Category Archives: Biography

Book Review: Road to Valor

Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy,the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation, by Aili and Andres McConnon was a page-turner for me. Once I began it, I couldn’t put it down. I was mesmerized and captivated by the compelling, intense, and true story of Gino Bartali, an Italian cyclist. But, he was much more than that, as it turned out, as I read with hardly a break between pages.

Born of poverty, in the small town of Ponte a Ema, in 1914, he would eventually become larger than life, a legend in his own time. Yet, little was known about his other passion, helping to save Jews during World War II. He was a silent hero.

From the moment he saved up enough money to buy his first bicycle, along with a bit of family financial help, cycling became the love of his life. He would cycle the mountainsides, the hillsides, the winding roads, inhaling the countryside, becoming one with the landscape. He dreamed of cycling, and was determined to win the Tour de France. Not only did he accomplish that goal, he did it twice, ten years apart, first in 1938 and again in 1948!

The lapse in winning was due to World War II, when cycling took a back stage to the events of war, and due to the fascist situation in Italy. When he did cycle, it became political motivation, which was not his intention. He did not side with fascism or with the Nazis. In fact, as the story unfolds we read otherwise.

Bartali risked his life during the war to shelter Jews and to save them by helping pass false identity cards that he hid in his bicycle. He not only incurred risk for his own life and their lives, but also for his family. He would meet various individuals in secret locations and pass the identity cards to them. Often times, he would not see their faces, which was intentional, so nobody could be identified if ever questioned by the authorities.

Within the pages, the reader also gets glimpses of how cycling overtook Italy as a form of transportation, due to the economic situation and political pressures. The reader is given insight into Italian World War II history, including fascism, Mussolini, the horrific hardships that the nation, as a whole, faced during this tumultuous time period. It depicts the horrendous treatment of the Jews of Italy by the ruling factions. It also evokes the integrity and humanity of every day individuals under extreme duress.

The war cost him chances to engage in varied cycling events, but he never gave up hope of winning the Tour de France a second time. He persevered, and in it he did, with ferocious strength, which at the time was thought impossible due to his age. In his eyes, though, that win was the lesser of his accomplishments.

He would eventually tell his son, “If you’re good at a sport, they attach medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum. That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to the soul and shines elsewhere.

Those words encompass Bartali’s train of thought, and the reader feels it reign supreme throughout the story. His cycling journey took him to journeys of the soul, of the spirit of mankind. His life was one of humaneness and goodness, within his often boisterous presentation to those in the cycling world. Little did they know of his kindness and risk taking in order to rescue Jews.

I have been enriched, emotionally and historically speaking through reading Road to Valor, by Aili and Andres McConnon. Their contribution to Italian history during prewar and the war itself, is immeasurable. Their research was more than thorough, and their interviews and other factors of information gathering was an endeavor of high accomplishment.

I highly recommend Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy,the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation.


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Filed under Biography, Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction, World War II

Lorri M. Review: Norman Mailer: A Double Life

normanmailer J. Michael Lennon has captured Norman Mailer to the fullest extent possible, in the biography, Norman Mailer: A Double Life.

Through his meticulous attention to detail, and his extensive research, he has brought the reader a stark, undoctored, realistic approach to the life that Mailer led, both privately and publicly. There are instances where I wish that Lennon was not so illuminating with is minute word-imagery, but I am aware that those segments are a part of the whole.

has created a biography that depicts a man who, in my opinion, seems to be floundering. I could see him at odds with his sexual escapades, his divorces, his children and his own opinions of the world and of himself. At odds, meaning his actions and the consequences of them. At times, he appeared to be so full of himself. His activities and sexual prowess never ceased, at the expense of others. But, more importantly at the expense of himself.

He didn’t seem able to control his impulses, and he let them take over in social and private situations. Even if he could control the impulses, from the material garnered in the biography, I doubt he would have. Sex and women were major factors in his life. For him the events leading up to self-gratification were forms of power over others.

Mailer seems to have used some of his sexual experiences as material for his novels. He enjoyed the self-absorption and the impulses he acted upon, while they were occurring. Afterwards, he often felt that he spread himself too wide, but it did not stop him from continuing his more or less promiscuous behavior. From alcohol and drugs, to sexual exploits, his addictions were many.

He involved himself in politics, was often seen as radical, viewed other authors as not being the great 20th century writer, and often fluctuated from one subject to another as sources for writing. He procrastinated, and some of his books took years to be finalized and published. He was often perceived as cowing to the public, as far as story line, through his sometimes less than desirable book sales. He seems, in my opinion, to be a man who wanted to be labeled as THE greatest writer of the century, yet his output was often the reverse of his aspiration. Time will tell whether he was.

He married six times. Once he had a child/children from his wives, the luster seemed to wear off, and he sought other alternatives. His infidelities were baffling, and his sister was once known to have asked him why he sought this course of action. In his mind it was a safety net. Go figure.

Marriage and infidelity were one of his double lives. Becoming a great author and juggling fame and his personal life was another one of his double lives. Author and critic, power play and morals, hardworking and merriment, all of these and so much more are described in the several double lives that Mailer involved himself in.

J. Michale Lennon has brought every aspect of Norman Mailer’s life to the forefront. From the despicable and ugly acts to the kindnesses, we are witness to a man who led a life filled with prolific writings, nine children, six wives, varied emotions, and filled with self-realized consequences for the choices he made.

Norman Mailer: A Double Life might be a long book, yet within the pages, nothing is left for us to wonder regarding the context of his life. This is the way he wanted it, and this is what the author has given the reader.

