“Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity” by Jose Esteban Munoz— A Defining Work

Munoz, Jose Esteban. “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity”, (Sexual Cultures), NYU Press, reprint, 2009, 2019.

A Defining Work

Amos Lassen

“Cruising Utopia” as first published in  2009 and insisted that ‘queerness must be reimagined as a futurity-bound phenomenon, an insistence on the potentiality of another world that would crack open the pragmatic present.” We saw this and, in fact, still see this as part manifesto, part love-letter to the past and the future. José Esteban Muñoz argues that the here and now is not enough and issued an urgent call for the revivification of the queer political imagination.

This new edition includes two essays that extend and expand the project of “Cruising Utopia”, as well as a new foreword by the current editors of Sexual Cultures, the book series  that writer Munoz co-founded with Ann Pellegrini 20 years ago. This 10th anniversary edition celebrates the lasting impact that  the book has had on the decade of queer of color critique that followed and it introduces a new generation of readers to a future not yet upon us. 

We are all aware that The LGBT agenda for too long has been dominated by pragmatic issues like same-sex marriage and gays in the military. It has been stifled by a myopic focus on the present, which is both short-sighted and assimilationist.

“Cruising Utopia” is here to help  break the present stagnancy by cruising ahead. José Esteban Muñoz draws on the work of Ernst Bloch to recall the queer past for guidance in presaging its future. He also looks at the work of seminal artists and writers such as Andy Warhol, LeRoi Jones, Frank O’Hara, Ray Johnson, Fred Herko, Samuel Delany, and Elizabeth Bishop and contemporary performance and visual artists like Dynasty Handbag, My Barbarian, Luke Dowd, Tony Just, and Kevin McCarty in order to decode and decipher the anticipatory illumination of art and its ability to open windows to the future.

This is a startling repudiation of what the LGBT movement has held dear with Munoz contending that queerness is instead a futurity bound phenomenon, a “not yet here” that critically engages pragmatic presentism. This is a fascinating study of identity and queerness that asks us to look to the future while ignoring the present. We gain “an archive of queer aesthetic practices from the present and the recent past.”

Munoz sees “gay liberation’s activist past and pragmatic present are merely prologue to a queer cultural future” that is a “critical condemnation of the political status quo.” He becomes a radical gay aesthetic through the prisms of literature, photography and performance and dismisses commonplace concerns like same-sex marriage as desires for ‘mere inclusion’ in a ‘corrupt’ mainstream.

Muñoz’s “critical refusal of queer pragmatism and his commitment to the utopian force of the radical attempt—the radical aesthetic, erotic, and philosophical experiment—is indispensable in an historical moment characterized by political surrender and intellectual timidity passing itself off as boldness.”

“Gender Identity: Beyond Pronouns and Bathrooms” by Maria Cook and illustrated by Alexis Cornell— For the Young

 

Cook, Maria. “Gender Identity: Beyond Pronouns and Bathrooms”, illustrated by Alexis Cornell, (Inquire & Investigate), Nomad Press,  2019.

For the Young

Amos Lassen

It is so good that now there are books for everyone. I love that gender identity is being taken seriously enough to be talked about with the young. “Gender Identity” is an “informative and project-filled book for middle graders to explore the meaning and history behind LGBTQ rights movements, including biographies of key figures in gender and gay/lesbian history, the context behind today’s transgender “bathroom wars” and dozens of activities and research ideas for perspectives and further learning.”

Many of us are finally dealing with thinking about gender as being a range instead of being simply male or female. In this new book,  middle school readers learn about the cultural significance of gender identity in the United States and around the world.  The book has been written with editors trained in the sensitivities of today’s gender discussions and is filled with interesting facts, primary sources, a range of text features, and more to engage readers. 

Some of the highlights include: 

  • Introductions to concepts crucial to understanding the basics of gender identity, including how gender identity differs from physical sex and sexual orientation, the importance of gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns, and more
  • Short biographies of gender activists and other important public figures throughout the text, filled with personal stories to help readers form social-emotional connections to the subject – includingRenee Richards,Chaz Bono, and gender rights pioneers Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, plus early transgender individuals including Lili Elbe and Christine Jorgensen.
  • In-depth information on famous gay/lesbian rights protests and movements, detailing the cultural and legal struggles for gay rights and gender acceptance, from the Compton Cafeteria riots to the Stonewall Riots to the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and more.

