The Jewish Century

By Yuri Slezkine,

Book cover of The Jewish Century

Book description

This masterwork of interpretative history begins with a bold declaration: "The Modern Age is the Jewish Age, and the twentieth century, in particular, is the Jewish Century." The assertion is, of course, metaphorical. But it drives home Yuri Slezkine's provocative thesis: Jews have adapted to the modern world so well…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Why read it?

4 authors picked The Jewish Century as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Yuri Slezkine’s classic book on the history of Russian Jewry is not a work of migration history strictly speaking. But there is no Jewish history without migration, and Slezkine shows us, among many other things, how Russian Jews ended up in the US, Israel, and the Soviet Union, representing three ideological choices—liberalism, nationalism, and communism.

I read this book back in university, and few works, if any, have had such a profound impact on my historical thinking.

While other books use small subjects to make big points, Slezkine’s book is nothing if not ambitious in its breadth.

A provocative book that is not afraid to make sweeping claims, Slezkine manages to convey the story of twentieth-century Russian Jews as a transnational drama between the Soviet Union, Israel, and the United States on an epic scale. Hidden histories need not be small.

This lively, well-researched book made a big impression on me when I first read it—and again since—because of its provocative claim that modernity, beginning in the late nineteenth century, ‘is about everyone becoming Jewish,’ that is, ‘urban, mobile, literate,’ mentally agile and ‘occupationally flexible,’ things Jews, historically shut out of many state roles, had no choice but to be.

Slezkine’s larger point in this engrossing narrative history, that Jews are exemplary moderns because they are Mercurians, descendants of Hermes or Mercury—professional strangers who serve and deliver goods to food-producing, settled Apollonians—is a profound one.

To be Mercurian is to be…

From Eluned's list on being a stranger.

The history of modern Russia is almost inconceivable without the millions of Jews who, restricted to the Pale of Settlement in the years of the tsarist empire, went on to become major producers and interpreters of Russian culture in the Soviet Union. This remarkable book tells their story but is about so much more besides. In witty and idiosyncratic prose, it ultimately describes the modern condition and what it means to inhabit it.

Want books like The Jewish Century?

Our community of 10,000+ authors has personally recommended 100 books like The Jewish Century.

Browse books like The Jewish Century

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in modernity, the Soviet Union, and Europe?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about modernity, the Soviet Union, and Europe.

Modernity Explore 50 books about modernity
The Soviet Union Explore 327 books about the Soviet Union
Europe Explore 894 books about Europe