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Genius & Anxiety
Cover of Genius & Anxiety
Genius & Anxiety
How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947
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This lively chronicle of the years 1847­–1947—the century when the Jewish people changed how we see the world—is "[a] thrilling and tragic history...especially good on the ironies and chain-reaction intimacies that make a people and a past" (The Wall Street Journal).
In a hundred-year period, a handful of men and women changed 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, beautifully designed volume is "an urgent and moving history" (The Spectator, UK) and a celebration of Jewish genius and contribution.
This lively chronicle of the years 1847­–1947—the century when the Jewish people changed how we see the world—is "[a] thrilling and tragic history...especially good on the ironies and chain-reaction intimacies that make a people and a past" (The Wall Street Journal).
In a hundred-year period, a handful of men and women changed 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, beautifully designed volume is "an urgent and moving history" (The Spectator, UK) and a celebration of Jewish genius and contribution.
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About the Author-
  • Norman Lebrecht is the world's bestselling author on classical music. His Whitbread Award-winning novel, The Song of Names, is currently being developed into a feature film. Aside from the history of Western music, he has a lifelong passion for the culture and chronicles of the Jewish people and is the author of Genius & Anxiety. He lives in London.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    October 1, 2019
    How adversity shaped a century of Jewish creativity and invention. "A Jew is like a man with a short arm," said the composer Gustav Mahler. "He has to swim harder to reach the shore." In this beautifully crafted work, music historian and novelist Lebrecht (Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed the World, 2010, etc.) argues convincingly that "existential angst"--a dread of losing their rights to citizenship and free speech amid widespread persecution--freed many Jews to pursue unusual accomplishments with abandon. Not expecting acceptance, "free to think the unthinkable," Freud, Proust, Einstein, and others worked brilliantly in such fields as science, art, and music, not because of any genetic advantage but out of opportunity made possible by "marginality." With anxiety as a "primary motivating factor, the engine of fresh thinking," they began in the mid-19th century, and especially in the decade after the Dreyfus Affair, to engage in acts of genius. Such individuals as Marx and Disraeli set the tone for "a century of Jewish invention," unafraid of criticism from those in power. They paved the way for diverse successors, as well, including Trotsky, Sarah Bernhardt, Jonas Salk, and through to Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg. Taking us into many spheres of endeavor, Lebrecht offers revealing portraits of and stories about these Jews, practicing and not, as they crossed artistic boundaries, advanced science, and reshaped myriad aspects of Western society in the period through the 1947 founding of Israel. He provides nuanced explorations of individuals from Einstein, "a religious man of no religion, a perfect Jewish paradox," to Kafka, who knows "something terrible is about to happen and there is nothing anyone can do about it." Written with passion and authority, this book shows how these great minds always took a different point of view--and changed how we see the world. Lebrecht also includes a helpful glossary of Jewish terms. An absorbing, well-told story of Jewish achievement that is a pleasure to read.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 14, 2019
    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.

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2019

    In Lebrecht's (The Song of Name) Jewish world, genius goes hand in hand with anxiety, and peril is never far from the frenetic inhabitants. Largely focused on German and French intellectuals, artists, and scientists, this work traces a line from Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn to figures such as Rosalind Franklin, with side trips to the Jewish quarters of Shanghai and Mumbai. Judaism for many of these people is a liability, either denied or shed, but often providing a vernacular for their achievements without being monolithic. All of this has a breathless feel, as stories spill over each other, told as though they are all happening at once, and many ending in unspeakable tragedy. As a longstanding music commentator and journalist, Lebrecht weaves in his own stories and anecdotes; for example, a somewhat improbable sounding conversation between Isaac Bashevis Singer and Manachem Begin was told to Lebrecht by Singer himself. VERDICT A unique perspective on the role of Jews in European intellectual life, this will be of interest to music and art history readers, as well as those interested in Jewish history.--Margaret Heller, Loyola Univ. Chicago Libs.

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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