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The House of 20,000 Books, by Sasha Abramsky.

August 17, 2015

The House of 20,000 Books, by Sasha Abramsky. New York Review Books, 2015. Forthcoming in September.

3 stars

The biography of an eminent scholar and book collector of Jewish and Socialist history as told by his grandson, who structures his account around the many books and the house where his grandfather kept them.

Chimen Abramsky (1916 – 2010) was born in Russia during World War I and came to London with his family as a teenager in the 1930s. After studying in Israel, he began his career as a bookdealer and activist who was deeply knowledgeable in Jewish and Socialist history. He soon made his way into activist and academic circles. His home became a treasure trove of books on his favorite topics. Following his death, his grandson has written about Chimen and the immense collection of books.

Sasha Abramsky knew his grandparents’ home as a child. He has structured this biography around the house where each room had a particular collection of books. Going room to room, Sasha describes the books and his grandfather’s expertise. For example, the bedroom which Chimen shared with his wife contained his Marxist books. Throughout there are personal stories about the unique man his grandfather was.

This is an unusual way of structuring a book, but it seems an apt one for the biography of such a multifaceted man. However, as a generalist without any prior knowledgeable about Abramsky or the subjects in which he excelled, I had trouble understanding what his grandson was saying.

The House of 20,000 Books will be most enjoyed by those who knew Chimen Abramsky and who moved in Jewish and Socialist circles.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the New York Review of Books for sending me this book to review.

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