Sidebars throughout this book show how books and popular TV shows and movies helped expand gay/lesbian awareness and rights, from the early 1970s shows to the contemporary shows.

Projects and activities encourage teens to form their own, well-informed opinions on the many facets of gender perspectives and issues.

Gender Identity is part of a set of four books called Inquire & Investigate Social Issues of the Twenty-First Century, which explores the social challenges that have faced our world in the past and that continue to drive us to do better in the future. Other titles in this set are “Feminism”, “Immigration Nation”, and “Race Relations”.

About the series and Nomad Press:

Nomad Press books in the Inquire & Investigate series integrate content with participation, encouraging readers to engage in student-directed learning as opposed to teacher-guided instruction. This student-centered approach provides readers with the tools they need to become inquiry-based learners. Combining content with inquiry-based projects stimulates learning and makes it active and alive. As informational texts, our books provide key ideas and details from which readers can make their own inferences. Nomad’s unique approach simultaneously grounds kids in factual knowledge while allowing them the space to be curious, creative, and critical thinkers. 

All books are leveled for Guided Reading level and Lexile and meet Common Core State Standards and National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. All titles are available in paperback, hardcover, and ebook formats

Publishers Weekly
“This addition to the Inquire & Investigate series provides an interactive exploration of gender identity, gendered societal expectations, and LGBTQ rights. Sections explore gender expression in media and place changing views within the broader context of social history. They also name significant events, figures, and legislation pivotal to the LGBTQ movement from the 1930s onward. Cornell’s comic panels feature characters expressing affirming perspectives on gender identity, while Cook provides vocabulary relating to expression, questions for readers to consider, and suggestions for further investigation. A thought-provoking resource.”

From the foreword by: Christine Hallquist, first openly transgender major party gubernatorial nominee in the United States

“Maria Cook has done a brilliant job of capturing the important moments and the key leaders in the transgender movement, as well as providing an understanding of the nuance of language and the issues. For anyone who is transgender, who knows someone who is transgender, or simply wants to learn about the transgender movement, this is the book for you.”

“Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940” by George Chauncey— A Classic Reprinted

Chauncey, George. “Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940”, Basic Books, 1994, Reprint 2019.

A Classic Reprinted

Amos Lassen

University of Chicago historian George Chauncey re-creates the prototypical pre-WW II gay community in New York City, which participated actively in the city’s social and cultural life, until restrictive legislation forced it underground. This is not the story we usually hear about New York City. Chauncey takes us on a tour of gay enclaves ranging from the Bowery’s “degenerate resorts,” where effeminate “fairies” openly mingled with working-class heterosexuals, to Harlem’s celebrated drag balls and Broadway’s (plus publishing row’s) “pansy craze.” Chauncey has deftly charted racial and class-divided clusters within the gay community itself  and this has deepened shifting heterosexual attitudes toward gays, as well as transitions in their own self-perceptions.

Even those who do not enjoy reading history will love this book. Chauncey  brilliantly maps out the complex gay world of turn-of-the-century New York City. This book’s new publication is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn, which is often hailed as the birth of the modern gay and lesbian movement. Yet Chauncey convincingly puts Stonewall in perspective: It hardly marked the beginning of urban gay pride or nightlife. We learn,  as has long been assumed, that many gay male New Yorkers thrived in close, often proud communities decades before the famous riots. Chauncey argues that before WW II the boundaries between homosexual and heterosexual behavior were far looser than they were later, particularly among working-class men. Gay New York reconstructs prewar gay life through police records, newspapers, oral histories, the papers of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, diaries, medical records, and other fascinating primary texts. The material is rich and much of it offers revelations about prewar social mores. New York City was a world of permeable sexual boundaries. Chauncey is a knowledgeable tour guide who leads us through bars, speakeasies, parks, bathhouses, streets, rooming houses, and cafeterias. He provides ample historical context and intriguing interpretive possibilities. He explores not only the mainstream culture’s influence on gay urban life, but vice versa, and argues that homosexuality and heterosexuality are historically specific categories that evolved in the beginning of this century and shaped each other. Chauncey has made a wonderful contribution not only to gay history, but to the study of urban life, class, gender–and heterosexuality.

So many people think gay history, with a few minor exceptions, began only when the Stonewall Riots occurred in 1969, but we know that this is far from the case. George Chauncey sets out to disprove three myths: the myth of invisibility, the myth of isolation, and the myth of internalization.

