A bright, hard glimpse at the final thriving days of European Jewry and the first edges of its unraveling.

Straightforward, scholarly and tidily organized, this historical snapshot by Wasserstein (Modern European Jewish History/Univ. of Chicago; Barbarism and Civilization: A History of Europe in Our Time, 2007, etc.) encompasses myriad aspects of Jewish society, culture, language, health, demographics, and religious and political sects. Nearly 10 million Jews were inhabiting Europe, contained in what the author delineates as four zones enjoying more or less benevolent status among communities of non-Jews but already feeling the lashing of secular currents as well as anti-Semitism—across both Europe and the Soviet Union. On the one hand, Jews tended to live longer and have lower rates of alcoholism and infant mortality; on the other, they were migrating, “marrying out” and quarreling among themselves, while birth rates were declining. Anti-Semitism, stoked by paranoia, nationalism and conspiracy theories such as in France, became “part of the perfume of the age.” Jews, writes Wasserstein, essentially became victims of their own success. In concise chapters, the author examines one facet of Jewish identity after another for a staggering big picture: politics, Zionism, life from shtetl to shtot (city), cultural centers like Minsk and Salonica, the press, the theater, the status of women, converts, vernacular languages like Yiddish and Judeo-Espanol, and much more. A wide-ranging, marvelously complete overview of a diverse, teeming civilization poised for ruin.


Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9427-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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