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Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947

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A unique chronicle of the years 1847-1947, the century when the Jewish people changed the world—and it changed them. In a hundred-year period, a handful of men and women changed the way we see the world. Many of them are well known—Marx, Freud, Proust, Einstein, Kafka. Others have vanished from collective memory despite their enduring importance in our daily lives. Without A unique chronicle of the years 1847-1947, the century when the Jewish people changed the world—and it changed them. In a hundred-year period, a handful of men and women changed the way we see the world. Many of them are well known—Marx, Freud, Proust, Einstein, Kafka. Others have vanished from collective memory despite their enduring importance in our daily lives. Without Karl Landsteiner, for instance, there would be no blood transfusions or major surgery. Without Paul Ehrlich, no chemotherapy. Without Siegfried Marcus, no motor car. Without Rosalind Franklin, genetic science would look very different. Without Fritz Haber, there would not be enough food to sustain life on earth. What do these visionaries have in common? They all had Jewish origins. They all had a gift for thinking in wholly original, even earth-shattering ways. In 1847 the Jewish people made up less than 0.25% of the world’s population, and yet they saw what others could not. How? Why? Norman Lebrecht has devoted half of his life to pondering and researching the mindset of the Jewish intellectuals, writers, scientists, and thinkers who turned the tides of history and shaped the world today as we know it. In Genius & Anxiety, Lebrecht begins with the Communist Manifesto in 1847 and ends in 1947, when Israel was founded. This robust, magnificent volume, beautifully designed, is an urgent and necessary celebration of Jewish genius and contribution.


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A unique chronicle of the years 1847-1947, the century when the Jewish people changed the world—and it changed them. In a hundred-year period, a handful of men and women changed the way we see the world. Many of them are well known—Marx, Freud, Proust, Einstein, Kafka. Others have vanished from collective memory despite their enduring importance in our daily lives. Without A unique chronicle of the years 1847-1947, the century when the Jewish people changed the world—and it changed them. In a hundred-year period, a handful of men and women changed the way we see the world. Many of them are well known—Marx, Freud, Proust, Einstein, Kafka. Others have vanished from collective memory despite their enduring importance in our daily lives. Without Karl Landsteiner, for instance, there would be no blood transfusions or major surgery. Without Paul Ehrlich, no chemotherapy. Without Siegfried Marcus, no motor car. Without Rosalind Franklin, genetic science would look very different. Without Fritz Haber, there would not be enough food to sustain life on earth. What do these visionaries have in common? They all had Jewish origins. They all had a gift for thinking in wholly original, even earth-shattering ways. In 1847 the Jewish people made up less than 0.25% of the world’s population, and yet they saw what others could not. How? Why? Norman Lebrecht has devoted half of his life to pondering and researching the mindset of the Jewish intellectuals, writers, scientists, and thinkers who turned the tides of history and shaped the world today as we know it. In Genius & Anxiety, Lebrecht begins with the Communist Manifesto in 1847 and ends in 1947, when Israel was founded. This robust, magnificent volume, beautifully designed, is an urgent and necessary celebration of Jewish genius and contribution.

30 review for Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947

  1. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    This is a hard book to review. It was hard to read. It is raw. It is disturbing. It is not a book you would choose for ‘pleasant reading’. Page 301: “A conference of thirty-two countries called by President Roosevelt at Évian in Switzerland [1938] resolves that no one wants Jews, signaling that Hitler can do as he pleases.” Apart from the 6M Jews who died in the Holocaust it is estimated that “ten thousand German Jews die by their own hand during, or as a result of, the Third Reich.” (Page 335) At This is a hard book to review. It was hard to read. It is raw. It is disturbing. It is not a book you would choose for ‘pleasant reading’. Page 301: “A conference of thirty-two countries called by President Roosevelt at Évian in Switzerland [1938] resolves that no one wants Jews, signaling that Hitler can do as he pleases.” Apart from the 6M Jews who died in the Holocaust it is estimated that “ten thousand German Jews die by their own hand during, or as a result of, the Third Reich.” (Page 335) At 438 pages you do not need to read cover to cover since it is constructed in 16 Chapters written in the manner of a stand-alone narrative. This book is informative and deserves to be read – you will likely learn something you didn’t know before about an inspirational person you have never heard of before. For that alone it’s worth the read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Laura Spira

    A very interesting book, clearly based on solid research but also a good read, once you get used the slightly breathless historical present used. One might dispute the claims made for some of the people discussed - did Sarah Bernhardt really invent celebrity? - but the evidence provided for the influence of their Jewishness on the achievements of those who pronounced themselves firmly secular is intriguing. The first half of the book is more compelling than the later chapters, which feel A very interesting book, clearly based on solid research but also a good read, once you get used the slightly breathless historical present used. One might dispute the claims made for some of the people discussed - did Sarah Bernhardt really invent celebrity? - but the evidence provided for the influence of their Jewishness on the achievements of those who pronounced themselves firmly secular is intriguing. The first half of the book is more compelling than the later chapters, which feel somewhat disorganised. The vignette approach became a bit tedious: I would have liked more chronological ordering and the connections between individuals could perhaps have been made clearer. The sections about musicians and composers were the most interesting, not surprising given the author's background. I learned a lot, very enjoyably.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Heller