The myth of invisibility says that the gay world prior to Stonewall was invisible and largely inaccessible. We see here that this was not the case as a vibrant culture around homosexuality was visible throughout the period he studied. He notes that even though his study is limited to New York City, similar advances were occurring in other major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. The myth of isolation is similar in that it holds there was no gay culture to speak of, no gay-friendly places to hang out, no places where gay business was welcomed. Chauncey demolishes this myth as handily as he demolishes the myth of invisibility.
The myth of internalization holds that the gay and lesbian populations had internalized the messages of hate and shame promulgated by dominant culture, and therefore no move was made to establish a specifically gay culture. Gay people were subject to constant police harassment, but they nevertheless proudly, even exuberantly expressed their sexuality.

Although New York City is the focus of the book, the text is far more wide-ranging. New York is the right place for centering this story as it pertains to the America because it was not until the 1960s that San Francisco came to be known as a gay Mecca. Even today New York is a leading destination for those who wish to come out of the closet but are unable to do so in their provincial home towns. Nevertheless, New York is not the entire story, and Chauncey brings in other details as he feels they are needed. The book is full of facts and statistics, and this attention to detail sometimes makes the book a little dry. Yet it is very interesting and fascinating reading and fills in important gaps about understanding of gay history and corrects commonly held misconceptions.

Chauncey argues “that gay life in New York was less tolerated, less visible to outsiders, and more rigidly segregated in the second third of the century than the first, and that the very severity of the postwar reaction has tended to blind us to the relative tolerance of the prewar years.” He goes on and states “that in important respects the hetero-homosexual binarism, the sexual regime now hegemonic in American culture, is a stunningly recent creation.” Chauncey maps both the physical and social topography of gay culture in New York City and argues “that the construction of male homosexual identities can be understood only in the context of the broader social organization and representation of gender, that relations among men were construed in gendered terms, and that the policing of gay men was part of a more general policing of the gender order.”

“CONFESSIONS OF A GAY POET”— Meet Wade Radford

“Confessions of a Gay Poet”

Meet Wade Radford

Amos Lassen

Several years ago I met Wade Radford on line and learned that he was a young actor and poet. I reviewed some of his work and was impressed but then he disappeared. His reemergence came with this film, “Confessions of a Gay Poet”, a documentary about his life and work as a poet, underground filmmaker and actor. Radford became known for his controversial role in “Twink” as well as other film gay film credits like “Sex Lies and Depravity”, “1 Last Chance at Paradise” and the “Boys Behind Bars” series. He is never afraid to push the envelope just a little more than others. We go behind the scenes with Wade and learn that he has been releasing poetry anthologies and spoken word recordings for the last eight years. This film explores the themes of Wade’s work and introduces the audience to this complex and candid individual. Up until now Radford has hidden behind the mask of his work; but those days are over and he is now out to the world. He is now preparing for his latest anthology release “Disequilibrium” and will be hitting the open road in the hope that he can finally close some of the chapters of love, heartbreak and disillusions that have haunted his most recent works.

His film is an exploration of his life’s journey of love and loss, triumph and tragedy and it is very personal, inspiring and moving. This is a candid, poetic exposé into a complex soul who is an “LGBT Voice, Loud, Proud and Uncensored.”

Those who know Wade Radford known him for his controversial roles in his films. I personally find him delightful and a breath of fresh air.

“ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU CHOU”— A JAPANESE COMING-OF-AGE STORY

 


“ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU CHOU”

A JAPANESE COMING-OF-AGE STORY

Amos Lassen

Yuichi (Hayato Ichihara) is in the 8th grade and worships Lily Chou-Chou, a Björk-like singer whose lush and transcendent music gives him the perfect escape from his brutal surroundings. Yuichi is the moderator of an online chat room dedicated to his pop idol and he also finds solace there. However, he is aware of  his real life nightmare of teenage prostitution, crime and bullying and he hopes that Lily be enough to save him from isolation and despair.

