A fluid history lesson from an always engaging guide.



BELONGING: 1492-1900

The second volume of the award-winning author and documentary producer’s history of the Jews.

The narrative moves via elegant minibiographies as Jews expelled from Spain and elsewhere struggled with dispersion and assimilation. Schama (History and Art History/Columbia Univ.; The Face of Britain: The Nation Through Its Portraits, 2015, etc.) pursues the uneasy story of the Jews’ dispersion across the globe after 1492, occasionally finding a haven, such as in Amsterdam or even China, but frequently suffering persistent persecution. In his engaging, stylistic prose, the author proceeds chronologically and delves into fascinating personal stories that reveal the Jewish experience beyond its significant religious figures—e.g., that of the “little warrior prince” David Ha-Reuveni, the “ambassador from the dominion of the Lost Tribes” of Israel who “fetched up in Venice” in 1523 and convinced many Jewish notables of Italy, who were traumatized by the expulsions from Spain and Portugal, that he “was the bearer of something ancient, immemorial, thrown, by God’s design, into modern time.” Facing forced conversions, the Jews of Spain and Portugal headed to the safety of Ferrara in the Po Valley or farther into the Ottoman realm of Suleyman the Magnificent, where they could practice their faith and livelihoods with some dignity. Two “New Christian” sisters, who happened to be among the richest women of Europe, Beatriz de Luna, the widow of a spice king, and Brianda, moved from Lisbon and resettled comfortably in Antwerp only to become embroiled in the perilous machinations of “cultural pluralists.” Other characters Schama vivifies throughout this wide-ranging book include Leone de Sommi Portaleone, the “first unapologetically Jewish showman” of Mantua; the rich immigrant Jews of Galata; cabalist teachers in Safed, Palestine; Jews thriving in the liberal Dutch Republic, some of whom were painted by Rembrandt; and the “citizen Jews” of revolutionary France. While the princes of Europe excoriated the Jews, they also needed them, especially to underwrite their military exploits and luxurious tastes. The modernity of the 19th century would bring both pogroms and Leon Pinsker’s clarion call of “Auto-Emancipation.”

A fluid history lesson from an always engaging guide.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-233957-7

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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