–J.H.H. Weiler, Editorial Director, ICON; President and Secretary General, European University Institute
[ICON Editors’ Choices for New Year Readings and Gifts: ICON’s Book Review Editor, Isabel Feichtner, invited our Board members to reflect on the books that have had a significant impact on them this year. In the following weeks they will present their selections here on I*Connect. They write about books, not necessarily published in 2014, but read or reread this year, and which they found inspiring, enjoyable or consider ‘must reads’ for their own work or international law scholarship in general. These editors’ choices are not intended to be a prize in disguise, but rather are personalized accounts of the reading experiences of our Board members. We begin with our Editor-in-Chief’s selection.]
The following is not a ’10 Best Books Published in 2014’. Looking back at the books (excluding novels) I read (and in some cases re-read) this year I have picked those which created that ‘everyone should read this book’ urge that we all experience from time to time. The selection is of course entirely subjective, but rigorous in one sense: knowing how precious reading time is, involving serious opportunity costs, I put on the list only those titles where I felt that I would not run the risk that someone would write to me and say: you wasted my time.
The order of books on the list is arbitrary.
Moshe Halbertal, Maimonides: Life and Thought, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013
Of Maimonides it has been said endlessly that from [the great Biblical] Moses to Moses [Maimonides] no one has arisen as Moses. (Trust me, it sounds a lot better in pithy Hebrew – Momoshe ad Moshe Lo Kam KeMoshe). A son of Cordoba (1138) he spent the central part of his life in Cairo where he died in 1204 and was then buried in Tiberius. Renaissance Man (long before the Renaissance) he was and remains one of the greatest Jewish teachers, scholars, legal decisors, philosophers (in the Aristotelian tradition) and physicians. His codification of Jewish Law has remained normative till this day and his Guide to the Perplexed is part of the canon of medieval philosophy and is hugely rewarding to anyone today (all too few, alas) interested in virtue theory. The story of his life, an exile from Caliphate Andalusia and ending as physician to the Crown of Egypt, is not only riveting but offers a window to a world of, inter alia, Islamic glory, which is not often known beyond a small circle of scholars.
Enter another Moses, Moshe Halbertal, the author, inter alia, of a recent study of Maimonides. I read the Hebrew original some years ago but reread the English translation this year. It is a crowded corner and a difficult choice, but with no hesitation I would crown him the most significant and interesting Jewish scholar and intellectual of our times. He, too, is a renaissance man – philosopher, historian, profound jurisprude whose range is vast, making regular forays into the public space with thought-provoking, mind-shifting essays on contemporary issues. Google, pick out any, and hold your breath.
The great virtue of his book on Maimonides is that both specialist and novice will be drawn into the text to their respective profit, enlightenment and edification. To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, you get two-for-one: an insight into the profound worlds of Moses Maimonides and Moses Halbertal.