The history of Jewish culture is as variegated as any civilization that has witnessed the dawn and survived the ruin of many an empire, including its own. Rather than offer an exhaustive catalogue of major events and leaders in this highly readable history of the Jewish experience, Konner draws vividly on the lives of ordinary people for this cultural portrait. A professor of anthropology, human biology and Jewish studies at Emory University, Konner details how the crucible of dominant civilizations shaped Jewish religion, language and intellectual history. For instance, he shows how the clash between the Polish Empire and the Ukraine affected the rise of Hasidism in the 18th century. Each chapter is devoted to the study of one epoch in the development of Jewish life and culture and its contributions to the progress of surrounding cultures. In focusing on the post-Babylonian exile period, Konner discusses the biblical roots and significance of circumcision to show that for Jews, the ritual indicated their unique relationship with God. Other cultures, in Africa and elsewhere, he notes, practiced circumcision as a puberty and/or fertility rite, and returning to the biblical verses, Konner concludes fertility was an element of the Jewish ritual as well. Despite the many threats and challenges Jews have faced through the centuries, Konner concludes, "Jewish life will continue to be strong." He has written a celebratory but evenhanded tale, lauding the Jewish people's strength as he chronicles the adversities they've faced: "Jews, by dint of culture and history, are restless, critical, imaginative, resourceful, ambitious, cooperative, troubled by injustice, and committed to self-defense."
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In what Konner labels "the grand sweep of Jewish culture in time and space," the author examines five related themes, including peoplehood (something quite different from religion), that have been a part of Jewish identity and of the myth of the Jews as a mild, ethical people who do not fight. He explores the thesis that the Jewish gifts to the world--monotheism, the Ten Commandments, and resistance against tyranny--were born of weakness in a group of tribes, producing allegiance to a single all-powerful God who could protect them. Konner also discusses the idea that the Jews did not come to Israel from anywhere else, but they have been there from time immemorial, suffering bitterly, but every generation celebrating life. The author, an anthropologist and the author of nine previous books, draws on archaeological findings, census data, diaries, oral histories, and religious texts to illustrate how the Jews influenced the non-Jewish world and how that world influenced them. His study is highly relevant and unflinching in its approach to controversial and difficult concepts. George Cohen
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Some of the other five-star reviews, in particular Gerard J. Delaunay and J. Davis, give, in my opinion, a good summary of this excellent work by Konner. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Glenn Corey
I was extremely pleased. The vendor did exactly what he said he would do. You can't ask any more than that.Published on November 3, 2012 by ed lansche
What an insightful & historically researched document. My only concern is the mention of Queen Ester winning a beauty contest. Read morePublished on March 3, 2012 by Amazon Customer
A blend of broad based scientific, social and cultural history, including written accounts. Dr. Konner used a very readable, informative style. Read morePublished on September 20, 2010 by Janet C. Dolgin
A great in depth summary of history and human relations for the Jewish people which allows me knowledge to work on a historical novel with knowledge backing up my storyline.Published on May 10, 2010 by David Tecosky
I first heard of Melvin Konner, a professor of anthropology at Emory University, when he gave a speech at a conference on science and religion in 2006. Read morePublished on March 29, 2008 by J. Davis
Absolutely outstanding Jewish History for those looking for a reality-based accounting. Superbly written - reads like a novel. Read morePublished on September 17, 2005 by E. Kaiser
I had no real expectations about "Unsettled: An Antropology of the Jews." I did have reservations due to what can be dry subjet matter--anthropology. Read morePublished on October 20, 2004 by B. Ray