Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader

Derek Penslar. Yale Univ, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-300-18040-4
Penslar (Jews and the Military), a professor of Jewish history at Harvard, provides an excellent, concise biography of Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), architect of modern Zionism. The focus is less on the biographical details of Herzl’s life—though the broad strokes are covered—and more on the vision Herzl created that allowed him to position himself as the great visionary of Zionism at the end of the 19th century. Penslar focuses on three elements: Herzl’s “inner life,” his relation to Zionism, and his (self-defined) position in the world. While Zionism as an idea already existed, Herzl saw himself as the man of the hour, ready to step forward and take the movement to new heights. As a journalist, Herzl championed the Zionist cause and established the Zionist newspaper Die Welt in Vienna in 1897. He later formed and headed the First Zionest Congress. Penslar is meticulous in taking the reader along Herzl’s many attempts to bring the Zionist dream to life, which included approaches to Wilhelm II, the Ottoman Empire, the Rothschild banking family, and Cecil Rhodes. Penslar is sympathetic to but not forgiving of his subject, as when he depicts Herzl’s tumultuous marriage to Julie Naschauer. This is an exceptionally good, highly readable volume that will appeal to general readers and specialists alike. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 12/06/2019
Release date: 02/18/2020
Genre: Religion
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