Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books

Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books

by Aaron Lansky

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Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Aaron Lansky is a very special person who has achieved something special by recovering and rescuing yiddish books from all over the world and relocating them to Amherst, Massachusetts where they are kept and shared with the world. I admire his tenacity and thoroughly enjoyed his relating how he managed to achieve this amazing task. I had the honor of meeting him once many years ago in Northhampton, Massachusetts and was impressed back then and am still impressed with his admirable character. He is a wonderful writer and I highly recommend this book to anyone intersted in the history and culture of the jews.
Button-G-Bones More than 1 year ago
Aaron Lansky's rollicking account of his life's work rescuing Yiddish books is a must read. Hilarious, moving, and well written, it illuminates a crisis of which I wasn't aware.Much of the rich heritage of Yiddish literature is in danger of being lost forever. Who knew that tales of dumpster diving, clambering through old abandoned buildings and going to far flung corners of the earth to rescue Yiddish books could be so engaging? Read it, you'll like it!
voracious on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Aaron Lansky started out as a graduate student interested in Yiddish literature when he set out with some friends to look for Yiddish books. At the advice of his professor, they began combing areas of New York where elderly Jewish people were still living. They were horrified to discover that entire generations of Yiddish speaking immigrants were dying off and their books were being dumped, as their children had never learned to read the Yiddish language. This autobiographical account details how Aaron began his life-long crusade to rescue a million Yiddish books, preserve Jewish history, and promote the Yiddish culture for future generations, through the eventual creation of the National Yiddish Book Center. I really enjoyed this book, which took a compassionate and humorous look at the donors who lovingly passed on their "treasures" and the rescuers who were trying to save the books on limited funds and time (while continually being fed excessively by the donors). As a reader with limited experience of the Jewish/Yiddish world, I found the story to be culturally sensitive, enthralling and hillarious. I would strongly recommend this book. It is very well written as well as entertaining.
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Aaron Lansky is a librarian with a mission: he's determined to save the last of the world's Yiddish literature, most of which is out of print and in danger of being discarded by a new generation of non-Yiddish-speaking Jews. With a shoestring budget and a battered moving truck, Lansky rushes to rescue books from rain-soaked dumpsters and buildings on the verge of demolition. Thousands of elderly Yiddish speakers respond to his calls for donations and some of the book's most touching passages chronicle Lansky's trips to their homes to collect books and hear the life stories of Holocaust and gulag survivors. Lansky adeptly weaves his book collecting anecdotes into the history of Judaism, Eastern Europe and Yiddish literature, leaving readers with an appreciation for a little-known culture and literary heritage. If you're looking for detailed historical, cultural or literary analysis, this isn't the place to go but if you'd like basic information delivered in an entertaining way (and maybe some new titles for your reading list), you should definitely pick it up.
Deesirings on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Aaron Lansky starts off as a university student interested in learning about his culture, the Jewish culture. He soon finds that to do that, it would be beneficial to be fluent in Yiddish. He then finds that the learn Yiddish properly, he and his few classmates will need Yiddish books, which are hard to come by. But as he starts trying to scrounge up the books he needs for graduate classes as McGill, he also learns that there are instances where the Yiddish books he is so interested in acquiring are in danger of being lost or destroyed. So starts his journey.Not long thereafter, he has opted to become a full-time Yiddish book rescuer rather and a student and academic. Things just snowball from there. He explains in his foreword: "In 1980, at the age of twenty-three, I decided to save the world's Yiddish books. At the time scholars believed 70,000 volumes remained; today, my colleagues and I have collected more than one and a half million -- may of them at the last minute from attics and basements, demolition sites and Dumpsters. Towards the end of this grand adventure, Aaron explains his way of proceeding with direct-mail fund-raising. He sums up some of the highlights of the past 20 years spent collecting the world's Yiddish books: "I spoke to our members as friends, letting them know what we were doing and why. In addition to an annual renewal letter there were frequent emergencies: to recover those eighty-five thousand folios of forgotten sheet music, to preserve the world's last Yiddish books in the Soviet Union, Argentina, Mexico or Cuba. Our members broke every record in the generosity of their response."Some of the things I learned from this book include not only the more expected such as Big Names in Yiddish writing and many aspects of Jewish history and culture but also the unexpected like the fact that rescuing books is action-packed and labour intensive. It involves mostly driving, packing and doing some heavy lifting. In the case of gathering books from aging people who are passing along some of their most valued treasures, it involves getting sitting down to eat and to listen to their empassionned stories.Toward the end, I was curious about the author's personal life and, sure enough, a few pages later, he included a few pages about how and when he met his wife, thereby delivering on every front. A well-written, constantly interesting account of a Very Important Mission. I don't think I throw the word "hero" around lightly. But by the end of this book, I certainly thought of Aaron Lansky as one.
