What are three books you love to teach to undergraduates?

Derek J. Penslar

University of Toronto

Amos Elon, The Pity of it All: A History of the Jews in Germany, 1743ā€“1933 (Picador, 2003)

Although heavily criticized by academic historians, this book's taut, novelistic prose and spot-on characterization of the German- Jewish elite engage students. Once "hooked," they are prepared for, and interested in, more serious scholarly work on the social history of German Jewry more broadly understood.

Albert Memmi, Pillar of Salt (Beacon, 1992 [1975])

To my surprise, this rather dated existentialist novel about the impossibility of Jewish assimilation appeals to students from many ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps it works so well because the University of Toronto's student body consists largely of the children of immigrants, striving to redefine themselves in their new Canadian environments.

Tom Segev, 1949: The First Israelis (Free Press, 1986)

One of the first fruits of the Israeli "New History," and still one of the best. The book's ironic tone and pithy narrative strike a responsive cord in students weary of propaganda and eager to understand Israel in all its complexity.