In The Jewish Century, Yuri Slezkine suggests that Jews should be thought of as “Mercurians”— people known for their mercuriality or impermanence who function as perpetual resident aliens or “service nomads” much like Gypsies, overseas Chinese, overseas Indians or Christian Lebanese. Throughout history Jews have been remarkable “service nomads,” possessing a set of skills that make them highly successful in society. Those skills include being urban, mobile, literate, articulate, creative entrepreneurs and proficient, flexible professionals who continually pursue wealth and learning. The remarkable achievements of Jews throughout history, especially in Russia, are exhaustively documented with citations drawn from history, sociology, anthropology, and political science in English and Russian literature. Slezkine proposes that the 21st century needs people with this same set of skills. Hence, the modern age should more appropriately be called the “Jewish Age” or The Jewish Century. Reading Slezkine’s scholarly arguments to support his thesis may make for difficult reading but it also provides intriguing ventures into highly original thinking.
Yuri Slezkine is professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North and co-editor of Princeton University Press’s Shadow of Revolution: Life Stories of Russian Women from 1917 to the Second World War.