The House of Twenty Thousand Books | Mechanics' Institute

You are here

The House of Twenty Thousand Books
Author Sasha Abramsky in conversation with writer David Biale

Book cover of The House of Twenty Thousand Books

This is the story of Chimen Abramsky, an extraordinary polymath and bibliophile who amassed a vast collection of socialist literature and Jewish history. For more than fifty years Chimen and his wife, Miriam, hosted epic gatherings in their house of books that brought together many of the age’s greatest thinkers in London.

Journalist Sasha Abramsky re-creates a lost world, bringing to life the people, the books, and the ideas that filled his grandparents’ house in London, from salons that included Eric Hobsbawm and Isaiah Berlin to the books that populated every corner including The Communist Manifesto with Marx’s handwritten notes, William Morris’s manuscripts and woodcuts, an early sixteenth-century Bomberg Bible, and a first edition of Descartes’s Meditations. The House of Twenty Thousand Books is a wondrous journey through our times, from the vanished worlds of Eastern Europe, through world wars, to the cacophonous politics of modernity.

"Sasha Abramsky has combined four kinds of history - familial, political, Jewish, and literary - into one brilliant and compelling book. With him as an erudite and sensitive guide, any reader will be grateful for the opportunity to be immersed into the house of twenty thousand books." – Professor Samuel Freedman, Columbia University's School of Journalism

"The House of Twenty Thousand Books" is an entertaining and passionate mix of genealogy, bibliomania and intellectual history and is a must read for those of us living with books. —Michael Lieberman,

This is a fierce and beautiful book. It burns with a passion for ideas, the value of history, the need for argument. As a memoir of a grandfather it is sui generis. I loved it. —Edmund de Waal, author of

Sasha Abramsky was born in England, grew up in London, and attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied politics, philosophy, and economics. Abramsky is a journalist and author whose work has appeared in The Nation, The American Prospect, The New Yorker online, and many other publications. His most recent book, The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives, was listed by The New York Times as among the one hundred notable books of 2013. He is a Senior Fellow at Demos think tank, and teaches writing at University of California, Davis.

David Biale is Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History and Director of the Humanities Institute at the University of California, Davis. He was educated at UC Berkeley, the Hebrew University and UCLA. He is the author of five books, the most recent of which is Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought (Princeton University Press, 2011). He is also the editor of Cultures of the Jews: A New History. His books have won the National Jewish Book Award three times. Most recently, he won the UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement. He is currently the Project Director of an international team writing a History of Hasidism.

Meet the Author(s)

Members Free
Public $15
Register now ›
4th Floor Meeting Room
Pam Troy - 415-393-0116
Register now by using the form below or calling 415-393-0101.

Future Meet the Author(s)

Oct 29 - 5:30pm

What Can a Body Do?: How We Meet the Built World, on Zoom
Tech and the City: Author/designer Sara Hendren in conversation with disability activist Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, cosponsored by Gray Area and Goethe-Institut SF

Nov 10 - 6:00pm

One Hundred Years of Exile: A Romanov's Search for Her Father's Russia
A Virtual Talk with Tania Romanov

Nov 12 - 5:30pm

UNFORGETTING: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution on Zoom
Journalist Roberto Lovato reflects on his multifaceted life in this compelling memoir.

Nov 17 - 6:00pm

And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple from High School to Jonestown
A Virtual Talk with their San Francisco teacher, Judy Bebelaar

Nov 19 - 1:30pm

Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague, on Zoom
author Maggie O'Farrell in conversation with Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, cosponsored by Cal Shakes