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The Rise of David Levinsky

3.64  ·  Rating Details  ·  404 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
David Levinsky is a Russian Jew--part of a vast group who immigrated to New York in the 1880s. Orphaned and penniless, he settles on the Lower East Side, where every newcomer is sneered at by anyone who has been in America even a few months longer. But he makes his way up, step by step, mishap by mishap, plan by plan: from street peddler to small manufacturer to millionair ...more
Paperback, 526 pages
Published December 31st 2009 by Transaction Large Print (first published 1917)
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I read this one a long time ago and was really drawn in by the pathos and the humor, and, of course, the journey. Cahan refuses to make this a simple story about good and evil. Levinsky falls as he rises, and rises as he falls, and perhaps there is something almost universally true about the human predicament of success.

This book could just as easily have been called "The Fall of David Levinsky", with its descriptions of a boy who goes from being the king of the cheder in his shtetl, to becomi
Jul 05, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
THE RISE OF DAVID LEVINSKY. (1917). Abraham Cahan. ****.
I had not heard of this writer before, but found a copy printed as a Penguin Twentieth-Century Classic. The author (1860-1951) was a prolific writer, primarily in Yiddish. He was a co-founder and editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, an influential newspaper in America. This novel is very autobiographical, and follows the life of a young boy growing up in Lithuania who ultimately comes to America as a pauper but through hard work becomes ver
Frieda Vizel
Jun 06, 2012 Frieda Vizel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This wonderful novel written as a first person narrative is the life story of a poor Russian boy who emigrates to America and becomes a multi millionaire. The story is told in complete detail, with a lamenting, nostalgic feel. It is well written and arresting, but rambles too much at times, which although digressive, adds to the effect of genuine storytelling. Some of the thoughts the narrator offers about life after one gets all the success and fame one can dream of were really insightful. The ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
It isn't especially well-written and the characters not especially well-drawn - I usually require at least one of those elements to be remarkable, if not both. I think the story - a rather typical story of a poverty-stricken immigrant making good - would have been better in the third person rather than the first person.

It is said to be autobiographical, but I think it is only partly so. It comes from the writer's own experiences, certainly, but perhaps as much the Jewish immigrant experience in
Ayelet Waldman
This novel was wonderful, but it's of a very particular kind. It's a tale of business -- the garment business to be exact.
Jennifer S. Brown
Mar 20, 2015 Jennifer S. Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish-books
This autobiographical novel charts the rise of David Levinksy, an immigrant to New York in the late 1880s. The novel is quite long, and it took a while to get through it, but it was well worth the read. The differences between David's life as a Talmud student in Russia and his life as an upcoming cloak maker in New York are striking. At the beginning, it's difficult to see how this scholarly, pious boy is to become this amoral American, but the progressing is clear and logical. Really interestin ...more
John Hubbard
Jun 22, 2016 John Hubbard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
David Levinsky is probably my favorite read of the year so far. This David has a life arc similar to David Copperfield. And, in that way, the novel could be considered slight as just a Russian-Jewish immigrant to America version of the Dickens’ novel. I find it to be so much more. It is the standard turn of the century rise with hard work (and malleable morality) to financial prominence through Capitalism. Socialists are always portrayed as either lowly workers or elitist intellectuals, both und ...more
Shirley Brown
Dec 06, 2011 Shirley Brown rated it liked it
An interesting book. Even though it was first published in 1917 it has many moments when it could have been written today. A sad story of a Russian Jewish boy who was born into poverty in Russia. His mother dies and he is left an orphan. He slowly begins to rise, but finds that he is not happy. He falls in loves at least three times but is unsuccessful in any marriage. He learns to adapt and then finds that he was happiest reading the Talmud that he is as the well-known cloak manufacturer.
This book was interesting in showing the difficulties of having an Orthodox Jewish background in Russia, then immigrating to the U.S.A., then trying to figure out how to make money and survive economically while you are learning a new way of living in a different culture.

The aspects I disliked in this book were that the protagonist is a capitalist who takes advantage of his workers, illegally breaks union rules, hates socialism and all efforts to improve the life of working people, is proud of h
Ben Kintisch
Jul 17, 2007 Ben Kintisch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: entrepreneurs
One of the great classics of Jewish literature. Tells of an immigrant who makes it big in the garment district. The tale is familiar in a broad sense, but the details are rich and teach us about the industry in which so many of American Jews' families toiled. Now we take for granted that many retail giants and fashion labels are Jewish names. This book is a great adventure that shows you how it happened.
Mar 04, 2014 Lynne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed it but mainly because I like all things regarding NYC in the early 1900's. I also love to learn about other cultures and this book really gives an indepth look at Jewish culture. It's also interesting because it showed why so many eastern European jews immigrated to the US and how their lives were before and after their immigration.
I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. Given that I love turn-of-the-century New York, immigrant narratives, and literature that's contemporaneous to time periods that interest me, this book seemed like it was going to be a real winner. It wasn't.

