... 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.