mzonderm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Aaron Lansky tells us about a lot more than just his efforts (and those of his many, many supporters) to rescue Yiddish books. He interweaves his stories with a history of Yiddish language, culture, and literature. Although these brief history lessons are not nearly as entertaining as his anecdotes of traveling around the globe (although mostly to New York) to collect the books, put together they make for an engaging, even enlightening read.
Sandydog1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge lover of books about books, and first read about Mr. Lansky from Nicholas Basbanes. This was a real heart-warmer. Yiddish literature wasn't some tiny, obscure scrap of culture. It is amazing how it was saved, and begs the obvious question: How many other, more obscure, "smaller" cultures and written languages are we loosing?
DrBrewhaha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When you see a book on the shelf with the words "hilarious" and "Yiddish" both on the front cover you are compelled to pick it up. This was my experience with Outwitting History. In the book, Lansky describes the long process of gathering withering Yiddish books from all over the globe. This body of literature faced possible destruction as older generations died off and younger generations moved on. I realize from this brief description I may not have enticed you into checking this book out. However, let me just say that this book is much, much better than I am describing.The historical reasons leading Yiddish literature's demise are strongly tied to the Jewish experience. Lansky provides glimpses into this historical, and heart-wrenching, past and forces the reader to ask some very hard questions. Some of his stories sound a bit repetitive during the middle part of the book, but when he describes his experiences of crossing national borders to rescue books during the latter half of the book he really hits his stride.
livebug on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Everyone go read Outwitting History. Right now.If you are a lover of books, of immigrants, of lost causes, of old Jewish ladies that feed you too much and say "nu?" (and who isn't?) you must read this book. You will be inspired. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll thank me. And then we'll all go take a Yiddish class together.
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If the title of this book puts you off to reading it, like it did me for a great while, don¿t waste another minute until you begin. This was a most delightful read, causing me both to laugh out loud and weep tears of nostalgia as author Aaron Lansky searched the United States and later around the world for Yiddish books. As I¿m the sort of person who collects books to give to others, I felt a personal connection to the work of this author. I was cheering him on when he was able to discover some rarer books and feeling comforted by all of the home-cooked meals he was fed by his elderly donors during his book runs. A favorite part of the book for me was the Yiddish phrases that were used throughout. For someone who knows Yiddish (or even, as I do, German), the book really comes alive. Yiddish is a language that not only conveys a message, but it also conveys an attitude. All of the Yiddish phrases are translated (albeit a few not quite literally), but with these phrases come the hearts and the souls of the people who utter them.I adored reading this book. Its effect on me is my wish to help support Aaron Lansky¿s cause, to encourage my friends to donate their Yiddish books to his center, to encourage others to learn and study Yiddish, and to find a Yiddish book to borrow just to see how much of it I can understand (as I do know how to sound out the Hebrew letters). I was truly inspired by this very entertaining read and would highly recommend it to others, Jewish or not. If you have a love of books, you¿ll find a lot to like in Lansky¿s story.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this book, the author chronicles how he and a small dedicated group went about the process of rescuing the literature of a tongue from passing away. Like it or not, Yiddish literature is finite, bound to a specific time and place. But precisely because Yiddish literature is finite, it is enormously important, a link between one epoch of Jewish history and the next. Its world's having been ferociously attacked and almost destroyed only serves to underscore its significance. The books we collect are the immediate intellectual antecedent of most contemporary Jews, able to tell us who we are and where we came from. Especially now, after the unspeakable horrors of the twentieth century, Yiddish literature endures as our last, best bridge across the abyss.Well written and interesting.
