Music commentator Lebrecht (Why Mahler?
) catalogues a century of important Jewish lives in this idiosyncratic and frantic cultural history. Each chapter centers on a single, pivotal year, allowing Lebrecht to weave together a collection of anecdotes and pared down biographical details of its subjects. He opens and closes his analysis outside the stated historical boundaries, beginning with Karl Marx’s 1843 publication of “On the Jewish Question” and ending with the events leading up to the establishment of Israel in 1948, focusing throughout on Jews in Europe and the United States. Chapters are sometimes thematic, such as one devoted to Jewish developments in the study of sexuality, or another on early-20th-century music, while others are a strange melange of unrelated ideas, such as one that jumps among the filming of Casablanca
, a trial convicting God in Auschwitz, a litany of suicides within Nazi-occupied territories, and the invention of birth control pills. Most of the figures are well-known and male, though there are some less familiar names, such as Eliza Davis, who influenced Charles Dickens’s view of the Jews, or British rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, who vigorously worked to expatriate Jews just before WWII. Lebrecht can tell an enjoyable story with verve, though the lack of clear trajectory or organization dilutes his points. While readers interested in 19th- and 20th-century Judaism might enjoy dipping in and out of these snippets from important people’s lives, this overfilled work founders as a whole. (Dec.)
Reviewed on 10/11/2019 |
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