As a non Jew but with an interest in European history, I found the book really gripping. It is well written, pacy and full of fascinating vignettes of Jewish life from the late 18th century to the rise of the National Socialists in Germany in 1933. It is reminiscent of Simon Schama in the way that it takes individuals and uses their lives and experiences to illustrate what was happening in whole communities across the continent, following the emancipation of the Jews after the French Revolution. The book depicts how you get from a family of peddlars and mystics to intellects like Freud or Schoenberg in 3 generations, how the Jews grasped the opportunities offered them with both hands and made the leap, both psychologically and materially, from the Dark Ages and into the 20th century, dragging most of Europe along with them. The parallels between the Jewish community in Vienna in the mid-19th century and the Jewish community in New York 50 years later is plain, and the author also makes the reader think about what this means for immigrant communities in contemporary Europe, for Islamic, Chinese, Africans, who strive for greater things whilst living in exile in their own countries.
''For amost 500 years the jews of Europe were kept apart,confined to ghettos or tiny villages in the countryside.Then in one extraordinary moment in the French Revolution,the jews of France were emancipated.The era of emancipation had begun.''I came across this book by way of a BBC World Service item in which Michael Goldfarb explained his motivation for writing it,and I am glad I did as I found it most engrossing and quite a learning experience.The book is remarkable for the amount of detailedhistory it contains,covering an era around the French Revolution to the beginning of the 20th century.During the French Revolution,jews in France were emancipated and their freedoms were expanded under Napoleon who by both treaty and conquest,in the heartland of Ashkenazic jewry,jews in Prussia,northern Germany,Poland,were set free.But with the demise of Napoleon,jewish rights were systematically withdrawn and it was left to others to press for emancipation of the jews and this is the heart of the story he has to tell.Long passages are given to Moses Hess,Heinrich Heinne,Moses Mendelssohn,Gabriel Riesser,Ferdinand Lassaille,and others who gave up their lives for the cause,and by 1846 Theodor Herzel had published his pamphlet,The Jewish State:An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish problem.Also discussed is the role of Karl Marx who saw jewish liberation as part of the socialist process and the liberation of workers internationally.The Dreyfus affair is dealt with and the book moves on to introduce the role of jews in more recent times:Freud.Bergson,Mahler,Einstein,Wittgenstein,Kafka,are amongst those who have,with their modern methods of thought,changed the world.What makes this book so impressive and convincing is that it is by writer whos family is a product of the very subject of which he writes,so that every passage is of relevance and full of meaning.
What an achievement. Gripping account of the emergence of European Jewry from the Ghetto. Learned a lot I didn't know of the divisions within French Jewry. Was brought to this from Goldfarb's appearances on Dateline on BBC News channel.