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Filed under Biography, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction

Lorri M. Book Review: Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar

nehamaleibowitz Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar, by Yael Unterman, is an extremely well-documented book encompassing the varied facets of the life of Nehama Leibowitz.

She was in the forefront of women Torah teachers, and influenced not only Jewish individuals worldwide, but also those who were not Jewish. People flocked to her, and could not get enough of her teachings. Whoever wanted to learn was given the opportunity to learn. In her eyes, everyone was equal.

From the cab drivers to the janitors to Rabbis and corporate heads, Nehama endeavored to instill her scholarship to all who wanted it, through her highly popular and unique teaching methods. Her gilyonot/worksheets were the foundation of learning for thousands of individuals. She mailed them out to those who requested them. In turn, they were mailed back to her, and she would review them and return them with comments and/or corrections. Students couldn’t get enough of those gilyonot, and their popularity rose from word-of-mouth throughout the world. Her Bible courses and Torah Portion teaching methods made her famous worldwide.

Nehama became an icon of sorts, and did not like being labeled as such. But, labeled she was, and Unterman details her dedication and work through extreme detail, encompassing correspondence, documents, photographs, interviews with students and her peers, friends and family, and analysis of her environment.

Nehama was extremely intelligent, forthright, had a strong work ethic, and was dedicated to the study of Torah. This dedication not only applied to her students and others interested in Torah, but also encompassed her own ideals and dedication. Her devotion also applied to Israel, itself. She believed in the state of Israel, believed in its contributions and roles to the Jewish community as a whole.

Although she was asked to lecture and teach in universities outside of Israel, she refused every invitation. The only time she traveled outside of Israel, was when she emigrated to Israel. Israel was her home, and she saw no need to travel outside of its borders.

Nehama was a very opinionated person, and her beliefs were strong as far as taking responsibility for actions, and taking responsibility for humanity. She evokes these ideals throughout her teachings, and lends credence to them through Torah study.

She held classes in her home often, and students were in disbelief when first entering her house. It was sparse, and furniture was old and worn. This was the world she thrived in, and simplicity was everywhere within her home. She didn’t have need for material things, and her furniture was used until it literally fell apart. The same went for her clothes.

One thing I learned from this incredible book is the fact that Nehama was married. She never had to change her surname, because she married her uncle, Yedidya Lipman Leibowitz. He was old enough to be her father. They had a wonderful relationship and marriage. Each adored the other, and their adoration was apparent to others. They shared much in common, and their values and ideals were synonymous. When he died, a part of her died, also. She threw herself into her work more than she had already done (which had already taken up the majority of her daily time).

Nehama became a world-recognized Jewish force. Her personality grasped individuals in a positive manner. She was a force like no other, when it came to Torah. Her adamancy regarding issues captivated her peers and her students, alike. She was a respected scholar during a time period when men were the more highly regarded scholars.

Unterman depicts almost every facet of Nehama’s life, including teaching, her methodology, opinions, feminism, approaches to learning, Jewish identity and Zionism, and so much more. Throughout the pages, the reader not only recognizes the fact that Nehama was a scholar, but also is shown the perspective of a woman of humility and simplicity. Despite her often authoritative manners, underneath the voice was a humble woman.

I could not put the book down. The story, itself, is almost 600 pages long, and I read it at every given opportunity. For me, it was not a tedious read, but a book I wanted to read. There is so much to learn within the pages, not only about Nehama, but about Jewish life, the Jewish religion, Torah, Jewish education and the Jewish community as a whole. It is a fascinating book on many levels.

I totally enjoyed reading Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar. In my opinion, it is a brilliant masterpiece. Yael Unterman’s own devotion to depicting Nehama with extreme accuracy is evident within the pages. The book is a masterful testament to her, and honors her with dignity through exemplary writing. I applaud Yael Unterman! I highly recommend Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar to everyone.

March 11, 2013 – 29 Adar I, 5773


Filed under Biography, Book Reviews, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized

Book Review – Under the North Light

underthenorthlight Publishing children’s books would not be what it is today, if it weren’t for Maud and Miska Petersham. What they managed to accomplish in their lives, as far as writing and illustrating books for children is amazing, and no small feat.

They were pioneers in every aspect, and each chapter of Under the North Light: The Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham demonstrates that. Each chapter is sensitively and brilliantly written, and we are given a window into the moments of their lives and what they were striving towards. Along with the prose, each chapter contains pictures of their illustrations, illustrations that are absolutely stunning in their details and depth.

The Petershams were a unique couple, coming from diverse backgrounds. They endeavored throughout the years, to collaborate, not only in the art of illustration, but in the art of artistic beauty, beauty that kept children fascinated, and it also kept adults fascinated. Their biography is a testament to both.

Their marriage was strong, even through the lean and war-filled years. Their work ethic was strong, and their lives were filled with an extreme commitment to writing and illustrating, taking place under the north light of a window.

I read the Petersham’s stories growing up, and my childhood was filled with inhaling them. I wish I had been able to keep the books through the decades, but due to childhood family moves and life in general, the books were either given away to others or to libraries.

Reading the glossy pages of this outstanding and stunning book, I was reminded of my childhood, of how reading played an important role in my life, and still does, decades later. Fond memories flashed before me with each line and illustration, and I found myself a bit breathless from the pure joy and beauty of the pages

Under the North Light is an excellent resource regarding the development of book illustration, and shed light on graphic arts and its inception. It is a book of immense historical value, and one that I feel the reader will be inspired by, in many aspects.

Under The North Light: The Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham
, by Lawrence Webster is an elegant and insightful tribute to the Petershams, and to their life’s work. I highly recommend it to everyone.


Filed under Artistic Work, Biography, Book Reviews, Non-Fiction