Benjamin Disraeli

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Overview

Part of the Jewish Encounter series

A dandy, a best-selling novelist, and a man of political and sexual intrigue, Benjamin Disraeli was one of the most captivating figures of the nineteenth century. His flirtation with proto-Zionism, his ideas about power and empire, and his fantasies about the Middle East remain prophetically relevant today. How a man who was born a Jew--and who remained in the eyes of his ...
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Benjamin Disraeli

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Overview

Part of the Jewish Encounter series

A dandy, a best-selling novelist, and a man of political and sexual intrigue, Benjamin Disraeli was one of the most captivating figures of the nineteenth century. His flirtation with proto-Zionism, his ideas about power and empire, and his fantasies about the Middle East remain prophetically relevant today. How a man who was born a Jew--and who remained in the eyes of his countrymen a member of a despised minority--managed to become prime minister of England seems even today nothing short of miraculous.

In this compelling biography, renowned poet and critic Adam Kirsch looks at Disraeli as a novelist as well as a statesman, recognizing that the outsider Jew who became one of the world's most powerful men was his own greatest character. Though baptized by his father at the age of twelve, Disraeli was seen--and saw himself--as a Jew. But her created an idea of Jewishness to rival the British notion of aristocracy.

Disraeli was a figure of fascinating contradictions: an archconservative who benefited from England's liberal attitudes, a baptized Christian who saw Jewishness as a matter of racial superiority, a perennial outsider who dreamed of glory for England, which, in the words of one contemporary, became for Disraeli "the Israel of his imagination."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Adam Kirsch has produced a charming and absorbing apercu into one of the most fascinating statesmen of modern history. A delightful read.:
--Howard M. Sachar, author of A History of Israel

"Kirsch has written an important and compelling book about Benjamin Disraeli, the first Jewish prime minister of England, who famously replied, 'Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.' This engaging biography gives nuance and meaning to one of the most enigmatic men of the Victorian era."
--Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

Anthony Julius
Disraeli was not a man who was easily discouraged. His strong desire to impress others led him in the unusual direction of provocativeness rather than ingratiation. He did not want to escape his English milieu, he wanted to triumph within it. He did indeed triumph, achieving everything in his life that he set out to achieve. It was an extraordinary career, one to which Kirsch, in this elegantly written book, does considerable justice.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Although he was a practicing Christian, baptized into the Church of England at age 12, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's (1804-1881) Jewishness was a central fact about him. Drawing on previous biographies, histories of English Jewry and Disraeli's autobiographical novels and other writings, poet and New York Sun book critic Kirsch (Invasions) interprets Disraeli's life as emblematic of "both the possibilities of emancipation for European Jewry, and its subtle impossibilities." Kirsch sheds welcome light on Disraeli's father's ambivalence toward Judaism and his decision to baptize his children; the crude Jew-baiting Disraeli encountered at school and, later, in politics; his imagining Palestine as the site of Jewish national sovereignty; his ascent in the Conservative party, which, Kirsch says, was paradoxically a testament to English liberalism; and the half-century rivalry between Disraeli and Gladstone that defined Victorian politics. Two of Disraeli's greatest political achievements, recounted here, are the passage of a bill that broadly expanded voting rights and the purchase, with a loan from his Rothschild friends, of a share in the Suez Canal Company for the British government. This is a lively, inquiring biography that reveals the prideful, exceptional man behind the famous politician. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805242492
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/2/2008
  • Series: Jewish Encounters Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 949,587
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Kirsch, a book critic for The New York Sun, is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New Republic. He is the author of two poetry collections, The Thousand Wells and Invasions, and two works of nonfiction on poetry, The Wounded Surgeon and The Modern Element. He lives in New York City.
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Author, Light at the End of My Pen

    Can't wait to read it!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 30, 2009

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