An essential work of modern history: put it alongside Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers and Amos Elon’s more recent The...

A HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN THE MODERN WORLD

An ambitious, thoroughly accessible account of the so often unhappy fortunes of the Jewish people from the early modern era to the present.

In the late 18th century, writes Sachar (History/George Washington Univ.; Dreamland, 2002, etc.), many of the states and principalities of Europe were faced with a difficult decision: their rulers and peoples may have despised the much-maligned Jews hidden away by night in their prisonlike ghettoes, but they needed their “talent for producing liquid wealth” if their economies were to enter the modern age. Religious fanaticism was becoming a thing of the past, which cooled some of the anti-Semitic ardor of both Catholic and Protestant realms, and in the next few years Jews became able to travel freely, live where they wished and even attend public schools and universities—all quite astonishing changes, given past repression. Among the results were the rapid growth of a Jewish middle class, the arrival into France and Germany of a large population of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the dispersal of Jews to the New World; in the last regard, Sachar notes that whereas the British crown imposed plenty of restrictions on Catholics, “not a single law was enacted in British North America specifically to penalize Jews.” Elsewhere that was not true, and by the end of the 1800s, Pope Leo XIII was publicly supporting “the anti-Semitic movement as long as it is carried out in a legal fashion, as in Germany.” Sachar charts these changing sentiments, offering exact and lucid précis of such transformative events as the Dreyfus Affair and the rise of organized, officially ordained anti-Semitism across Europe (and, in response, the rise of Zionism). Moving from continent to continent over time, Sachar brings his account to the post-9/11 world, with anti-Jewish sentiment again on the rise in Europe thanks not only to homegrown fascists but also to an ever-growing Muslim population, itself marginalized.

An essential work of modern history: put it alongside Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers and Amos Elon’s more recent The Pity of It All.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-41497-5

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more