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Jacob's Cane

Jacob's Cane

A Jewish Family's Journey from the Four Lands of Lithuania to the Ports of London and Baltimore; A M

Drawn to an image of her great-grandfather's ornately carved cane, scholar Elisa New embarked on a journey to discover the origins of her precious family heirloom. Treading back across the paths of her ancestors, she travels from Baltimore to the Baltic to London in order to find and understand an immigrant world profoundly affected by modern German culture, from the Enlightenment through the Holocaust. Deeply ambitious in its narrative sweep, Jacob's Cane captures the rich texture of life on several continents as New's family searches to establish itself in the tobacco trade. A fascinating history of one family's story of progress, innovation, and struggle, Jacob's Cane will change the way we think about the Jewish American experience.
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Genre: Nonfiction / Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs

On Sale: September 22nd 2009

Price: $2.99 / $3.99 (CAD)

Page Count: 336

ISBN-13: 9780465049738

What's Inside

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Reader Reviews


Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
“One of the finest, most engaging books of personal genealogy I have ever read, Jacob’s Cane is a dazzling, beautifully written work, with scholarly biography and moving autobiography ingeniously interwoven. The vivid, unforgettable portrayals of idiosyncratic characters, of European communities we heretofore knew only by name, and of one emblematic and fascinating American Jewish community are chronicled here with poetic grace, there with scholarly fervor, everywhere with love and urgency.”

Meryl Gordon, author of Mrs. Astor Regrets
“Lyrically written and intensively researched, Jacob’s Cane offers fascinating insights into Jewish geography and the Jewish émigré experience in America. A vivid and haunting book....From the tobacco warehouses of Baltimore to the elite drawing rooms of London to the bloodied fields of the Holocaust, Elisa New ventures between past and present to tell this memorable story.”

Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University; author of
The Science of Sacrifice
“Cultural history at its best. An engrossing exploration that reveals in its affectionate breadth the intimate ties between a Jewish family and major American manufactories.”

Suzanne Wasserman, Director, Gotham Center for NYC History/CUNY Graduate Center
“Elisa New’s wonderful memoir adds a rich layer to the tapestry of American Jewish history.”

Henry Rosovsky, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
“A family narrative of great fascination that includes in-depth social and economic history, all written with the pen of a poet.”

Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein and Benjamin Franklin; CEO of the Aspen Institute
“A brilliant and poignant personal saga that captures the sweep of a century of Jewish life. Holding her great-grandfather’s cane and her daughter’s hand, Elisa New travels from Baltimore to Lithuania to London exploring the meaning of love, family, and history. It’s astonishing social history wrapped in a thrilling investigative adventure.”
In Search of American Jewish Culture
“Elisa New has managed to honor the past while also showing how the research to recapture it is done. Because Jacob’s Cane is not only an historical detective story, but is also novelistic in its evocation of character and circumstance, Professor New’s book is singular, poignant, and compelling.”

Paul Hendrickson, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Sons of Mississippi
“Here is a Harvard professor of literature, who goes in search of her family’s Lithuanian Jewish story, and finds it, and brings back something that she may not have previously realized she owned: a rich poetic voice.”

Steven J. Zipperstein, author of The Jews of Odessa
Jacob’s Cane is an intricate, beautifully rendered mesh of memoir and genealogical enthusiasm. New describes places, possessions, even the rhythms of business with vividness, even sensuality.”

Jonathan Wilson, Professor, Tufts University; author of A Palestine Affair and The Hiding Room
“A lovely, fully grounded, yet lyrical family memoir…Jacob’s Cane wonderfully transcends its ‘back to my roots’ genre; its narrative is loving yet objective, informative, beautifully written and a pleasure to read.”

Susan Mizruchi, author of
Publisher’s Weekly

“…vivifies the singular successes and tragedies of a memorable clan and should inspire readers to seek out their own family stories.”

Louis Menand, author of The Metaphysical Club
“Like Andre Aciman’s Out of Egypt and Rich Cohen’s Sweet and Low, Jacob’s Cane is a history of a Jewish family that is so much more—an imaginative recreation of two vanished worlds, Latvia and Baltimore from the 1880s to the 1940s; a natural, economic, and cultural history of tobacco, the product from which some of this family’s fortune was made; and a moving personal quest. And it’s a wonderful piece of writing.”

Edward Serotta, Director of, a Jewish historical institute; author of Out of the Shadows, Survival in Sarajevo and Jews, Germany, Memory
“In this poignant and wise study, New recreates that lost world for us, rebuilding it through memories, stories and archives, and presenting it through the prism of a single family.”

Stephen J. Whitfield, Professor of American Studies, Brandeis University; author of
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