JEWS AND THE AMERICAN SOUL: Human Nature in the 20th Century
How have Americans come to define the vague notion of "the pursuit of happiness" enumerated as a basic right in the Declaration of Independence? This groundbreaking, wonderfully researched and consistently provocative book suggests that while traditional Protestant values formed the foundation of the nation's prescription for happiness, after 1900 Jewish thinkers—from Freud and Adler, to the 1950s popular psychology of Dr. Joyce Brothers and Ann Landers—provided a framework to shape the American psyche and "individual development." Through these thinkers and writers "Jewish concerns and values... entered into American popular thought."
Heinze states his case judiciously—he makes it clear that he's not speaking of all Jewish thinkers, but rather popularizers of psychology, who came from various religious and secular Jewish traditions; these men and women shaped American ideas about "intelligence, personality, race, the subconscious mind, and mass behavior and evil." Readers will be familiar with some of Heinze's examples—Erik Erickson, Erich Fromm, Harold Kushner—but there's plenty of material that is explored in this context for the first time. Heinze, a professor of American history and Jewish studies at the University of San Francisco, looks at Hugo Münsterberg, who taught at Harvard in the early 1900s and was one of the first popularizers of psychology; Otto Kleinberg, who in the mid-1930s published influential works exploding racist theories of intelligence; and Rabbi Joshua Liebman, whose bestselling 1946 Peace of Mind argued, from a clearly Jewish perspective, that "spiritual growth depended on psychological maturity."
Heinze has a fluid, readable style and supports his larger arguments and history with an abundance of compelling anecdotes and facts. When he's at his best—as in discussing a 1950s response to popular Freudianism, led by TV star Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (whose Peace of Soul was a counterpoint to Leibman's book) and Clare Boothe Luce, both of whom Henize calls "the two most charismatic leaders of American Catholicism" of the era—Heinze writes splendid social history. This is an important addition not only to Jewish studies, but to American cultural studies as well. 20 b&w photos. Agent, Carol Mann. (Nov.)
Forecast: This could garner review attention—and sales—alongside another excellent Princeton book, Yuri Slezkine's The Jewish Century, pubbing in October (Forecasts, June 20).
Release date: 11/01/2004