The Jew­ish Century

  • Review
By – July 26, 2012

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.

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions