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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A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.


The debut book from “one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard.”

In addition to delivering memorable portraits of undocumented immigrants residing precariously on Staten Island and in Miami, Cleveland, Flint, and New Haven, Cornejo Villavicencio, now enrolled in the American Studies doctorate program at Yale, shares her own Ecuadorian family story (she came to the U.S. at age 5) and her anger at the exploitation of hardworking immigrants in the U.S. Because the author fully comprehends the perils of undocumented immigrants speaking to journalist, she wisely built trust slowly with her subjects. Her own undocumented status helped the cause, as did her Spanish fluency. Still, she protects those who talked to her by changing their names and other personal information. Consequently, readers must trust implicitly that the author doesn’t invent or embellish. But as she notes, “this book is not a traditional nonfiction book….I took notes by hand during interviews and after the book was finished, I destroyed those notes.” Recounting her travels to the sites where undocumented women, men, and children struggle to live above the poverty line, she reports her findings in compelling, often heart-wrenching vignettes. Cornejo Villavicencio clearly shows how employers often cheat day laborers out of hard-earned wages, and policymakers and law enforcement agents exist primarily to harm rather than assist immigrants who look and speak differently. Often, cruelty arrives not only in economic terms, but also via verbal slurs and even violence. Throughout the narrative, the author explores her own psychological struggles, including her relationships with her parents, who are considered “illegal” in the nation where they have worked hard and tried to become model residents. In some of the most deeply revealing passages, Cornejo Villavicencio chronicles her struggles reconciling her desire to help undocumented children with the knowledge that she does not want "kids of my own." Ultimately, the author’s candor about herself removes worries about the credibility of her stories.

A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-59268-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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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

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