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Capitalism and the Jews Hardcover – January 24, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
In four fascinating essays, Muller (The Mind and the Market) sensitively examines how centuries of nomadism and diaspora have shaped Jewish financial life. Particularly intriguing is his essay The Long Shadow of Usury, which traces the roots of Jewish financial life to the time when Christians were banned from lending at interest, but Jews, following the law in Deuteronomy, were allowed to charge interest to gentiles (but not each other). Farmers and laborers could not understand the value—economic or social—of gathering and analyzing information, and Jewish usurers were cast as suspicious and parasitic figures. Muller explores why Jewish populations have been both disproportionately successful in capitalist societies and the system's loudest critics. Of paramount interest is his portrait of a people driven by exile and oppression to emphasize strong social networks, self-sufficiency, and higher education. 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. (Mar.)
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"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
"Muller is keen to rescue from apologists, ideologues, and anti-Semites the exploration of what he describes as the Jews' 'special relationship' with capitalism. . . . This book is both scholarly and speculative, analysing the sociology and the anti-Semitic pseudo-sociology of the Jews' participation in capitalism. It will not be the last word on the subject, but it is a genuine contribution to it."--Anthony Julius, New Statesman
"A work of intellectual history. . . . Muller is acutely aware of the irony that Jews have been attacked sometimes for being the quintessence of capitalism and sometimes for being the quintessence of anticapitalism. The merit of his book is that it takes seriously the need to understand how historical circumstances bring this about."--Robert Solow, Moment Magazine
"According to Jerry Z. Muller, professor of history at Catholic University, capitalism has been the most important force in shaping the fate of the Jews in the modern world. . . . Muller focuses squarely on the relation between them in four interlocking essays that explore, respectively, Western thinking about Jews and capitalism, the Jews' own responses to capitalism, Jewish involvement in Communist movements, and the rise of ethnic nationalism that came about as a response to capitalism's relentless march in the 19th century and onward."--Steven Menashi, Commentary
"A model of clear thinking and useful information about how accurately to understand the long and complicated relationship between Jews, capitalism, and anti-Semitism. A valuable read."--Ira Stoll, The Future of Capitalism blog
"In a 1972 lecture, 'Capitalism and the Jews,' Nobel laureate Milton Friedman presented a paradox: Jews 'owe an enormous debt to free enterprise and competitive capitalism,' he said, but 'for at least the past century the Jews have been consistently opposed to capitalism and have done much on an ideological level to undermine it.' According to historian Jerry Muller, Friedman's paradox may make for a great headline, but it cannot be substantiated. Only the first premise is true--there is little doubt that capitalism has benefited Jews. And as Muller shows, there is equally little doubt that Jews have excelled at developing capitalism in the West."--Guy Sorman, City Journal
"Taboos can't last--and now, a real historian has broken this one. Jerry Muller, himself Jewish and a professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, has published a book of four essays, Capitalism and the Jews, that sets out to explain why Jews have enjoyed such exceptional success in modern capitalist societies such as ours."--Tim Colebatch, The Age
"Muller, a historian at Catholic University, has given us four lectures on economics aspects of Jewish life in the modern world. . . . [T]hey are thoughtful and occasionally insightful."--Peter Temin, EH.net
"Capitalism and the Jews is a work of scholarship, but it's an especially accessible and illuminating one. It is a book that every Jewish capitalist, actual or aspiring, out to read and ponder."--Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal of Greater L.A.
"Muller (history, Catholic Univ.; Adam Smith in His Time and Ours), a well established historian of capitalism, is brave to tackle this subject, laden as much with the place of Jewish people in the markets as with the trappings and traps of anti-Semitism. . . . Stimulating."--Scott H. Silverman, Library Journal
"A stellar work of intellectual history."--Sheldon Kirshner, Canadian Jewish News
"A well-documented, historical investigation into an often hidden subject that the author makes easily accessible."--Abe Novick, Baltimore Jewish Times
"If you want to understand why Jews have done phenomenally well in capitalist societies and at the same time have been some of capitalism's harshest critics, this history will help you understand."--Nick Schulz, National Review
"A great book."--William Easterly, Aid Watch blog
"Jerry Z. Muller's recent book is neither a polemic nor a setup for a bad lounge joke but is instead a compelling, sober essay about an elephant that has been sitting in the middle of Western history for the past two centuries at least: Jews have been inextricably woven into the history and evolution of capitalism. . . . A fascinating history."--Zachary Karabell, Truthdig.com
"[T]his book introduces some basic issues and ideas about Jewish economic history and can serve as a provocative starting point for learning more about the subject."--Choice
"[A] short book, which could be said to provide the economic background of the Jewish catastrophe of the 20th century. Muller's work, though focused on cultural and not environmental differences, might remind some readers of Jared Diamond's 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' (1997), which explains the basis for the gaps in material success among regions around the world. In both books, the authors, in laying bare the historical processes, help to disabuse readers of their prejudices."--Steven Silber, Haaretz
