Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Golden Age? Maybe Not.

I love it when book publishers and publicists send me books to review. Absolutely love it. Especially in the summer when I actually have time to sit down with a tome and give a little attention to a real-life, paper-style, bound book and not something on my iPad or Nook. I've revived the whole "going to the library" thing that I used and abused when I lived in Denver and Connecticut, because when I'm under the pressure of "return this in two weeks OR ELSE," I'm more likely to actually read the book.

But this is a book someone sent me, and because I do have the time to review books, I thought I should get to it. So, I sat down with The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement: The Compendium of a Culture, a People, and Their Stunning Performance by Steven Pease over Shabbat, excited to see exactly what this offer had to offer regarding the sometimes seemingly unbalanced representation of Jews in positions of achievement.

Unfortunately, I wasn't entirely jazzed with the book. The introduction made me wonder if at some point Pease said something and someone accused him of being an antiSemite so he felt like he needed to defend his position of his respect and admiration of Jews. He gives a laundry list of details about how he knows gobs of Jews, his favorite joke came from a Jewish friend, how he worked with Jews. You know, it's like that excuse, "Oh, I can tell this racist joke because my best friend is black."


In the wrong hands, this book could be seriously bad news. It offers a laundry list (hence "compendium" in the title) of Jews and their achievements, from champion chess players to Nobel prize winners and everything in between. The lists and details on athletics were particularly interesting, if only because Jews seem to be wired for owning teams rather than playing on them. (Insert stereotype here.)

Listen, I get what Pease was trying to do: List and explain why Jews are so darn great at just about everything -- really tipping the scales in inventions, Nobel prize-winning, Hollywood, and so on -- except for sports. But this isn't the kind of book you sit down and read. It's the kind of book you reference on occasion when someone says, "Oh come on, there's no way Jews are that good at chess!" But when I said that this could be bad news in the wrong hands, it's because I feel like this is the kind of list that an antiSemite is just looking for to prove the "Jews run the world" argument. After all, if we're so darn good at achieving in certain fields, clearly we're going at it in a sneaky, Jewish kind of way.

Should you go out and buy this book? Probably not. However, if you like stats and you like to know who the major players in various categories of Jewish public history, then this book definitely is for you. And it's only $14.95 on Amazon, so if you can get past the "oh I know lots of Jews, so it's all good" stuff, then perhaps you'll get your money's worth.