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.
"One of the most innovative and intellectually stimulating books in Jewish studies in years. . . . [An] idiosyncratic, fascinating and at times marvelously infuriating study of the evolution of Jewish cultural and political sensibility in the 20th century. . . . Nearly every page of Slezkine's exegesis presents fascinating arguments or facts."--Publishers Weekly
"Jews are not unique, [Yuri Slezkine] maintains in his fascinating new study, and it is only European provincialism that makes them seem that way. . . . Slezkin''s interpretation of Jewish history . . . is wonderfully antiparochial not only vis-à-vis the Jews but vis-à-vis America, which, he reminds us, not everyone saw as a promised land and which large portions of the huddled masses struggled to avoid."--Daniel Lazare, The Nation
"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, Los Angeles Times
"If Osama Bin Laden ever reads this book, he will be spinning in his cave."--Gene Sosin, The New Leader
"For Slezkine, Jews, urban, mobile, literate, flexible, have been role models of adaptability in a changing modern landscape."--Joel Yanofsky, National Post
"Brilliant. . . . The Jewish Century is history on a majestic scale. . . . [It] is fresh, compelling and frequently startling. . . . The clarity of analysis is extraordinary, and the relatively simple conceptual tools Slezkine provides are unexpectedly powerful."--Noah Efron, Jerusalem Report
"This book is witty, sardonic and clever, written with zest and brilliant imagination and presents us with remarkable images of our recent past."--John Levi, Australian Jewish News
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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