February 4, 2005

Efron on Slezkine's "The Jewish Century"

Yuri Slezkine's The Jewish Century is compared to The Origin of Species. Noah Efron, who is a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and teaches history & philosophy of science at Bar-Ilan University, writes in in the Jerusalem Report:

Still, the schematic nature of Slezkine’s analysis is an unavoidable cost of writing on such a capacious scale, and it’s a price well worth paying. The clarity of analysis is extraordinary, and the relatively simple conceptual tools Slezkine provides are unexpectedly powerful. After reading Darwin for the first time*, Thomas Henry Huxley registered shock that so clear and simple an explanation could explain so much, and that it had been overlooked for so long. I could be Slezkine’s Huxley.

It’s now 22 years since I moved to Israel to remake myself as an apollonian [man of the soil], and I find myself a fat university professor in a room lined with books, waiting for the next issue of the New York Review to arrive. The Soviet Union is gone, of course, and the great-grandchildren of Jewish revolutionaries are mostly trying to make a living in Brooklyn and Bat Yam. We are all mercurians now, but as Slezkine has shown, it may be that my personal failure to remold myself ultimately owes to the Jews’ great success remolding the world we all live in.

* To be precise, Huxley had read many articles and letters by his friend Darwin, but had never given much credence to Darwin's fragmentary advancement of his theory of natural selection, until Huxley read Darwin's book-length treatment in 1859, at which point he exclaimed, "How stupid of me not to have thought of that."

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