    Reviewed for Library Journal. I do think lots of people should read this, even as it’s hard to recommend it, because it is so dark and overwrought, but so is Jewish history.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Samuel W

    Well-written and very informative. I learned a tremendous amount from reading this book. I thought that the histories of communism and Zionism were very interesting and well written. At times, however the book seemed to get bogged down with minute detail. There should be subdivision based on the name of the person being discussed , with the name of the person as the title for that piece of the text. With his way of introducing a new person, it was often confusing as to which person was being Well-written and very informative. I learned a tremendous amount from reading this book. I thought that the histories of communism and Zionism were very interesting and well written. At times, however the book seemed to get bogged down with minute detail. There should be subdivision based on the name of the person being discussed , with the name of the person as the title for that piece of the text. With his way of introducing a new person, it was often confusing as to which person was being discussed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    I really enjoyed this book. It would make a wonderful Hannukah present. This book showcases many Jews who have influenced our times and tells about their contributions and their lives. I highly enjoyed this book and will be purchasing copies as presents this Hannukah. I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Wajda Tabassum

    I just adore the works of Kafka, Freud and Marx wow! This book seems to be an insightful and interesting one. As the title suggests some intrapsychic process went through these beautiful minds and maybe there is mention of transgenerational trauma - which I am very interested to know about. Today's society is getting polluted with the extreme-right political approach through media. Hoping to see some humane understanding of these beautiful souls in this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mich

    This is a whirling recitation of contributions by Jews from 1847 to 1947 that surely displays the genius of those cited. It is also replete with the anxiety felt by these same geniuses many of whom were forced to change their name, identity, and religion else their work fail to be recognized, much less they themselves survive. A fair number of them were also murdered either in pogroms or during the Holocaust. Lebrecht, a music critic, spends a good deal of time on composers starting from This is a whirling recitation of contributions by Jews from 1847 to 1947 that surely displays the genius of those cited. It is also replete with the anxiety felt by these same geniuses many of whom were forced to change their name, identity, and religion else their work fail to be recognized, much less they themselves survive. A fair number of them were also murdered either in pogroms or during the Holocaust. Lebrecht, a music critic, spends a good deal of time on composers starting from Mendelssohn to Mahler to Schoenberg to Gershwin and introduces his own experiences with some of them. He chooses which Jewish contributors to focus on and could have, but didn’t, describe contributions of some medicinal scientists and economists. The material,is somewhat dense and a reader needs to be prepared to have 10 names thrown at one in just a couple of sentences, almost as if we are playing six degrees of separation.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Briggs

    the Jews are great and powerful in America. i think back to Germany, where it all began before WW2. still, to say that one group or class of people are more educated than another is presumptuous. a quality education is personal yet to devote oneself to any discipline is credit worthy. i admire movie stars and pop singers because of their strength and character. Michael Jackson is a remarkable human being, yet also one of the most exciting persons in show business. all contributions to any free the Jews are great and powerful in America. i think back to Germany, where it all began before WW2. still, to say that one group or class of people are more educated than another is presumptuous. a quality education is personal yet to devote oneself to any discipline is credit worthy. i admire movie stars and pop singers because of their strength and character. Michael Jackson is a remarkable human being, yet also one of the most exciting persons in show business. all contributions to any free society is historic, but to admire an American because he/she possesses traits we don't know is no crime or sin.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    I had to skim parts of the book because it was somewhat boring. I did learn a few new things that I didn't know--for instance, Einstein was a prolific violinist. Of course, the book gets into some of the evil things that were done to Jews, but it also highlights the discoveries that they made. There was a lot of people dying early in those days--so many died young from undetected illness, mistreatment, unhealthy lifestyles, and obviously the holocaust.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Corin

    Started a little slowly but picked up and became a page turner. Very interesting perspective - much of the information wasn't entirely new to me but the way it's all put together in context was eye opening. Definitely recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sara Goldenberg

    I liked it although it was a tad scholarly for me

  12. 4 out of 5

    Subhash Parihar

    I simply love JEWS so I am paling order for a copy of the book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn mel

    Great great book: easy and fun. Can’t put it down... but on George Gershwin? How could author get his love life so wrong? He was deeply involved with Kay Swift, Warburg’s wife, for 10 years. I would love to know why Lebrecht portrays him so differently than say, Ron Chernow. His Gershwin loves women and did so many times!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Such an amazing book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Nesbitt

  16. 5 out of 5

    Karin

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kidlitter

  18. 5 out of 5

    Riff

  19. 5 out of 5

    Peter de Jong

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mara Boccaccio

  21. 5 out of 5

    Miko G

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rakesh

  23. 5 out of 5

    Thomas C Bauman

  24. 5 out of 5

    Precious

  25. 4 out of 5

    George S.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gideon Dabi

  27. 4 out of 5

    W. Seck

  28. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey Bethlehem

  29. 4 out of 5

    Atanas

  30. 4 out of 5

    Raad Hussain

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