A Sterling Life

John Danz, Seattle Theatre Pioneer and a Grandson's Journey of Discovery

Non-Fiction - Biography
228 Pages
Reviewed on 05/06/2024
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Author Biography

At the age of fifty-five, my journey of discovery began. By 2015, I had successfully traced the majority of my ancestors back to the seventeenth century. I decided to undergo a DNA test fully aware that it wouldn't reveal anything new or surprising. However, the test results unveiled something unexpected - I was twenty-five percent Jewish. This revelation left me puzzled. After spending forty years researching my family history, I had no indication of Jewish ancestry. What happened next would have a profound and lasting impact on my life.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Nino Lobiladze for Readers' Favorite

A Sterling Life by Mark Hester is the biography of John Danz, a keen American entrepreneur born in Czarist Russia in 1877. John's birth name was Israel Danowsky. His Jewish parents, Leib and Jenni Danowsky, with their two sons, Israel and Chaim, left Russia, escaping the pogroms and oppression. They arrived in the United States in 1882 from Hamburg, Germany, through the Port of Swansea, Wales. The family members changed their names and took the surname Danz. They moved to Oregon after tending a farm in Kansas for a while. Young John worked as a newsboy and a messenger. He even helped on the farms and ranches. After working as a clerk and a porter at haberdasheries, John established his own business in Seattle at the beginning of the twentieth century. Step by step, John rose to prominence. A Nickelodeon theater arranged at one of his stores brought unexpected changes to his business empire. Mark Hester took a DNA test and learned that he had Jewish ancestors. He started researching to find the mysterious grandfather he knew nothing about.

A Sterling Life offers us a historically significant life account of an enterprising person who was always ready for new challenges. Mark Hester meticulously researched the facts of John Danz's life. The author also gives us an accurate historical setting, starting with John's childhood in Czarist Russia. I learned what the Pale of Settlement meant regarding the oppressed Jewish population of the Russian Empire, among other interesting and often shocking historical facts. Mark explains why John's family chose Seattle to settle in the US and how this city was connected to the gold mining in Canada and Alaska. I was absorbed while reading about John's fight against the unions and their strikes, which took around thirteen years. Mark created a puzzling and sometimes controversial portrait of a man who never feared changes or innovations but could be strict with his children. At the same time, the author shares his personal story of exploring his Jewish heritage. I liked the touching scene on a Parisian street, where Mark met a rabbi. I highly recommend A Sterling Life to fans of historical non-fiction, biographies, and drama.