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Capitalism and the Jews
Jerry Z. Muller

Paperback | 2011 | $22.95 | £18.95 | ISBN: 9780691153063
280 pp. | 4 1/2 x 7 1/2
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Jerry Z. Muller interview with
Jerry Z. Muller

The unique historical relationship between capitalism and the Jews is crucial to understanding modern European and Jewish history. But the subject has been addressed less often by mainstream historians than by anti-Semites or apologists. In this book Jerry Muller, a leading historian of capitalism, separates myth from reality to explain why the Jewish experience with capitalism has been so important and complex--and so ambivalent.

Drawing on economic, social, political, and intellectual history from medieval Europe through contemporary America and Israel, Capitalism and the Jews examines the ways in which thinking about capitalism and thinking about the Jews have gone hand in hand in European thought, and why anticapitalism and anti-Semitism have frequently been linked. The book explains why Jews have tended to be disproportionately successful in capitalist societies, but also why Jews have numbered among the fiercest anticapitalists and Communists. The book shows how the ancient idea that money was unproductive led from the stigmatization of usury and the Jews to the stigmatization of finance and, ultimately, in Marxism, the stigmatization of capitalism itself. Finally, the book traces how the traditional status of the Jews as a diasporic merchant minority both encouraged their economic success and made them particularly vulnerable to the ethnic nationalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Providing a fresh look at an important but frequently misunderstood subject, Capitalism and the Jews will interest anyone who wants to understand the Jewish role in the development of capitalism, the role of capitalism in the modern fate of the Jews, or the ways in which the story of capitalism and the Jews has affected the history of Europe and beyond, from the medieval period to our own.


"In his slim essay collection Capitalism and the Jews, Jerry Z. Muller presents a provocative and accessible survey of how Jewish culture and historical accident ripened Jews for commercial success and why that success has earned them so much misfortune. . . . While this book is ostensibly about 'the Jews,' Muller's most chilling insights are about their enemies, and the creative, almost supernatural, malleability of anti-Semitism itself. For centuries, poverty, paranoia and financial illiteracy have combined into a dangerous brew--one that has made economic virtuosity look suspiciously like social vice."--Catherine Rampell, New York Times Book Review

"In four fascinating essays, Muller sensitively examines how centuries of nomadism and diaspora have shaped Jewish financial life. . . . Muller backs up his bold assertion--that capitalism has been the most important force in shaping the fate of the Jews in the modern world--with elegance and care."--Publishers Weekly

"It's a subject rarely given its due in respectable circles. Yet an appreciation for market economics does run deep in Judaic tradition and helps explain the prominence of Jewish bankers, from Mayer Amschel Rothschild to Lloyd Blankfein. In concise prose free of academic jargon, Muller ticks off factors that gave Jews what he calls 'behavioral traits conducive to success in capitalist society.'"--Calev Ben-David, Bloomberg

"Muller, a noted historian, takes a fascinating look at how Jews have shaped capitalism and how capitalism has shaped the Jewish experience from medieval times to today."--Fareed Zakaria GPS

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Table of Contents:

INTRODUCTION: Thinking about Jews and Capitalism 1
CHAPTER ONE: The Long Shadow of Usury Capitalism and the Jews in Modern European Thought 15
CHAPTER TWO: The Jewish Response to Capitalism Milton Friedman's Paradox Reconsidered 72
CHAPTER THREE: Radical Anticapitalism The Jew as Communist 133
CHAPTER FOUR: The Economics of Nationalism and the Fate of the Jews in Twentieth-Century Europe 189
Acknowledgments 219
Notes 225
Index 255

This book has been translated into:

  • Portuguese (Brazil)

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Jerry Z. Muller:

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