By Yuri Slezkine (438 Pages)Publisher: Princeton University Press, 2004
This masterwork of interpretative history begins with a bold declaration: The Modern Age is the Jewish Age - and we are all, to varying degrees, Jews.
The assertion is, of course, metaphorical. But it underscores Yuri Slezkine's provocative thesis. Not only have Jews adapted better than many other groups to living in the modern world, they have become the premiere symbol and standard of modern life everywhere.
Slezkine argues that the Jews were, in effect, among the world's first free agents. They traditionally belonged to a social and anthropological category known as "service nomads," an outsider group specializing in the delivery of goods and services. Their role, Slezkine argues, was part of a broader division of human labor between what he calls Mercurians (entrepreneurial minorities) and Apollonians (food-producing majorities).
The book concentrates on the drama of the Russian Jews, including migr s and their offspring in America, Israel, and the Soviet Union. But Slezkine has as much to say about the many faces of modernity - nationalism, socialism, capitalism, and liberalism - as he does about Jewry.
Rich in its insight, sweeping in its chronology, and fearless in its analysis, this sure to be controversial work is an important contribution not only to Jewish and Russian history but to the history of Europe and America as well.