cover image Smart Jews: The Construction of the Image of Jewish Superior Intelligence

Smart Jews: The Construction of the Image of Jewish Superior Intelligence

Sander L. Gilman. University of Nebraska Press, $19.95 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-8032-2158-1

Psychoanalyst-turned-medical historian Gilman builds on his previous work (The Jew's Body) about historical images of Jews to offer new insights into the vexed question of Jewish ""superior"" intelligence. Gilman examines a vast array of 19th- and 20th-century materials, from the writings of Francis Galton and Sigmund Freud to the works of playwright Georg Buchner and composer Alban Berg to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and Robert Redford's Quiz Show. Whether or not Jews are, in fact, smarter is never an issue; how the image of Jews as smarter has served the psychological and social needs and interests of Jews and Gentiles alike, is. Gilman is consequently less concerned with the validity of race-based intelligence theories than the burdens such claims (made by both Jews and Gentiles) have imposed upon Jews themselves. The average Jew may be smarter than the average Gentile, so the argument runs, but it is an intelligence without creativity--an effeminate, crafty type of intellect with no inherent link to virtue. Unfortunately, Gilman's contention, cast in a relatively graceless prose, is hurt rather than helped by its scholastic tone, as points are repeated needlessly in order to emphasize the image's tenacity. Less breadth and more narrative would have transformed this otherwise worthwhile exploration into an invaluable work of cultural criticism. (Sept.)