President Nixon lamented in 1969 to his urban-affairs advisor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that there was a dearth of poetry in the White House and had the former professor draw up a list of books for him to read. Nixon soon became enthralled with the 1966 classic biography of Disraeli by Robert Blake. The book was made required reading for all White House staff.
David Cesarani’s new biography of Disraeli does not surpass Blake’s book. It focuses on the Jewish aspect of Benjamin Disraeli as part of the Jewish Lives series at Yale University Press.
Disraeli was born in London in 1804 of Italian-Jewish stock and lived among the Sephardic community of Portuguese and Spanish Jews. His father, Isaac, rarely attended Jewish services and arranged to have his children baptized Christian. “Isaac D’Israeli was typical of Sephardi Jews,” writes Cesarani, “cosmopolitan migrants who by the time they settled in London were already semidetached from the faith of their ancestors.” At age 12, Benjamin entered the Church of England.
Isaac Disraeli wanted to be a poet and not a businessman. He was a friend of John Murray, the Tory publisher and founder of The Quarterly Review. In two books published by Murray on James I and Charles I, Isaac defended the Stuarts and challenged the Whig interpretation of history. In a wonderful...