"In the meantime, in a lean and compact volume, Muller has offered a rich and valuable history filled with insights about the character of capitalism and the sources of anti-Semitism--both of which could hardly be more timely subjects."--Yuval Levin, Jewish Review of Books
"Muller provides a refreshingly frank account of the major role of Jews on both sides of capitalism's ideological barricades. His brisk and lively book is a welcome sign that historians are moving beyond a stale preoccupation with challenging stereotypes, and are now more willing to engage candidly and directly with the economic dimension of Jewish history."--Adam Sutcliffe, Jewish Quarterly
"Although Muller examines mostly European areas, he occasionally cites examples from the United States. His book can be thus read as an attempt to deepen the mutual understanding of historical realities in Europe and North America. The strongest point of Capitalism and the Jews lies in Muller's multifocal perspective and interdisciplinary erudition."--Pnina M. Rubesh, European Legacy
"[T]his small book is filled with interesting material and presents its subject in a clear and lively fashion."--Marty Roth, Outlook on Books
"The book offers an interesting and new perspective into the economic history of the Jews, which is a by-product of their religious and cultural history."--R. Balashankar, Organiser
"Capitalism and the Jews is an important study that affords readers a lucid and extremely accessible analysis of what is no doubt a central topic in Jewish and western history. It is a welcome addition that joins recent efforts to make us more aware of the significance of the economy for our understanding of the modern Jewish experience."--Gideon Reuveni, Enterprise and Society
"Providing a fresh look at an important but frequently misunderstood subject, this book will interest anyone who wants to understand the Jewish role in the development of capitalism, the role of capitalism in the modem 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."--World Book Industry
"Muller's book can be highly recommended. Stylistically polished, accessible, informative and provocative--it is a little gem."--Jeremy Leaman, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies
"Capitalism and the Jews is a must book for our times."--Betty Mohr, Le Bon Travel & Culture
"[P]rovocative and inspiring essays. . . . Muller's approach is far reaching."--Franziskus von Boeselager, Moving the Social
Top customer reviews
I found the history fascinating - I don't feel I can add significant commentary in that regard - but I do want to mention that the Kindle edition had numerous formatting and layout issues. They were many places in the text that did not display correctly, where words were hyphenated in the middle of the sentence, and where because of incorrect wrapping spaces were missing after some commas or hyphenated words.
1. We all know the narrative that "Jews went into business because the trades and land ownership were banned to them." This book gives us a bit of detail about that and good references into which we can make further investigation. We all also knew that "Everyone hates the Jews because they are moneylenders," but Muller also gives us brief discussion of lots of seminal texts that helped to propagate Anti-Semitism and that characterized the zeitgeist of many different places.
2. A lot of mysteries were resolved very succinctly. For example:
a. Why were Jews so often associated with Communist movements, when they benefited more than anyone else from a free and open market? (Muller's answer is that Communism was something that promised to eliminate all barries of ethnicity.)
b. Why is the Jewish vote in the United States so heavily Democratic? Muller gave a satisfactory answer that: Philanthropy and paying more taxes than necessary are coping mechanisms to deal with the antipathy toward Jewish success.
c. Why are the Jewish people so hostile toward the idea of the nation-state? (For example, look at all the effor that the ACLU makes in weakening/ destroying the US-- and look who is heavily overrepresented in the ACLU?) Muller points out that movements of different types of nationalism always tended to have an ethnic component of which Jews found themselves on the wrong side. So, the easiest way to solve that problem is to just work hard to destroy any sense of nation in your host country.)
d. (p.87, second paragraph) What idiosyncracy in Judaism accounts for the intellectual capital of the Jews? And the answer that Muller provided was "..theirs was a religion oriented to continuous handling of texts...." and mastery of the spoken word. When one considers the long head start that the Jewish people had on literacy, their success looks less anomalous.
3. I do have some problems with Muller's designation of the Nazi Fascist Movement (and others) as being "on the right." (These movements were clearly on the left and that issue was taken up at some length in Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism.")
4. Something that the author did not intend to show (but to which one's attention could easily be drawn) was that continuous government collapse that characterized Eastern Europe.
5. Overall, I get the impression that the subjects of the book experienced the problems that they did simply as a result of being in a lot of the wrong places at the wrong time. The impression that the author gave was that the particular circumstances that he analyzed from each country worked out one way, but they could have just as easily worked out differently-- and that his subject(s) were more a product of historical circumstances than anything. Of course, the point of the essay was that it was expository and not an extended discussion of the circumstance of middleman minority groups.
6. In other texts, I have understood that if you have some nation that is being colonized/ conquered that the minority groups that are there can take on a special role with respect to the conquering nation. So, the Russians were willing to work with the Jews as administrators because they appeared to be a neutral party. The locals of the colonized country did not like the Jews because they appeared to be a 5th column. And so this is yet another of the very many different mechanisms leading to the same result (=Anti-Semitism).
7. The references were wonderfully organized and very easy to find.
This book was worth the new purchase price.