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The Jewish Century
Synopses & Reviews
"Yuri Slezkine has written an extraordinary book with continual surprises. A landmark work."--Ronald Suny, University of Chicago
"I can think of few works that match the conceptual range, polemical sharpness, and sheer élan of The Jewish Century. An extraordinary book: analytically acute, lyrical, witty, and disturbing all at once."--Benjamin Nathans, author of Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter with Late Imperial Russia
"Yuri Slezkine's book is at the same time very personal and very erudite. A blend of political and cultural history at its best, it is a splendid work, beautifully written. A true accomplishment by a master historian."--Jan T. Gross, author of Neighbors
"Once every few decades, a book forces a reevaluation of basic assumptions in a field. Yuri Slezkine's passionate and brilliant tour de force not only challenges received wisdom about Russian and Soviet Jews, but just as provocatively overturns the uniqueness that many ascribe to Jewish history altogether. The Jewish Century is a work sure to spark heated debate not only about the Jews, but also about what it means to be modern."--David Biale, editor, Cultures of the Jews: A New History
"The Jewish Century is an extraordinarily stimulating and ambitious piece of work that invites debate and controversy. Slezkine's account is subtle, beautifully written, and very moving; it combines humor, irony, and understated passion."--Tim McDaniel, author of The Agony of the Russian Idea (Princeton)
"This is a strong, well-documented, passionately argued, original, and bold essay on history, or the ideology of history, in what I called "a Jewish century" (see my Language in Time of Revolution). One wants to argue with the author on many pages of the manuscript, but it is such a powerful, sweeping statement that it must be left whole and intact, as a central position in future arguments on modernity, the twentieth century, and the history of the Jews."--Benjamin Harshav, Yale University
"The provocative argument that underlies this idiosyncratic, fascinating and at times marvelously infuriating study of the evolution of Jewish cultural and political sensibility is that the 20th century is the Jewish Age because 'modernization is about everyone becoming urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate.... Modernization, in other words, is about everyone becoming Jewish.' A professor of history at UC-Berkeley, Slezkine plays a delicate game here. Knowing that his grand statements are more metaphorical than supportable with historical fact, he maps out a new history of Jewish culture over the past 100 years in four radically diverse but cohesive chapters. In a history of Jewish group identity and function, Slezkine depicts Jews as a nomadic tribe that functions as a promoter of urban cultural and economic change. The book's last chapter ('Hodel's Choice') uses the image of the daughters of Sholem Aleichem's famous milkman Tevye to discuss the three great recent Jewish immigrations — to America in the 1890s, from the Pale of Settlement to the Russian cities after the revolution and to Palestine after the birth of Zionism. Through these migrations, Slezkine argues, the modernism of Jewish culture spread throughout the world. Nearly every page of Slezkine's exegesis presents fascinating arguments or facts — e.g., that 'secular American Jewish intellectuals felt compelled' to become more Jewish when they were allowed into traditional American institutions.While not strictly a traditional history, Slezkine's work is one of the most innovative and intellectually stimulating books in Jewish studies in years." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
?He is a gifted historian from Berkeley who has written a big, provocative and brilliant book?. David N. Myers, The Jewish Journal
?To come across a daring, original, sweeping work of history in this age of narrow specialization is not just a welcome event; it is almost a sensation.? Walter Laqueur, The Los Angeles Times
"Slezkine writes with irony and wit. His book is full of bold and sweeping statements and flashes of brilliance." Orlando Figes, The New York Review of Books
This masterwork of interpretative history begins with a bold declaration: The Modern Age is the Jewish Age--and we are all, to varying degrees, Jews.
The assertion is, of course, metaphorical. But it underscores Yuri Slezkine's provocative thesis. Not only have Jews adapted better than many other groups to living in the modern world, they have become the premiere symbol and standard of modern life everywhere.
Slezkine argues that the Jews were, in effect, among the world's first free agents. They traditionally belonged to a social and anthropological category known as "service nomads," an outsider group specializing in the delivery of goods and services. Their role, Slezkine argues, was part of a broader division of human labor between what he calls Mercurians-entrepreneurial minorities--and Apollonians--food-producing majorities.
Since the dawning of the Modern Age, Mercurians have taken center stage. In fact, Slezkine argues, modernity is all about Apollonians becoming Mercurians--urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible. Since no group has been more adept at Mercurianism than the Jews, he contends, these exemplary ancients are now model moderns.
The book concentrates on the drama of the Russian Jews, including émigrés and their offspring in America, Palestine, and the Soviet Union. But Slezkine has as much to say about the many faces of modernity--nationalism, socialism, capitalism, and liberalism--as he does about Jewry. Marxism and Freudianism, for example, sprang largely from the Jewish predicament, Slezkine notes, and both Soviet Bolshevism and American liberalism were affected in fundamental ways by the Jewish exodus from the Pale of Settlement.
Rich in its insight, sweeping in its chronology, and fearless in its analysis, this sure-to-be-controversial work is an important contribution not only to Jewish and Russian history but to the history of Europe and America as well.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: Mercury's Sandals: The Jews and Other Nomads 4
CHAPTER 2: Swann's Nose: The Jews and Other Moderns 40
CHAPTER 3: Babel's First Love: The Jews and the Russian Revolution 105
CHAPTER 4: Hodl's Choice: The Jews and Three Promised Lands 204
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