The “kids of today” are at the center of “All About Lilly Chou Chou” and these kids are violent, disaffected, alienated are obsessed with pop culture which has become a major theme in contemporary Japanese cinema. However, few imports have addressed it with the heartbreaking insight of director Shunji Iwai’s “All About Lily Chou-Chou” which has been adapted from Iwai’s Internet novel, an interactive project shaped partly by reader response. The film mimics the aimless, unformed rhythms of adolescent life so precisely and it can be just as off-putting as the average 15-year-old. As the film drifts through time and space so do we. The film comes to us in an elliptical style that requires patience and a willingness to be carried along by its beautiful and dreamy lyricism. More than anything, it captures the “feeling” of being a teenager, specifically one who might be hung up in Lily Chou-Chou, a mysterious singer whose ethereal songs attract a cultish following on the Internet. First seen crouching in an idyllic rice field with Lily’s new album piping through his Discman, we meet Hayato Ichihara who treats her music like the soundtrack to his sad life, taking refuge from the brutal cliques and bullying of junior high school. He is a passive character with few real friends. He hosts a web site, “Lilyphilia” web site where he and other “Lilyholics” meet in anonymous chat-rooms to make connections that are seemingly impossible in person.

Two years earlier, 13-year-old Ichihara took pity on a fellow outcast, the scholarly Shûgo Oshinari, and the two spent their summer vacation in Okinawa, where his new friend nearly drowned. When they returned, Oshinari turned the tables on the school bullies and became the school’s most fearsome gang leader, terrorizing his former tormentors and pimping a quiet girl (Yû Aoi) to older businessmen. The film drifts along without the grounding force of a more purposeful story or hero, and instead uses the prospect that its evocative impressions of adolescent life will carry the day. Iwai’s arty self-consciousness takes some getting used to, but as the film moves toward a devastating third act, it seem becomes the sad, painful remove that governs its young characters’ lives. The kids treat each other with shocking viciousness (and, in Ichihara’s case, even more shocking apathy).  Iwai suggests that the real tragedy is that they’re all in the same boat, living with their common angst. The film looks at their minds.

The film is enigmatic, oblique and meandering and interpreted by its critics who admit that there’s no more to the movie than you thought there was. In this way the movie is maddening. Conveying a simple message in a visual style that is willfully overwrought.

Lily Chou-Chou is a Japanese pop idol who must be real, since she appears in concert, but who we never see. Ironically, then, one of her songs consists of repetitions of “I see you and you see me.” She is idolized by Yuichi (Ichihara) who has a crush on the real-life Yoko (Ayumi Ito), a gifted pianist. Both Yuichi and Yoko are the targets of cliques of school bullies.

For a while, Yuichi has a friend, Hoshino (Shugo Oshinari), a fellow student who turns into a sadist and forces Yuichi to steal money and give it to him. Hoshino has another sideline: He pimps Shiori (Yu Aoi) to prostitute herself with businessmen and makes her give him most of the money. Shiori has a secret crush on Yuichi but is under Hoshino’s control and pathetically confides on the telephone, “Lately, when I think of men I think of customers.” The elements are in place for a powerful story of alienated Japanese teenagers, but writer-director, Iwai  cannot bring himself to make the story accessible to ordinary audiences. He and his cinematographer, Noboru Shinoda, are in love with their lightweight digital camera, and give us jerky hand-held out-of-focus shots.

Some sequences are so incomprehensible they play as complete abstractions. This is a film that few reasonable ticket-buyers will have the patience to endure. It will be appreciated by a handful of highly evolved film watchers who can generate a simultaneous analysis in their minds, but I wonder what is the point, really, in making a film that is unappealing to most moviegoers? The world that comes to the surface of “All About Lily Chou-Chou” is a frightening one of students who drift without values or interests, devoting all the passion of their young lives to creatures who may exist only on the Internet. Shiori has sex with strangers for pay but is too shy to tell Yuichi she likes him. Yuichi’s life has been turned into hell by Hoshino, who seems to act not so much out of hatred as boredom. The film’s teachers and adults care but are hopelessly misinformed about what is really going on.

Iwai has gone to a great deal of trouble to obscure his film. I really enjoyed the film’s look and the many ideas in it.

BONUS FEATURES 

·       Making-of featurette

·       New essay by Deputy Director of the NY Asian Film Festival, Stephen Cremin with prologue by Shunji Iwai

“A Mortuary of Books: The Rescue of Jewish Culture after the Holocaust” by Elizabeth Gallas and translated by Alex Skinner— Rescuing Jewish Cultural Treasures

Gallas, Elizabeth. “A Mortuary of Books: The Rescue of Jewish Culture after the Holocaust”, translated by Alex Skinner, (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History), NYU Press,  2019.

Rescuing Jewish Cultural Treasures

Amos Lassen

Alex Skinner has beautifully translated Elizabeth Gallas’ German study of the efforts of scholars and activists to rescue Jewish cultural treasures after the Holocaust.

