John Lennon & the Jews: PROS
This is a great book. And, set aside your misgivings from the word "go" - it's not a boring opus that takes you to some antediluvian relative of John L. (or Paul M. for that matter) and tries to explain why Ringo sometimes looks like a... forget it, in short.
And if, like I, you have never really listened to the words of Imagine, I promise that you will be delighted by the book from the beginning. And that it promises more and more delights as you continue to read it.
The book's title includes words that may chill the initial enthusiasm and even prevent some careful and shy readers from opening the book. I mean the part where it says: "A Philosophical Rampage". There is no need to be afraid, I swear and promise. It is indeed philosophical, but, as stated, also a rampage, and one that it's a sheer pleasure to participate in. Because (and it's also a promise) participation is practically guaranteed, once you open the book.
It is a rare gift the author of the book is blessed with: the gift of involving the reader, of making him a part of that philosophical endeavor, that exuberant and exhilarating journey through centuries, states, philosophies, beliefs...
Ze'ev Maghen is a master of what Terry Pratchett called "headology". You should be careful too, his first time reader. When it starts to seem to you that the author has all the magic paraphernalia set up for his next conjuring trick and that he is ready to do the trick itself, his thumb and middle finger already coming together for a snap... when you are 100% sure, in short, my dear reader - you should realize that the trick has already happened. About ten or twenty pages ago. Just go back and re-read it...
The book is a thrilling and stimulating read, even if you don't agree with everything the author believes in*. The book is not written as a field manual but as a partner/opponent in a typically Jewish debate (way beyond a philosophical discussion, although a bit short of a fistfight).
(*) I can't say I have joined the author where he slays the dragon of materialistic determinism (pg. 232). But I feel a certain empathy toward him and toward the effort. Besides, I think I know where he went wrong on this point and how to find a workaround...
The book Imagine - John Lennon & the Jews: CONS
Well, frankly, there are no cons. As I have mentioned, even if you disagree with some points of the book at the end of the day, it's a great read, a great mental exercise, source of knowledge and more...
Er... maybe, just maybe: it's a bit too exuberant in a few places. But it could be a part of the author's headology and thus a part of the master plan...
Professor Ze'ev Maghen: PROS
After reading some (way too short) bio details, I have to scratch that initial impression.
- He is not an alter kacker.
- He has only three kids and he raises them in Hod HaSharon.
- He speaks "a fluent Arabic, Persian, Russian, English and Hebrew" - wow, ain't that cool?
- He dislikes lokshen kugel.
- He is a philosopher. Meaning, to quote a Russian classic, that it's not advisable to put a finger in his mouth.
- He is OK with Descartes' "Doubt everything".
- He is a Jewish philosopher, speaks these five languages and works in Bar-Ilan University. Which means to a sane person that to argue with him in public, one has either to carry a big stick or to be totally anesthetized. And I wouldn't be so sure about the stick...
Professor Ze'ev Maghen: CONS
He is, first and foremost, a tankist*. As an ex-sapper, whose main mission in the army was to rescue these flighty buggers from one scrap only to find them a few minutes later hopelessly mired in another, I can easily see where this sad fact casts a shadow (or is it a light?) on his other character traits. Such as:
- Used the word "asseveration". Granted, one time only, on page 66, but still...
- Loves matzo ball soup.
- Is a Trekkie... unrepentant, too.
- Used words "harmless" and "philosophy" together. Once, and I didn't record the page number. Bears watching around the clock.
- Has written "dreck" as "drek" (page not recorded). Could be a sign of a closet Litvak. If so, taken together with the tankist past, the watch should be doubled.
Yeah, well, what else is there to say about the case? Yes, go and buy the book here. Don't make me remind you...