Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947

Written by Norman Lebrecht
Review by Nicky Moxey

This is a galloping tour of some of humanity’s brightest minds and the impact they had on society. In almost every aspect of life, and especially in the author’s musical area of expertise, we learn about the personalities that shaped much of today’s world. The flip side is the grim realism of the various traumas suffered by Jewish communities and individuals. There’s a phrase, “it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you” – and you can see why antisemitism hits so raw a nerve. It doesn’t make it any easier that the book is written in the present tense, so the violence rushes at you unfiltered by time. One theme where the book will not carry all its audience is the presumption that the creation of the state of Israel is a good thing. The joy on the streets of Tel Aviv when Ben-Gurion makes his declaration, ending the main part of the book in 1948, is palpable, leavened for the reader by an epilogue in 2019 where the reader discusses some of the current problems.

A fascinating book, with impeccable research, of importance to Jews and Gentiles alike looking for an insight into some of the key minds of the long last century.