 In March 1946 the American Military Government for Germany established the Offenbach Archival Depot near Frankfurt as a place to store, identify, and restore the tremendous quantities of Nazi-looted books, archival material, and ritual objects that Army members had found hidden in many German caches. These objects of lootings and theft  bore testimony to the cultural genocide that was part of the Nazis’ systematic acts of mass murder. The depot built a short-lived “mortuary of books with over three million books of Jewish origin coming from nineteen different European countries, all were awaiting restitution. 

This is the miraculous story of the many Jewish organizations and individuals who, after the war, sought to recover this looted cultural property and return the millions of treasured objects to their rightful owners. Some of the most outstanding Jewish intellectuals of the twentieth century, including Dawidowicz, Hannah Arendt, Salo W. Baron, and Gershom Scholem, were involved in this effort. This eventually led to the creation of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc., an international body that acted as the Jewish trustee for heirless property in the American Zone and transferred hundreds of thousands of objects from the Depot to the new centers of Jewish life after the Holocaust. 

 These individuals were committed to the restitution of cultural property revealed the importance of cultural objects as symbols of the enduring legacy of those who could not be saved. It also fostered Jewish culture and scholarly life in the postwar world.

Gallas writes with great detail after using archival sources, memoirs, correspondence, and histories to get the information needed and presents us with “a comprehensive history of efforts to recover, identify, and restore artifacts of Jewish culture and scholarship.”

Four LGBTQ Classic Movies Coming to Blu-ray For The First Time From Shout! Factory— In Time for Pride

Four LGBTQ Classic Movies Coming to Blu-ray For The First Time From Shout! Factory

In Time for Pride

“Shout! Factory, the American home video company, will release the four gay favorites in high definition for the first time, with new bonus features included in each Blu-ray disc package.

Releasing on 28 May:

“TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING”

The 1995 drag comedy starring Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo on a cross-country road trip. New extras include a making-of documentary. (May 28) 

“BOOM!”

The 1968 camp classic starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as sparring lovers. Screenplay by Tennessee Williams which he adapted from his stage play “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore”. Elizabeth Taylor is at her most beautiful. New extras include audio commentary by filmmaker John Waters, who lists Boom! as one of his favorite movies. Also a making-of documentary with film critic Alonso Duralde. (May 28)

“JEFFREY”

The 1995 gay romantic comedy starring Steven Weber and Michael T. Weiss.  Screenplay by Paul Rudnick, based on his play of the same name. New extras include audio commentary by Weber and film critic Alonso Duralde, plus interviews with Weber and producer Mark Balsam. June 11)

“CANT STOP THE MUSIC”

 The1980 disco classic starring Steve Guttenberg and a young Bruce Jenner (long before transitioning to Caitlyn), plus The Village People, in a highly fictionalized telling of how that band was formed. New extras include an interview with Randy Jones of the Village People. Plus audio commentary from writer/producer Allan Carr and comedy writer Bruce Vilanch. (June 11)

From  Shout! Factory:

‘At Shout, we celebrate and champion the universal movement for equality, and drive creative expression and diversity in independent storytelling,’ said Jeff Nelson, senior director of marketing at Shout! Factory, in a statement.

‘We’re thrilled to bring these fun films back into the market! There’s something for everyone: Outrageous camp, disco-pumped extravaganzas and heartfelt stories of love and acceptance.

‘Each movie still strikes a chord of with audiences who remember them, and we hope our upgraded releases will bring in new generations of viewers as well.’

“DUDE FOR A DAY”— A Workshop

“DUDE FOR A DAY”

A Workshop

Amos Lassen

We are all aware of the attention on gender identity these days. It seems more people are now focusing inwards and looking at themselves on a scale and in a manner that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.  One of the options of doing this are workshops like the one we see here and that is  run by Tracey Erin Smith, the director of Soulo Theater in Toronto.  Smith explains that her one day course “Dude For A Day” is not about transitioning but for the women participating to find an energy that may have been latent and dormant and allowing it to come out and make a fuller person.

It is a full day of immersive experiences and in the film we see the diverse group of women start by sharing their personal stories and some of their hopes and dreams  and as the day unfolds Smith has them dressing and acting in drag to bring out their inner ‘man’ so they can for once experience a masculine stance on life.

This is both intriguing and enlightening and although this may not be the way for everyone questioning gender, it certainly seems to suit this particular group that we see here.

