The Princess and the Prophet: The Secret History of Magic, Race, and Moorish Muslims... by Jacob S. DormanWhat it's about: the remarkable and largely unknown story of how Gilded Age America's fascination with "the exotic Orient" provided black performers with career opportunities and indirectly led to the Black Muslim movement and the foundation of the Nation of Islam.
Starring: John Walter Brister (aka Noble Drew Ali), a black former child star who turned his fantastical "Arabian" circus act into the quasi-Islamic Moorish Science Temple; his wife Eva Alexander, who performed as the lion-taming, snake-charming "Princess Sotanki."
Why you might like it: Besides recounting an important chapter in American religious history, this dramatic story includes secret societies, corrupt politicians, faked deaths, and the Chicago mob.
The Dalai Lama: An Extraordinary Life by Alexander NormanWhat it is: a compelling and well-researched biography of the Dalai Lama, with a particular interest in His Holiness' worldview and ambivalent relationship with politics.
About the author: Historian Alexander Norman began his relationship with His Holiness decades ago and was able to gain unique access to his subject after collaborating on the autobiography Freedom in Exile.
Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier by Benjamin E. ParkWhat it's about: the Mormon Church's doomed attempts to create a "Zion" in Missouri and later Illinois, where their community collapsed in the violent events that claimed the life of Joseph Smith.
Why you might like it: Benjamin Park was given unique, nearly unlimited access to Church archives, providing readers with brand new details of the Church's early history.
Reviewers say: this "vigorous study" is a "welcome contribution to American religious and political history" (Kirkus Reviews).
The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism by Katherine StewartWhat it is: an upsetting but well-researched exploration of "Christian nationalist" politics, from the Moral Majority movement of the 1970s to the modern effects of contemporary Christian-right figures such as Betsy DeVos.
Why you should read it: The Power Worshippers is a comprehensive look at issues that will affect every American no matter their place on the political spectrum.
Nine Essential Things I've Learned About Life by Harold S. KushnerWhat it is: an inspiring and thought-provoking memoir from Rabbi Harold Kushner, meant to engage believers and skeptics alike.
Chapters include: "Forgiveness Is a Favor You Do Yourself," "Religion Is What You Do, Not What You Believe," and "A Love Letter to a World That May or May Not Deserve It."
About the author: Rabbi Kushner served for 25 years as a congregational rabbi and is the author of more than a dozen books, including the bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
What We Will Become: A Mother, A Son, and A Journey of Transformation by Mimi LemayWhat it's about: a former Orthodox Jewish mother's journey out of that faith and how that upbringing affected her relationship with and parenting of her trans son.
Read it for: the engaging writing style, reflections on intergenerational family dynamics, and parallels drawn between the author's transformative journey out of religious life and her son's gender transition.
The Genius of Judaism by Bernard-Henri LévyWhat it is: the thought-provoking reflections of French philosopher and journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy, who trades politics (his usual subject matter) for a look at himself and what it means to him to be a Jewish intellectual living in an era when antisemitism is on the rise again.
Reviewers say: "a welcome addition to his oeuvre" (Publishers Weekly); a "celebration of Judaism" with a core message of "hope and light" (Kirkus Reviews).
Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching For the Soul by Naomi LevyWhat it is: the inspiring story of a little-known letter written by Albert Einstein, in which the physicist mused on the nature of spirituality and the universe.
The recipient: Rabbi Robert Marcus, a U.S. Army chaplain who was one of the first people to enter Buchenwald as it was being liberated and who took it upon himself to take care of the children found in the camp.
Did you know? One of the boys Rabbi Marcus rescued was then 16-year-old Elie Wiesel.
(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump by Jonathan WeismanWhat it is: a sobering look at the state of Jewish life in America since the election of Donald Trump, put into context with other times of increased antisemitism, like the 1913 lynching of Leo Frank.
Read it for: the emotionally affecting story of the increasingly intense antisemitism the author faces in his personal and professional lives; some practical steps readers can take to fight the growing threat of antisemitism in modern American society.
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