I loved the concept: Interesting stories from Jewish history, each told on one or two pages, in the style of a grandfather telling stories to grandchildren. In some regards Jack Cooper‘s “Who Knew?! Unusual Stories in Jewish History” accomplished this goal, but in other regards it could have been much better. The structure of the book was great: combining chronological and geographical headings made sense as this way the book has a section on biblical times, Western Europe, Central Europe and the East (although I would have separated these into two sections), the Holocaust, America and Israel. I also found the selection and content of the stories wide-ranging enough from the obscure to the pivotal. Furthermore they measured high enough on the scale of being interesting.
Where the book felt short was in accuracy and style. I wish the book had a historian AND a scholar of Judaism editor. I recognize that the author has breadth of knowledge and taught Jewish history. But the depth of his expertise didn’t always measure up and teaching at a day school does not require the highest level of scholarship. (FWIW: He taught English at higher levels, but not History.)
To end on a positive note: I really appreciated the footnotes. Pop-science or pop-history books often omit this crucial detail. But Cooper identified his sources, sometimes even 7 of them for a single entry. This makes it easier to learn more about any of his topics, for those who are inclined.
BTW: If you order the book from the publisher, Gefen, this week (and if your order is large enough) you can get it shipped free within the US and Israel.