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Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492–1900
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Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492–1900

(The Story of the Jews #2)

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  277 ratings  ·  35 reviews
The words that failed were words of hope. But they did not fail at all times and everywhere.

These gripping pages teem with words of defiance and optimism, sounds and images of tenacious life and adventurous modernism, music and drama, business and philosophy, poetry and politics. The second part of Simon Schama's epic Story of the Jews is neither overwhelmed by hopelessnes
Hardcover, 800 pages
Published October 5th 2017 by Bodley Head
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4.24  · 
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 ·  277 ratings  ·  35 reviews

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Howard Cincotta
Is someone were to say, “I need to pass a test on Jewish history next week,” I would answer: Don’t read Belonging, Simon Schama’s second volume of his Story of the Jews trilogy. Why? Because he is too immersed in the stories — the rich procession of shrewd traders, pious scholars, victimized peasants, false messiahs, remarkable rebbes — to deal much with the dry business of abstract history and broad characterizations.

In fact, I have the awful suspicion that Schama had more difficulty cutting y
This second volume of Simon Schama's history of the Jewish people begins in the ghettos of Venice where the Jews of the Iberian peninsula had ended up after being expelled. Those that had not escaped were forced to convert and even then were still persecuted. This search for safety and somewhere to live where they could carry on with their lives in peace had been a pressing concern; and as this book explains in some detail, the theme of moving, settling, suffering and moving again, would keep re ...more
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In this painfully beautiful 700-page second instalment, Schama has given us a string of exquisitely vivid vignettes about the tenacity of an inextinguishable culture that perennially wandered and suffered. It begins with the story about a David Reubeni and ends with a cliffhanger about the very Theodor Herzl - one can see what it is aiming at. It talks about Jewishness, antisemitism, and Zionism. But it is also about the Enlightenment, modernity, secularism, and realpolitik. And of course, as Sc ...more
Richard Block
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Belonging Nowhere

Sparkling prose, insightful analysis and personal stories that make a larger point are what distinguish Simon Schama's histories. This one hits the bullseye in every respect, making it a superior sequel to the first volume of the promised three. Tracing the history of the Jews from the time of the inquisition to Zionism is no mean feat, but Schama is up to the task. His knack for focusing on the individual gives his histories a granular feel that many others can't come close to
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: judaism
I was taught on my tour guide course that it's better to tell stories, rather than lecture. Simon Schama takes this to heart in this, the 2nd of eventually 3 volume history of the Jewish people. Not only is it written with Schama's usual creamy prose, but he takes the time to tell the life stories of people (both significant and not so much) who embroider the vast tapestry that is Jewish history. I would give it a 6th star.
Peter Mcloughlin
Jewish History like history, in general, picks up the pace and gets more interesting in the world after 1492. Modernity posed problems for Jews in the form of assimilation and enlightenment universalism (only partially realized) and with it problems of identity now that the wider world was more open. The story goes through the early modern era through the evolution of the enlightenment and into the 19th century, many changes happened in this period in which the Jews participated in and reacted t ...more
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a mammoth book - 700 pages of Simon Schama's inimitable and dazzling way of telling history through the stories of individuals. And what characters they are - rich and poor, learned and unlearned, fixers and dealers, actor-managers, poetesses, opera composers, a US diplomat, builders of railways, a remarkable bare-knuckle boxing champion in London at the end of the 18th century..... The book bursts with life, but at the same time there is always the suffering, the libels, the accusations ...more
Tracy Masters
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Stronger on social history than history history but well written and approachable
Paulo Reimann
Let's put it that way...

