HISTORY

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

Scribner. Dec. 2019. 400p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781982134228. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781982134235. HIST
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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.

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