- Series: The Princeton Economic History of the Western World
- Hardcover: 344 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (August 5, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691144877
- ISBN-13: 978-0691144870
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #620,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492 (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World) 1st Edition
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Winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship
One of Jewish Ideas Daily.com's 40 Best Jewish Books of 2012
"[A]mbitious . . . systematically dismantle much of the conventional wisdom about medieval Jewish history."--Jonathan B. Krasner, Forward
"[W]here so many have simply taken as a given universal literacy among Jews, [Botticini and Eckstein] find that a majority of Jews actually weren't willing to invest in Jewish education, with the shocking result that more than two-thirds of the Jewish community disappeared toward the end of the first millennium. . . . The astonishing theory presented here has great implications for both the Jewish community and the broader world today."--Steven Weiss, Slate
"[E]ventually, The Chosen Few will have changed the course of history in the Middle East . . . as part of a broad reinterpretation of the history of the peopling of the world, underway for a century and a half, that has begun gathering force since the 1990s. . . . This may be the first you have heard about The Chosen Few, but I pretty much guarantee you that it will not be the last."--David Warsh, Economic Principals
"Botticini and Eckstein's simple yet sophisticated human capital analysis provides new insights into Jewish history for the fourteen centuries covered in this book. . . . [Their] methodology yields a very convincing Cliometric analysis that we can expect to inform all future economic histories of the Jews between 70 and 1492."--Carmel U. Chiswick, EH.net
"I found The Chosen Few, a book on Jewish economic history by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, enormously enlightening and relevant to the draft-the-Haredim debate."--Shlomo Maital, Jerusalem Report
"If you've ever wondered how the Chosen People survived the vagaries of history, reading The Chosen Few will give you answers you cannot find anywhere else."--Huffington Post
"This is a trailblazing, original, illuminating and horizon-broadening book."--Manuel Trajtenberg, Haaretz
From the Back Cover
"Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein have written a remarkably interesting book with a new hypothesis about the occupational structure of the Jews. The authors adduce serious evidence for their hypothesis, which lays stress on the requirement introduced nearly 2,000 years ago for universal male literacy among the Jews. This is a fascinating and persuasive combination of history and economics, worth reading by all, even the unhappy few who like neither history nor economics."--Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel
"The Chosen Few is a masterpiece: an ambitious, informed, and inspirational reinterpretation of Jewish social and economic history."--Avner Greif, Stanford University
"In this bracing work of economic history, Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein demonstrate how literacy and contract law combined to give Jews a competitive advantage in urbanizing societies. Sure to generate controversy, The Chosen Few takes on one of the truly big questions in Jewish history and sheds intriguing new light on it."--David Biale, University of California, Davis
"Botticini and Eckstein are changing the way economic historians think about Jewish history, and this seminal book will also change the way historians, Jewish studies scholars, and general readers think about the subject. Indeed, the importance of this book can scarcely be exaggerated. An excellent example of economic history that is accessible to general readers, The Chosen Few makes a compelling case for an exciting new perspective that will inspire much further research and be the focus of attention for years to come."--Carmel Chiswick, George Washington University
"This is a mature, original, and significant new attempt to answer one of the most vexing problems in Jewish and economic history. For the general reader it provides an incisive view of the salient facts of Jewish economic history. For the economic historian it opens up a challenging new thesis. And for historians of Judaism and religion it provides a new interpretation of the social and economic impact of religion."--Michael Toch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Top customer reviews
It is in the proof of this premise that the authors stumble; they do not seem to decide, throughout the book, whether they are writing a scientific paper of a piece of popular economic history. A particularly interesting example of this is the inclusion of actual mathematical models represented by actual mathematical equations (which render horribly on the Kindle, by the way) that would not be understood by anyone not having a bachelor of science degree at the very least. Even for someone who has no problem with the math, these equations break up the narrative and are tedious and unnecessary in this context.
Furthermore, while the authors often mention that Jews were not precluded from owning land and thus could in theory become farmers, they contradict that notion by specifying that Jews were almost in all cases prohibited from holding real property as collateral for loans precisely because the Gentile authorities did not wish that the Jews accumulate significant real estate holdings. More significantly, the authors document the extreme diversity of gentile acceptance of Jewish communities in both Christian and Muslim jurisdictions, ranging from active "headhunting" of Jews by various authorities to expulsions and forced conversions and worse. The fact that this provided a clear disincentive for Jews to hold any property that could not be moved or easily liquidated, seemingly escapes the authors, though it is likely the main reason that Jews invested most heavily in property that could never be confiscated, i.e. intellectual property.
This explanation is so simple that it does not require math; in fact it is self-evident and has been so for many years to anyone interested in Jewish history. It would be interesting to see what the authors do in their promised book that covers 1492 through modernity with the fact that in Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and North Africa that were not subjected to constant variations in the level of acceptance and thus became quite stationary Jewish rates of functional literacy (anything beyond reading a few Hebrew prayers) plummeted and Jews relied mostly on low-skill trades.
The saving grace if this book with its weak premise and awkward writing is that it provides excellent research into Jewish populations and everyday lives from 70 to 1492 CE. Many of the facts the authors bring as to the sizes of the various Jewish communities are likely not widely known and the book does everyone a service by making them available and easy to access.
The authors state their thesis early in the book, and my initial response was profound skepticism. I thought the thesis sounded okay, but I assumed that the dearth of information we have today about life 1500 years ago would make this book nothing more than an exercise in unfounded speculation. However, the authors were quite thoughtful about substantiating their claims, and I thought in particular their usage of the Cairo Geniza manuscripts was fascinating.
The Chosen Few starts by examining the era of Jewish history that followed the destruction of the Second Temple, and describes choices made by Jewish leaders at that time in response to the upheaval. These choices, which radically altered Jewish culture and education, impacted the migration patterns and occupational choices made by Jews for the next thousand years.
If you're interested in pursuing this topic further, there's a chapter in a book by Thomas Sowell that I think ties in well with The Chosen Few. The book is called "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," and despite the weird title, it contains a really interesting chapter on Jewish history.
Don't miss this volume; it is excellent.
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