Religious thinkers and lay readers have been grappling with the image of David ever since biblical times. Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky approaches Israel's greatest king with respect but not idolatry, dismissing the simplistic view of him as a callow shepherd who slew Goliath. With graceful force, he presents this biblical patriarch as a complicated man capable of murder, adultery, and other crimes. The breadth of Pinsky's learning enables him to relate the issues of David's life to Greek literature, Talmudic thought, and even the poetry of Robert Frost.
The Life of David grows increasingly strong as it moves from David's early years to the years of his reign. The evolution from disconnected legends like David's battle with Goliath to the fuller record of a sitting king allows Pinsky to move from the waters of speculation to the solid ground of interpretation. Pinsky's reading of David's mystifyingly disastrous attempt to take a census as the embodiment of everything threatening about his revolutionary transformation of the Jewish people "from a masked, uncataloged, exclusionary, taboo-ridden culture of tribes to a visible, enumerated, inclusive civilization," is a tour de force of historical imagining.
The New York Times
Emphasizing biographies of Jewish luminaries but also including books on Jewish themes, the new Jewish Encounters series aims to satisfy the interest in popular and intelligent books on Jewish subjects. The inaugural book in this commendable venture is a well-executed biography of David, written by Pinsky, former poet laureate of the United States. His poetic language is singularly appropriate for recounting the life of the king who is traditionally accepted as the author of the poetic psalms, some of which are included in the narrative. Pinsky's broad scope is reflected in his references to Greek literature, Shakespeare, Dante, Simone Weil, Talmudists and Robert Frost, among others. He acknowledges his indebtedness to Robert Alter, whose definitive book The David Story appeared in 1999, but fails to mention recent biographies by Steven McKenzie, Baruch Halpern and Gary Greenberg. His primary sources are the actual biblical texts that recount David's life. Pinsky dispels the conventional image of David as a simple shepherd who slew Goliath and became Israel's greatest king, depicting him realistically with all his failings as an adulterer, assassin and predator. Pinsky also portrays David's stellar achievements, presenting him as a complex character who deserves to be seen in shades of gray. (Sept. 20) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
David-ancient, poet, king, and warrior-is one of the most beloved and intriguing figures of the Old Testament. Both his fortes and his foibles reveal his humanity and devotion to God. Those with even a cursory familiarity with the Old Testament or vague Sunday School recollections may recall the stories of David and Bathsheba, David and Saul, David and Jonathan, and David and Absalom. Former poet laureate Pinsky (creative writing, Boston Univ.; Jersey Rain) fills in all the gaps as he draws on the Psalms as well as commentaries to reweave a portrait of David into a captivating narrative. This book will appeal to theists and most People of the Book (whether they adhere to Judaism, Christianity, or Islam), as might other installments of Schocken and Nextbook's new "Jewish Encounters" series, including Maimonides, Baruch Spinoza, and Barney Ross. Those desiring remedial education in Sacred Scriptures may find this literary approach and character study refreshing and accessible. An excellent contribution to the genre of religious biography, The Life of David is recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-C. Brian Smith, Arlington Heights Memorial Lib., IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
"Episode by episode, Pinsky braids narrative together with literary interpretation and psychological conjecture, drawing out patterns of correspondence, filling gaps in the record with acutely engaged speculation. Bypassing the accretions of thirty centuries of piety and veneration, peering behind the Bible's spare record of action and speech, Pinsky seeks to discern the feelings and intentions of the living person from whom the myth of David sprang."
--William Deresiewicz, The New York Times Book Review
"A tour de force of literary imagination, strengthened with the author's wisdom and compassion. A truly amazing book."
--Ha Jin, author of Waiting
"A note-perfect performance, with all the generosity, understatement, and burnished eloquence familiar to readers of Pinsky's poems, translations, and essays. Only a true poet would be fit to tackle a subject of such centrality and deep fascination. Pinsky guides us through David's art and life in a luminous, moving, and compulsively readable narrative,"
--Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America
"Pinsky's unique blend of imagination, intellect, and narrative cunning has enabled him to conjure an unforgettable portrait. He has at once unraveled and created a figure of mythic power. A brilliant achievement."
--Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare