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Paul Kriwaczek begins this illuminating and immensely pleasurable chronicle of Yiddish civilization during the Roman empire, when Jewish culture first spread to Europe. We see the burgeoning exile population disperse, as its notable diplomats, artists and thinkers make their mark in far-flung cities and found a self-governing Yiddish world. By its late-medieval heyday, this economically successful, intellectually adventurous, and self-aware society stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Kriwaczek traces, too, the slow decline of Yiddish culture in Europe and Russia, and highlights fresh offshoots in the New World.
Combining family anecdote, travelogue, original research, and a keen understanding of Yiddish art and literature, Kriwaczek gives us an exceptional portrait of a culture which, though nearly extinguished, has an influential radiance still.
“Galloping through the centuries at a swift pace, recreating wonderful pictures of lost communities of Jews, going from Roman times through to the 21st century with barely a pause for breath...informative and very entertaining.”
—Katrina Goldstone, The Irish Times
“Paul Kriwaczek’s essential argument is simple: this is, or rather was, a civilization. Its people were a nation. So his book is essentially descriptive, showing that the culture was indeed broad and deep and widespread enough to justify those terms. The description is well done and makes the point very effectively….I do not know what Jews will make of Yiddish Civilization, but for Christians it could not have been published at a more opportune time.”
—Digby Anderson, The Spectator
“A highly enjoyable and surprisingly positive account of how Jewish culture helped shape European history and vice versa.”
–The Sunday Telegraph
“An outstanding survey. . . . Kriwaczek tracks the origins, flowering, and destruction of this unique, vibrant, and tenacious culture with a fine mixture of pride, regret, and eloquence.”
“Evocative and precise. . . . An enjoyable narrative that captures the intricacies of a very complicated history.”
“Informative and very entertaining . . . conjures up and re-creates baroque images and marvelous set pieces of feverish activity, long lost towns and shtetls [as well as] wonderful pictures of lost communities of Jews.”
–The Irish Times