... thrilling and tragic ... Mr. Lebrecht expertly explores the Jewishness of Marx and Mendelssohn ... Unlike many popular historians, Mr. Lebrecht gives equal space to Jewish counter-movements, with accessible accounts of the splitting of Ashkenazi Judaism and of the birth of Zionism ... Mr. Lebrecht is especially good on the ironies and chain-reaction intimacies that make a people and a past ... Mr. Lebrecht writes in the present continuous tense, placing readers in a dynamic drama and emphasizing that the future was always unwritten ... Mr. Lebrecht has written a lament for a lost world and a celebration of human endurance and the religious imagination.
... urgent and moving ... I don’t know if Lebrecht actually buys into so simple a description of scientific progress, or whether it is just a good, combative kick-off to a book, but either way the main thrust of the argument is inescapable ... There are moments when the hunt for the Talmudic in anything and anywhere from Proust to Einstein’s relativity can feel a bit remorseless, but Genius & Anxiety is as much an act of witness as narrative, and name after name rises out of the gathering darkness of Lebrecht’s pages to answer Steiner’s question.
Lebrecht’s wide net captures the usual suspects, but also many lesser-known, and equally fascinating, individuals ... Some of Lebrecht’s transitions from one vignette to the next flow particularly well ... Lebrecht attributes the inroads made by Jews to their marginal status...However, some of his characters’ behavior does not fit his own description, and can be explained only by their desire to gain entry into a hostile society ... A major problem of Lebrecht’s volume lies in the disconnect between its title and its treatment. Genius & Anxiety feels like an afterthought, tagged on to a bubbly inventory of individual trajectories. The chapters’ contents often appear disjointed ... In a rather infelicitous simile, Lebrecht goes on to say that anxiety has acted on the Jews 'like an Egyptian taskmaster in the Book of Exodus. It goads them to acts of genius.' But he should have gone much further ... Had Lebrecht analyzed his subjects’ anxiety in relation to loss and mourning, which all of them experienced, either personally or collectively, he would have written a more nuanced and richer book.
He guides us through his chosen period (1847–1947) in a breathless present continuous, with an enthusiasm that holds the reader’s attention ... If the characteristics Lebrecht discerns are not uniquely Jewish, there is no denying that Jews in his chosen period have been responsible for a disproportionate number of groundbreaking discoveries and innovations. Whether they have been hard-wired into a Jewish genetic make-up after centuries of the singular Jewish experience it’s impossible to prove, but Lebrecht’s passion is persuasive, while the depth and variety of his reading and the sweep of his writing consistently engage.
Invoking heroic, creative, courageous images through the large panorama and the small vignette, Lebrecht teases out more than 100 years of Jewish lore in this dense, entertaining work. He shows that those extolled were not all alike --- many were irreligious, some were intermarried, and all had strong personal opinions and may or may not have agreed with the majority of their peers ... What is clear, though, from Lebrecht’s many examples is that Jews have exerted themselves through a compulsion to succeed, never to leave well enough alone. Our world would be a poorer place without their perseverance --- and their humor.
Among the plethora of books about Jewish history, Genius & Anxiety shines as a beacon of deeply researched historical accuracy. This intensely absorbing chronicle of notable Jews who changed the world in positive, meaningful ways will stand the test of time and investigation ... While this marvelous text must certainly become a standard university textbook, filled with detailed and profound data, it also reads like novel, evocative and exciting. The author becomes your friendly, knowledgeable tour guide to history. Through the author’s depth of inquiry into these historical Jewish figures, we come to value their individual and collective contributions ... This book is a celebration of Jewish genius within a century of increasing anti-Semitism ... proffers the path of Jews in shaping the world we live in today ... This book shines a light upon the contributions of one remarkable culture, without which our world would appear very different today.
... 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 ... 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.
... an exercise in boosterism ... while Genius and Anxiety presents itself as a work of serious historical research, it is also laced with journalistic pizzazz. I have to confess however that for me it doesn’t always work. I soon tired of the relentless use of the present tense, his sexual knowingness, and his habit of including himself, Zelig like, in every chapter ... As a historian, Lebrecht is often reliable, but not always ... is gushing about Jewish genius, but about Jewish anxiety it is rather coy. I was astonished when I got to the end of the book and realised that it hardly mentions the Holocaust ... Lebrecht’s determination to present Jews as bold creators rather than victims of Nazi policy is liberating in some ways, but it is disabling as well. Jewish experience in the 20th century was shaped not just by the millions who were killed, but also by those who survived, at least for a while, and suffered in other ways.
... practically an inventory of modern times. Claims to have 'changed the world' tend to be exaggerations, but Lebrecht’s subtitle, How Jews Changed the World 1847-1947, seems understated. The world wasn’t changed, it was remade ... That’s the charm of this book, narrated not by a straight-faced professional historian, but by a sprightly raconteur, with anecdotes and jokes, digressions and embellishments ... Does that 'Jewish way' exist? We recoil from phrases such as 'the Jewish mind'. Yet Lebrecht talks of a 'Jewish psyche'. He rejects 'Jewish exceptionalism', but clearly believes in a distinctive Jewishness. Franz Kafka, for example, 'was Jewish to his core'. Antisemites agree. Of course, they denigrate; Lebrecht exalts. But this hints at the paradoxical anxiety that taxed the nerves of these thinkers (including Lebrecht); the urge to disavow the idea of 'Jewishness' while feeling deeply marked by it.
Whether the contents justify the book’s title, however, is never satisfactorily answered. Lebrecht in the main leaves his subjects’ lives to speak for themselves ... The result is a riveting, gossipy, action-packed, seam-bursting blast through 100 years of (mainly) European history, which draws us into the complex, frequently messy lives of musicians and politicians, philosophers and scientists, bankers and scholars ... Lebrecht is an exuberant storyteller who ably brings these personalities to life ... Lebrecht’s warts-and-all portraits of these extraordinary people fails to land the provenance of genius, or its putative connection to Jewishness, but he makes a compelling case for the phenomenal energy and independence of thought that underpinned their achievements and far-reaching influence. Impressively wide-ranging in scope and unflaggingly fascinating in detail, his account is perhaps most remarkable of all for its striking absence of authorial anxiety.
... beautifully crafted ... [Lebrecht] provides nuanced explorations of individuals from Einstein to Kafka ... 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.
... idiosyncratic and frantic ... Chapters are sometimes thematic, while others are a strange melange of unrelated ideas ... Most of the figures are well-known and male, though there are some less familiar names ... 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.