“Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947,” by Norman Lebrecht

Scribner. 464 pages. Hardcover $30.00.

A brief taste of an amazing book!

Nor­man Lebrecht’s study is filled with ener­gy, irony, and new angles of vision. He makes a pow­er­ful point that most of the fig­ures fea­tured in this book made their con­tri­bu­tions in what was essen­tial­ly an anti­se­mit­ic world. While the par­tic­u­lars of such con­di­tions run through the book’s six­teen chap­ters, more engag­ing is the author’s blend of diverse per­son­al­i­ties with var­ied rela­tion­ships to Jew­ish iden­ti­ty: reli­gion, cul­ture, law, and peoplehood.

Although most of the chap­ters detail impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions by Jews to the ben­e­fit of mankind with­in the stretch of this hun­dred-year peri­od, many chap­ters focus on sig­nif­i­cant changes par­tic­u­lar to Jew­ish cul­ture and iden­ti­ty. His­tor­i­cal writ­ings con­tin­ue to applaud the accom­plish­ments of Ein­stein, Kaf­ka, Marx, Freud, and oth­ers of world-chang­ing stature, but it is inside the inter­na­tion­al Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty that the con­tri­bu­tions of giants such as Theodor Her­zl and Solomon Schechter are celebrated.

Norman Lebrecht – photo credit Abigail Lebrecht

Lebrecht enjoys devel­op­ing his explo­rations through com­par­isons and con­trasts. The Her­zl-Schechter chap­ter titled ​1890: Two Beards on a Train” is one pow­er­ful exam­ple. It ends with the intro­duc­tion of a third shaper of Jew­ish des­tiny, a foil to Schechter’s role in birthing the Con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment; this part­ner is Men­achem Mendel Schneer­son, who invig­o­rat­ed and mas­ter­mind­ed Chabad Lubavitch. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site, click here:  Genius & Anxiety

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Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

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