In 1852 Benjamin Disraeli, Chancellor of the Exchequer, posed for a portrait created by Sir Francis Grant. The portrait depicts Disraeli as a young man with full, sensual lips, intelligent black eyes, and thick, dark hair. A detail from the portrait, which illustrates the cover of the new biography, Benjamin Disraeli, by Adam Kirsch, contrasts sharply with a photograph of Disraeli that is also included in the book.
That photograph represents the elder statesman in 1875, a portly gentleman with a receding hairline, his eyes tired yet wise; the corners of his mouth turned slightly upward in a weary smile. The contrasts suggested by these images deftly convey the themes of Kirsch's biography.
Kirsch reveals the complex, contradictory nature of a man born a Jew and raised in the Christian faith, a man who celebrated his Jewish heritage yet refused to join a campaign in 1840 to save Jews in Damascus from government sponsored torture. Liberal in his political outlook, Disraeli was both distrusted and resented by the conservatives in the House of Commons, but indispensable to their cause.
More than fifty biographies have been written about Benjamin Disraeli. Unlike his predecessors, Kirsch focuses his attention, not so much on Disraeli's political career, but on the psychological effects of his Jewish heritage. Kirsch examines how Disraeli and his contemporaries depicted Jews and Judaism in literature, and considers how such representations influenced social behavior and thought during the time of Disraeli's rise to power. Throughout the book, Kirsch provides fascinating details from Jewish history.
Benjamin Disraeli is the tenth book in the Schocken Books/Nextbook "Jewish Encounters" series. An exceptional portrait of an intriguing figure, this book will particularly appeal to those readers interested in studying the history of Jewish thought.
Armchair Interviews says: Most interesting biography.