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About the Author

Aaron Lansky is the founder and president of the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts

Includes the names: Aaron Lansky, Aaron Lansky

Image credit: Photo by Patricia Williams, courtesy of the National Yiddish Book Center

Works by Aaron Lansky

Associated Works

Encyclopedia of the American Left (1990) — Contributor, some editions — 105 copies


Common Knowledge

New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA
Places of residence
Massachusetts, USA
Hampshire College (BA|1977)
National Yiddish Book Center (founder, president)
Awards and honors
MacArthur Fellowship (1989)
Short biography
Aaron Lansky and his family live in western Massachusetts.



Update 11 April 2024.
I just read this for a second time for a bookgroup. I had to, it had been my nomination. As much as I liked it the first time, I might have liked it even more on this second reading. Lansky did a great job with his book rescue and he did a great job with this book. I just finished writing my own book about my father that I based on his memories that he wrote for me some years ago. My parents didn't speak Yiddish at home; they spoke Polish. We never went to synagogue, we didn't celebrate the high holidays -- we didn't even celebrate Chanukah and the only time we ever had a seder at our house (we always went to friends) my mother served shrimp on the salad. But I always knew we were Jewish. How can you not when all the family, except my parents, was murdered in the Holocaust? This time around I enjoyed the whole book again, from start to finish, but I found some of his comments at the end, of what it means to be Jewish, more meaningful.

This is the story of the rescue of a million Yiddish books. In the process of the rescue, Lansky met many fascinating and interesting people and ate some wonderful food, in great quantities. I laughed, I cried, and I learned quite a bit about my own, Jewish history and culture. I recommend the book for anyone who is interesting in books, culture, languages, modern Jewish history, deli food....
See my blog for more thoughts on the book:
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dvoratreis | 38 other reviews | May 22, 2024 |
"Engaging first-person account of how some committed young people rescued from history’s dustbin more than a million books published in Yiddish.

In prose that sometimes lurches and jolts along like the overloaded rental trucks that the author and his merry band used to collect books, Lansky unfolds a tale of rare emotion and devotion. He was only 23, in 1980, when he made the decision to dedicate himself to the cause of saving books in Yiddish. He had begun studying the language while at Hampshire College and was shocked to discover that many libraries were discarding Yiddish works by the thousands because so few circulated. His account of his rescue efforts takes the form of an adventure story, related with a breathless and appealing Andy Hardy earnestness. The author and his companions pluck books from Dumpsters in the rain, from closing libraries, from damp garages and basements, from dour doubters, from aging Jews who surrender them like favorite children—with flowing tears, many tales, and much food. They make harrowing missions to Russia and Cuba. But it all pays off: Lanksy now oversees a huge enterprise comprising a state-of-the-art facility, the National Yiddish Book Center, and a membership of some 35,000 supporters. He is digitizing the volumes, virtually all of which were printed on paper whose acid content assures disintegration. The purpose of the Book Center is not to hoard but to distribute the volumes. It maintains a core collection but considers putting books into the hands of readers among its chief purposes, in addition to making sure key titles are in libraries where scholars can consult them. Lansky also chronicles the history of Yiddish, his fundraising efforts (considerably accelerated by a 1989 MacArthur genius grant), and his countless public appearances (including a funny episode at a Catskills resort).

A rollicking ride in company with a man who has performed an enormously important public service." www.kirkusreviews.com, A Kirkus Starred Review
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CDJLibrary | 38 other reviews | Dec 2, 2021 |
Gripping account of how one man's intellectual curiosity leads him, without obvious expectations of what he was getting into, to undertake a life's quest to preserve the Yiddish literature. He interrupted his schooling in Yiddish literature to take a year's leave to collect books because they were all but impossible to find, and never returned. It's true, I suppose, that life is what happens when we're making other plans, and that the biggest regrets of our lives will be not taking advantage of the opportunities that appear to do not only great things, but things we love with all our being.

The timeline in the book is a bit bumpy, but the major point is less to give a history than to evoke a sense of why the project was important, and worth the doing. On that level, the book succeeds brilliantly.
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dono421846 | 38 other reviews | Feb 5, 2021 |
This is definitely one of the best books I have read this year. Once I picked it up, I had go on until I was finished. This is the story of Aaron Lansky and his quest to save Yiddish books. At a time when even most Jews had given Yiddish up as dead, Lansky had the vision to rescue the lost books of Yiddish and then place them in the hands of people who needed them. So, pulling up his bootstraps, with help from various people, and a lot of guts, he went around collecting books, leading to the eventual foundation of the National Yiddish Book Center.

The stories in the book vary from very moving to humorous. From digging books out of dumpsters to meeting with elderly Jews who passed their collections to him one book at a time, Lansky's adventures take him around the world. And all this before the Internet was around. We take for granted that you can digitize books now (and they do digitize books now), but back in the early 90s, the technology to do so was brand new, untried. We also get to see him travel from Africa to Europe and even Latin America and the Soviet Union. And yet, for all the books he saves, there are so many lost. And indeed, Yiddish still is a relatively small language, so to speak, and one that is endangered. But it is also a language of history, of culture, of memory, and one that a new generation now wishes to discover, or rediscover, as a way to get to know its heritage. So there is some hope. ]

In the process of reading the book, you also get some lessons in the history of Yiddish and a little lesson in world history as well. So it makes for a very good book to read. If you are a reader who likes to read about books, who likes a good tale, and a little history, then this is definitely a book for you. It may, as it did for me, make you wish you could go out and read some of the many works and authors that Lansky mentions in the book. Sadly, I can't read Yiddish, but I can hope maybe to get a hold of one of the new translations of Yiddish works the NYBC is putting out (it would be nicer if one day I could learn to actually read the language). In the meantime, get a hold of this book.

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bloodravenlib | 38 other reviews | Aug 17, 2020 |



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