I found David exceptionally tedious as a human being—and increasingly so as the novel goes on. There were some moments of great insight, but on the whole, it was a lot of slogging through David having the same problems over and over. The book isn
Jack Goodstein
Dec 07, 2013 Jack Goodstein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Jewish immigrant rises economically but falls morally--think "The Rise of Silas Lapham" Ebook can be downloaded free from iTunes.
This book was recommended in a recorded course I took - on the basis of Mr. Cahan and his importance as an American.
I found it very interesting and it is rated as only "liked it" most probably due to thway a late n20th century man reads the story.
The beginning with the "origin" of Levinsky is really very interesting and is likely (I hope) the part that the recommender calls semi autobiographical of Cahan.
Levinskiy rises but on the way lies and cheats a bit and is always looking for ways to get m
The contrast between the life of a “Talmudist,” someone in Antinomar, Russia who lives in accordance with strict orthodox Jewish law, and an American capitalist could hardly be more stark, and there’s no way David Levinsky can hold on to a little bit of the old tradition while succeeding in the New World. He does indeed find material success, eventually. He tells you on page 1 that he is very rich now. It’s like a Dreiser novel, in that material success is correlated with the selling of one’s so ...more
Eli Mandel
Jan 26, 2014 Eli Mandel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish
I really enjoyed this book. Sure it was long winded, but the insight was sharp and accurate.

While the author spends considerable time building up certain situations and characters, he neglected to do the same for others. For example, we get a good idea of the development of Levinsky's love for his first two flames, but a very vague idea as to the third. We get a strong sense of his childhood in Antomir, his early struggles in America, his early struggles in business, but a very vague idea as to
Jul 31, 2008 Sidney rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
From the very beginning, I really grabbed on to this book. It is 500 pages. I was interested in it. By the DORA section, around 250+ pages, I just could not keep reading the novel. I would like to know how it ends, but honestly, I'm tired of reading about how he chases after other men's wives and prostitutes. While he doesn't go into detail at all, just the thought is irritating and degenerate. (Okay, that's not the theme of the book, but since the guy has decided to give up his Jewish way of li ...more
Czarny Pies
Feb 01, 2016 Czarny Pies rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: 1
Recommended to Czarny by: It was required reading for an undergraduate history course.
For all the talk of America being a country of immigrants the few books written by new-comers to this continent have never had much of an audience. David Levinsky is a great classic that describes the experience of one Central European who makes a life for himself in New York in the late 19th century.

This novel was assigned reading in an undergraduate history course that I took in the 1980's. Anyone majoring in American history ought to read this book. Literature lovers may be frustrated by the
Apr 23, 2011 wally rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cahan
read this one years ago...i think i wrote a college paper on it...having read sartre's work...don't recall that title, something about...okay, maybe it was jew/anti-semite? that business about being authentic? as i recall, this was a story about david...heh heh, as the title clearly indicates, so i'm not stretching the ole memory too too much. i think it's safe to say there was conflict, action, dialogue....more. there was something about this one that caused me to write a paper about it....some ...more
I remember it as a very chronologically organized story that read like a memoir. My son read it for a college class and shared it with me as a book he thoroughly enjoyed .
Cahan, an immigrant himself does a great job in depicting an immigrant-laden New York City and the demeaning jobs these people had to do in order to make a living. While the trivial things that lead up to David’s success within the buzzing Clothing industry seem a bit convenient, it does add to some kind of feeling that God is watching over him even though the more successful he becomes, the more David forsakes his Jewishness and all it meant to him back in the early years of his life.

Read my f
Jan 07, 2015 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kind of a Dreiser of the Lower East Side, both in theme and in clunky prose. About 100 pages too long.
Jonathan Lopatin
Jan 17, 2016 Jonathan Lopatin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have heard about this book for years, without having read it. It is a fascinating historical document (and very interesting novel) about the lives of Easter European immigrant Jews of my grandparents generation. There is not an ounce of sentimentality here. Yes, it is a bit dated but definitely worth the effort
Oct 16, 2015 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sad man. To the end poor David did not understand women which gave him a haunting, lonely life.
I chose this book because I wanted to be transported to the Lower East Side, the heart of the Jewish ghetto, among the pushcart vendors, the teeming masses of compressed humanity trying to survive in a new land. Well, the book was largely a soliloquy of David Levinsky with little description of his surroundings, so I was disappointed in that regard. Mr. Levinsky was an intellectual at heart but he never acheived his dream of a college education and was instead burdened with great wealth.
Yossi Gremillion
Nu, as you know, I'm enamored with the history of the Lower East Side (Give a guess). This books tells the mayseh of David Levinsky, poor orphan from Antomir, Russia, who rises from poor, illiterate immigrant to wealthy clothing manufacturer. It's also a wonderful chronicle of the Jewish immigrant experience. LEYENEN DI BUCH!!
Jan 14, 2008 Kathryn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read this book several times. It inspired my topic for my master's thesis, so it has certainly had some powerful influence in my academic life. Cahan is a worthy read as he was editor of the Jewish Daily Forward and an expert on the life of the Jewish immigrants he fictionalizes in this novel.
May 20, 2013 Ffiamma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
la storia di david levinsky arrivato poverissimo dalla russia e diventato ricco e potente. la sua ascesa e la sua costante solitudine. amaro, importante, epico- un grande classico della letteratura jewish american mai tradotto (o forse tradotto molti anni fa e adesso introvabile)
The Rise of David Levinsky is the story of a Russian Talmud student that moves to American due to increasing Antisemitism in Russia and the death of his parents. He becomes a cloak maker in New York, building his fortune but ultimately does not accomplish his life's dream.

I didn't realize the book was actually published in 1917. That explains a lot. I thought it was pretty interesting, but at times did not like his attitudes toward women. I also thought it was a little slow in spots and I just wanted him to get married already.
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Abraham "Abe" Cahan was a Lithuanian-born Jewish-American socialist newspaper editor, novelist, and politician.

Source: Wikipedia.
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