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.
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Winner of the 2005 National Jewish Book Award, Ronald S. Lauder Award in Eastern European Studies, Jewish Book CouncilWinner of the 2005 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, American Association for the Advancement of Slavic StudiesWinner of the 2004 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Religion, Association of American Publishers
"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--vis the Jews but vis--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
Yuri Slezkine's The Jewish Century
defies standard categorization, and this makes it a masterly work of history."--Marc Dollinger, Journal of American History
"[T]his is a brilliant book--it is extremely well written. . . . Slezkine's book joins a very small number of first-rate studies of the modernization of the "Jews" seen through the lens of eastern rather than western history. . . . Buy the book; read the book; use the book in Russian history and Jewish culture classes."--Sander L. Gilman, Slavic Review
"The Jewish Century
revives, with intellectual sophistication and stylistic verve, an old perception of the Jew's centrality to modernity."--Hillel Halkin, Commentary
"Reading Yuri Slezkine's scholarly arguments . . . may make for difficult reading but it also provides intriguing ventures into highly original thinking."--Jewish Book World
"Yuri Slezkine's work. . . . is a serious scholarly study of East European Jewry in the modern age, but dressed up in an eccentric and nonconventional style. . . . [An] immensely entertaining and diputatious book. . . . It is a work which will simultaneously inform, irritate, and entertain any reader with an interest in Russian, the Soviet, or modern Jewish history."--John D. Klier, Russian Review
"This brilliant essay may significantly alter how we think about twentieth-century history. . . . The part that the Jews played in Soviet Russia, or, perhaps better, the part that Soviet Russia played in the cultural imagination of the Jews, lies at the heart of the book."--Angus Walker, Central Europe