“Never Ever”— Haunting

“NEVER EVER”

Haunting

Amos Lassen

Based on Don DeLillo’s acclaimed novella “The Body Artist” is the story of a self-centered filmmaker (Mathieu Amalric) who, while attending a museum retrospective of his work, wanders into an adjoining gallery and is mesmerized by Laura, a beautiful young performance artist (Julia Roy). 

They fall madly in love and begin a wild and delirious affair. They live together in Rey’s secluded seaside estate and they believe they have found eternal bliss. Months later, Rey dies in a tragic accident and Laura is left alone in the house by herself… or is she?

 

The film’s emphasis is on Rey’s mundane activities (long motorcycle rides, etc.)  while Laura adjusts to life at Rey’s remote estate. We sense that there is  some kind of mystery in Laura’s increasingly oddball behavior and while it eventually does become clear exactly what’s happening (but not why it’s happening), the film remains slow and unrealistic.

Laura devoted herself to the role of muse son when Rey is killed she finds herself alone in a space steeped in absence and the mysteries that have always surrounded him.

The second half of the film is about Laura’s grief, and director Benoît Jacquot sets up a role play between the living woman, the dead man and their ghosts, using the conventions of genre cinema to maintain the tension as this strange tenant finds herself in a haunted house. Jacquot sets up a role play between the living woman, the dead man and their ghosts, making good use of the conventions of genre cinema to maintain the tension as this strange tenant finds herself in a haunted house along with the noise and untidiness in the bedroom of the downstairs flat, the secrets of Rey’s now-empty office, the wind, the ravens, the computer image of traffic used as a sleeping aid as the camera moves between forward and reverse shots that blur the boundaries between the identities of these spectral characters. We are left with the feeling that the promises of the film’s mysterious ambience have not quite been fulfilled.

 

“Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth” by Jodi Magness— A New Look at an Old Story

Magness, Jodi. “Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

A New Look at an Old Story

Amos Lassen

It seems that Masada has been part of my life since I was a teenager. Growing up in Young Judaea, a Jewish and Zionist youth group, I both studied about and learned from Masada. Not only as she great material to build stories , she had her own very special story that we would listened to whenever the chance came. It was never important whether it was true or not because the story was so beautiful,  During those years Yigal Yadin published his famous book about his famous findings at the Masada site and it seemed to be the definitive word until that beautiful new study from Jodi Magness came along. When her book came out recently, I took time to be alone with it for a while and things I had not thought about in many 60 years came back to me. I was determined to read every fascinating word of the text and to examine the photographs for as long as I was able to do so.

Jodi Magness brings us a new account of Masada and the story of the last stand of a group of Jewish rebels who held out against the Roman Empire. It was two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children (the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple) are said to have taken their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This took place on top of Masada which was a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. This powerful story of Jewish resistance became a symbol to the new nation of Israel beginning in 1948 with the physical creation of the state. (The story had been around long before that but Israel needed a heroic saga and so this became just that”. The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s, and today the site draws visitors from around the world. Only Josephus recorded the history of the mass suicide and because it is the only record we have, it is not totally accepted as fact. Some scholars question if the event ever took place).

Magness has excavated at Masada and here she explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story. Incorporating the latest findings, she brings together literary and historical sources to show us what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death. There are wonderful illustrations and photographs that add to the story that still keeps us fascinated.

The story goes like this, “In 74 CE, 967 Jews on top of the rock fortress of Masada purportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to a Roman army. Their defiant self-sacrifice became a modern, nationalist rallying cry: ‘Masada shall not fall again!’”. Magness, who directed excavations of the Roman siege works at Masada and is one of the preeminent archaeologists of the ancient Mediterranean world, and her book “Masada” describes its physical setting and development, the history of the site’s excavation, the story of the Roman siege, and the creation of Masada’s hotly contested modern myth. It is both  scholarly and accessible to all.

Writer Magness takes us into the story of the fall of Masada, elaborating on the dramatic tale as told by Josephus. She also shares the fascinating adventures and misadventures of the region’s explorers, from the nineteenth century through the 1960s. She describes the excavations that have taken place there including her own making the story personal.
Today Masada is the foremost archaeological site in Israel and is  the most spectacular and one of the most visited. The Israeli army inducts soldiers of special companies of the Israel Defense Forces on top of Masada  and they are reminded of the 967 who gave their lives for what they believed. Magness has done here what few archaeologists could have pulled off and she does so with  clarity and accessibility.