three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
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missing imageDeborah E. Lipstadt teaches Jewish studies at Emory University. Her previous books include Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1993) and History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving (2005).

The Topic: Adolf Eichmann, one of the key organizers of the Holocaust, evaded capture at the end of World War II and fled to Argentina under a false name. In 1960, Israeli agents abducted Eichmann and brought him to stand trial in their country for crimes against humanity. The trial was a key moment in the history of human rights, as well as the history of the Holocaust, since many non-Jews were not truly aware of the extent of the genocide until news from the trial spread. However, the trial's place in history has largely been dominated by the writings of Hannah Arendt, who covered the proceedings for the New Yorker (the essay that resulted included the famous phrase "the banality of evil.") Though not merely a refutation of Arendt, Lipstadt's book aims to provide a fuller, scholarly account of the trial and its consequences.
Schocken. 272 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780805242607

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Lipstadt has done a great service by untethering the trial from Arendt's polarizing presence, recovering the event as a gripping legal drama, as well as a hinge moment in Israel's history and in the world's delayed awakening to the magnitude of the Holocaust. ... After recounting the trial so vividly, Lipstadt recounts the aftermath--a discussion that inevitably centers on Arendt. Her conclusions about ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem' are rendered calmly and with devastating fairness." Franklin Foer

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"In The Eichmann Trial, Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University, presents a thoughtfully researched and clearly written account of the courtroom proceedings and of the debates spurred by the trial." David Pryce-Jones

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"The Eichmann Trial disappoints. Its footnotes betray a careful review of the Eichmann trial transcript, but no use of previously unpublished evidence. ... Lipstadt's chief conclusion--that it was the ‘hearing' afforded the survivors, not the ‘telling' of their stories, that was ‘entirely new' about the Eichmann trial, and its ‘most significant legacy'--is not arrestingly novel." James Rosen

Critical Summary

Given the influence of Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem," most reviewers considered Lipstadt's work in opposition to the famous essay. It is fair to say that all were surprised at the relative incompleteness of Arendt's account in light of the new book; apparently the journalist was not even present for the entire trial. So all reviewers appreciated Lipstadt's more complete telling of the story. However, they disagreed on whether The Eichmann Trial accomplishes much more than completeness, with at least one reviewer saying that Lipstadt's conclusions, while valid, are not particularly new. The book is a solid effort, moving beyond contemporary journalism and capturing the trial in its fullness for the historical record.