Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: Letters to President Clinton

I am seriously backlogged on book reviews at the moment (all the books read and merely waiting for me to share my two cents) thanks to a bundle of joy that is ever-so attached to his mommy at all times. I really should get better at voice-to-text, but the reality is that the way that I write and the way that I speak are two very different animals. So here we go!

The kind folks over at Sterling Publishing reached out to me with Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership, which (you guessed it) is a book chock full of fascinating and insightful thoughts in the form of letters to President Clinton. The president wrote the foreword to the book, and it was edited by Rabbi Menachem Genack.

Rabbi Genack and President Clinton became acquainted in 1992 in New Jersey, and their friendship has remained strong since then. The book highlights their communications, but also letters that Rabbi Genack requested from friends and colleagues on special topics for the president. Although not in any kind of date-sequential order, the book's communications come from President Clinton's second term and after and its lessons are divided among Leadership, Sin and Repentance, Creation, Community, Faith, Dreams and Vision, and Holidays. With some of the letters there are responses from President Clinton about the essay (and the responses are included in the book in image form, so you can see that it's written on President Clinton's letterhead!).

The great thing about this book is that you can easily hop around from gleaning to gleaning without reading the book straight from start to finish. In fact, I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading this from cover to cover. With authors like Norman Lamm, Adin Steinsaltz, Nahum Sarna, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Cynthia Ozick, and Joseph Telushkin, you might want to find an author that you love and dig into a letter they've written to President Clinton.

One thing this book does well is creates an accessibility to Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. With President Clinton being a Southern Baptist, most of the essays are accessible on a cross-denominational level. Translations of Bible verses come from President Clinton's preferred mode of bible and the authors build lessons that are universal in their nature. It really is a book for leaders of every generation.

The only off-putting aspect of this book that I ran into, oddly enough, was a very awkward preface written by Rabbi Sacks. I tend to love just about everything that Rabbi Sacks writes and does, but this preface was forced, uncomfortable, and referenced his own books and work at random intervals. It was like he was less interested in talking about the topic and more interested in selling his own books and philosophies on American Judaism and how it is shockingly different than English Judaism.

Have you read this book yet? Sound like something up your alley? Let me know what you think!