cover image Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent

Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent

Paul Mendes-Flohr. Yale Univ., $26 (440p) ISBN 978-0-300-15304-0

Mendes-Flohr (Gershom Scholem), professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School, showcases his expertise in this definitive but dense and jargon-filled biography of the Austrian-born Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber (1878–1965). Mendes-Flohr begins with Buber’s abandonment by his mother when he was four years old, and links that traumatic experience with Buber’s development of a “philosophy of dialogue” that called for engagement with others while recognizing the difficulty of realizing that goal. After a difficult childhood in Poland, where he was reared by grandparents who limited his contact with his peers, Buber eventually settled in Israel. He went on to become a serious thinker about the relationship between ethics and politics in Judaism, which made him a controversial figure in the Zionist movement. While Mendes-Flohr’s telling of Buber’s life is comprehensive, his prose is often difficult to follow (“Kinesis... denotes for Buber the power actuating the longed-for realization of unity, albeit without a specific direction”) and will be a barrier for any lay reader, even those with some familiarity with Buber’s thinking. While the detail will be intimidating to the nonacademic, Mendes-Flohr’s biography nicely maps out Buber’s legacy for researchers to ponder. (Mar.)