Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Monumental in scope and depth, this vibrantly detailed chronicle sweeps from New Amsterdam of 1654, where Brazilian Jewish refugees established a beachhead in the future New York, to the 1980s campaign to resettle Soviet Jews in the United States. In the most comprehensive and revealing account to date of the saga of American Jewry, George Washington University historian Sachar explores how Jews faced the challenge of preserving their historic group identity within a widening matrix of Americanization. He charts the contributions of Jews from the Revolutionary War to the California Gold Rush of 1849 to labor activism and Tin Pan Alley. He also profiles scores of influential Jews ranging from Samuel Gompers to Alfred Heinz (Henry) Kissinger. Sachar ( A History of Israel ) includes particularly incisive sections on American Jews' heated divisions over Zionism, the efforts to rescue Europe's Jews from Nazism, black-Jewish relations and the Jews' impact on American culture. This absorbing narrative unfolds a splendid epic of immigration, acceptance, acculturation and reaffirmed identity in the face of institutionalized discrimination. BOMC alternate. (May)
Author of The Course of Modern Jewish History (Vintage, 1990), A History of Israel ( LJ 5/1/87), and Diaspora ( LJ 3/15/85. o.p.), Sachar specializes in writing grand one-volume historical syntheses, encyclopedic in scope and arresting in detail. Here he provides a sweeping narrative history of American Jews from their beginnings to contemporary times, the most comprehensive single volume as yet written on the subject. Reflecting intimate familiarity with voluminous secondary sources and punctuated by telling primary citations, this book is a veritable treasure trove of information. Despite a wooden first hundred pages and an imperious disdain for Orthodox Judaism, it provides a lively, engaging, and thoughtful depiction of East European/German-Jewish tensions, evolving American Jewish secular culture, and American Jewish politics. A signal achievement, furnishing a valuable apercu for scholars and an abundance of historical insights for lay readers. BOMC alternate.--Benny Kraut, Univ. of Cincinnati
With this comprehensive, insightful, and spirited opus, Sachar (Modern History/George Washington Univ.; A History of Israel, 1976 and 1977, etc.) rises to the position of preeminent Jewish historian of our day. Sachar's study aims far above the "Look Who's Jewish" genre of pop Jewish-American history, yet there are passages about men of Jewish descent who sponsored Columbus's voyages, speculation about the Jewishness of Abraham Lincoln's ancestry, and, much later, lists of Jewish entertainers, scientists, scholars, etc., whose Jewishness was often less than relevant. Sachar is at his best when succinctly presenting a generation's grappling with social, philosophical, political, and theological issues after major Jewish milestones like the influx of Eastern European immigrants, the Holocaust, and the Six-Day War. Both the "beatification" and "martyrology" of Holocaust study and the new religion of Israelism are critically discussed. Sachar has a historian's gift for mapping out the key crossroads facing the American Jewish community at each major juncture, from the American Revolution to the current "quota crisis" with the black community. He then offers a journalist's-eye view of the major figures behind the ideas and movements. Journalist Sachar can be rather subjective as he paints Orthodox rabbis ("hairshirt tribalists") like Bernard Revel as amoral opportunists, and liberal secularists like Rabbi Stephen Wise as intrepid pioneers. Most laypeople of any stripe, though, will appreciate his saucy dismissal of most American rabbis as "preening pulpiteers, social climbers, publicity and financial bonus seekers." In his reviews of major cultural figures, Sachar praises anyone that IrvingHowe likes and trashes celebrated artists like Elie Wieseland, while noting that America has always swallowed up her Jews, he favors saccharine projections about the children of intermarried couples being "raised as Jews." There are chapter headings like "the German-Jewish Conscience at Efflorescence" and adjectives such as "latitudinarian," but this immensely readable tome offers several centuries' worth of crystallized energy.
From the Publisher
"Imbued with comprehensive scholarship and ripe understanding...governed throughout by a judicious temperament ...[this is a] massive, magisterial history."
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Dense and absorbing... not only good history but a contribution to the current debate over American-Israeli relations."
The New York Times Book Review
"I have been teaching American history for thirty-eight years, but I was frankly astonished by much of the information contained in Howard Sachar's monumental volume."
David Brion Davis, The New Republic
"Sachar is attentive to social, economic, and political history...A deep and fascinating study."
Washington Post Book World