stellarexplorer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the 1970s, 23-year-old Aaron Lansky recognizes that due to the aging of the population that was literate in Yiddish, the books are disappearing rapidly. Into trashbins, literal and historical. He sets out to rescue them from individuals and organizations. The stories are hilarious and poignant. The vignettes are so true to life.... because they are true. 90-year-olds turning over their precious collections in tears, but asking for the time to explain the books and what they meant, performing in the process an act of desperate and final cultural transmission. He has now built the effort into the National Yiddish Book Center. I highly recommend it for any interested reader!
rondoctor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Inspiirational story of the formation and work of the National Yiddish Book Center.
kingcvcnc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
1980, twenty-three-year-old student Aaron Lansky sets out to rescur & preserve anabdoned Yiddish books before they are lost forever. He vows that books which survived Hitler & Stalin will not die. Believing there may be 70,000 such books, he collects 1.5 million. It's an adventure tale full of passion, humor, and great sadness. A must read and a must visit to the National Yiddish Book Center online.
ExVivre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the period from 1939 - 1945, most of the Yiddish-speaking world was destroyed in the Holocaust. A language with a thriving literary tradition virtually disappeared. The books that survived this period suffered an ignomious fate: to be ignored by the non-Yiddish speaking children of Holocaust survivors. Outwitting History is a compelling memoir of a man who saved Yiddish books from destruction and neglect, and thus saved an important part of Jewish history.
SophiesMindset More than 1 year ago
While "Amazing Adventures" seems to overstate the case, this was a fascinating work about how one man, with some help, pretty much saved Yiddish books from extinction. I love books, and I'm a voracious reader. Just a look at my blog (sophiesmindset.blogspot.com) or goodreads (Ruth Sophia) pages will tell you that. I love old books. It's really hard for me to pass up a pre-copyright volume at a good price. The thought of people discarding books of their heritage because their children are not able to read the language is heartbreaking. Yet, that is precisely what was happening to books written in Yiddish. Yiddish is the product of the Jewish people having no homeland and incorporating Hebrew with the languages of the lands in which they lived. A hybrid language. Some would say an illegitimate language. While the younger generation just didn't know the language in America (their parents and grandparents saw that lack of knowledge as a way for integration to occur), there was a segment of the older population that abhorred Yiddish because it wasn't scholarly. These people actively refused to save Yiddish books, afraid they might corrupt young people. Aaron Lansky, the author of Outwitting History, grew up hearing Yiddish, but never learning it. In college he wanted a degree in Jewish studies and decided Yiddish was an important part of that education. It was during this time he realized that Yiddish books were scarce, and growing more rare by the day. Some of this was because of the Holocaust. Entirely groups of people had to abandon everything to flee or be sent to concentration camps. Their books, and indeed everything left behind that wasn't deemed valuable by their captors, was destroyed. When Aaron decided he needed to save Yiddish books from the destruction that was happening because young people weren't learning Yiddish anymore, scholars estimated that only 70,000 Yiddish books existed worldwide. He recovered that many books in six months. Over twenty years after starting this journey, Aaron and the non-profit he founded (Yiddish Book Center) has saved over 1.5 million Yiddish books, sheet music, and pamphlets including some volumes which were believed to be entirely eradicated. Outwitting History is a fascinating look into what went into recovering a significant part of history that was almost lost forever. Aaron's story is truly one of being in the right place at the right time - and taking the appropriate action. While a basic knowledge of Hebrew or Yiddish is helpful for reading this book, it is not required. Translations are given whenever Yiddish is used, or context gives an explanation. If you like history, books, memoirs, Jewish culture, or David vs Goliath stories, this book is for you. A highly enjoyable read. Definitely recommend.
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