...I highly respect Schama and recognize in him a great intellectual. I was looking for something that entertains me without the scholarship flavourful the book provides. My bad. The book is lesser about history more into social pages. Some high points such as the portion, short though, about Jefferson, the Brazilian sefaradis and a bit about the Hungarian assimilated petit bourgeois. Will try, though, volume I.
Adrian Fingleton
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a huge, dense book. And it tells a very interesting story, spread across many countries. I have to confess that I was not able to read all of it due to time pressures from other quarters (and the scale of the book too). But the parts I did get time to look at were very engaging, interesting and informative, and I would like to go back to it again when I get more time to do it the justice it deserves...
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This isn't really a history, instead it is a collection of stories about individual Jews up until 1800. Schama tells of Spinoza, Mendelsom and others in a way that people would tell stories in a break room. Complete with witty asides, jargon and stereotypes. Jews have survived for over two thousand years in spite of, or maybe because of persecutions and rabid antisemitism.
Ali Miremadi
May 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic collection of stories structured into a coherent history.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As expected, fascinating, especially where figures I recognize from art history appear as significant players in their worlds. A large, densely printed tome unsuited to being toted about, so rather slow going.
Nicholas Story, solicitor
Dear old Simon has got far too carried away with his own rhetoric, and consequently seems to lose himself as well as this particular reader's interest far too frequently. He is a good writer but not good enough to pull off the various literary techniques that he employs. Page after page of grinding purple prose taking him absolutely nowhere; every chapter starting with a fairly nondescript anecdote, and then expanding into the bigger picture. It's as if he can't decide whether it's a novel or a ...more
Mar 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a sprawling work covering a whole gamut of Jewish experience throughout the Early Modern world. It is ambitious, tragic and absorbing. The stories Schama follows are remarkable, and he does tell them in an engaging and literate manner (more than once, for instance, clearly enjoying his use of alliteration).

In general, the book uses the individual families or networks to encapsulate the Jewish experience in a moment of time, in a specific place. Unfortunately, probably largely due to the
Frantisek Spinka
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a quite fascinating book. As Schama makes clear at the beginning of the book, this is not a history of the Jewish nation as such. Rather it is conceptually built on telling the stories of more or less famous Jews. Through this method, Schama eventually forms a picture of different periods, places and people living in them. As the title makes clear, Schama is concentrated on the fact that Jews were dispersed throughout the world, nowhere having a home per se, yet being capable to retain a ...more
Sara Laor
Dec 24, 2017 rated it liked it
A very heavy book, and I certainly felt that I was in a multi-mirrored house of Jewish horrors spanning the many centuries and continents. It's hard to feel uplifted after reading this magisterial and factually depressing book. I'm glad Schama ended with Herzl -- he is certainly the very germ of a seed of the next chapter, yet to be written. I recommend this book, but it is definitely not for the un-initiated. Reading it in a New York city drunk on its progressive self-righteousness and hatred f ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
This second volume (third not out yet) of the history is another tour de force in terms of its depth and detail. Taking us up to the moment when the modern Zionist project is articulated, it is a stark reminder (along with the first volume) of the long, dark history of anti-semitism. It also documents the long, bright history of achievements on the part of a diverse set of Jewish people across diverse nations and cultures. It will be interesting to see how Schama portrays the founding of Israel ...more
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I think this volume was actually more depressing than the last, because wow did the Enlightenment fail. However, Schama's writing style and focus on individuals made it bearable as ever, and I learned so much. I was a little disappointed by the relative lack of information about the Haskalah and origins of the Hasidim - the latter got a short section, though the former seemed to be covered by a mini-biography of Moses Mendelssohn (interesting but not comprehensive). However, I think that critici ...more
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Schama is one of those writers who you can hear as you read, the rhythms and cadences of his voice clearly audible in the written word. This book, like the first volume, is not a History, it is as he says a Story, and Schama proceeds to tell us many stories, bringing to marvellous life characters both well-known and obscure. It is never dull, and always informative, but above all it is a story, and very well told.
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
More 'pared down' in terms of melodrama, more so because the stories he chooses are more significant/strategic. The dramatic flourishes keep the narrative moving along and there are good balances from both for and against the cause/case. But generally a more enjoyable read compared to his first volume. Looking fwd to his last work. But the Zionist coverage might be a bit limited in terms of scope and there could have been other events happening but not covered.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant book and beautifully written. The only issue is that Sir Simon almost completely negates the great Jewish communities of the Sephardi world: Persia, Bagdad, Morocco and Tunisia. The book focuses primarily on the history of European Jewry, so if you’re looking to learn more about Sephardi history, you won’t find much here.
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Magesterial, wise and witty. This isn't strictly a history of the Jews, in that it focuses more on the exceptions rather than the rules. Jews of the Middle East appear almost exclusively through the eyes of their European counterparts. This is not a textbook so much as a guide.
Still, it's a fabulous ride from the expulsion from Spain to the rise of political Zionism.
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
A highly detailed collection of lovingly assembled and delightfully quirky biographies, it certainly read quite differently from part I for me. It was really thought provoking to get the Jewish, an external observer's perspective of sorts, on triumphalistic European history. One resilient life after another amidst the turmoil of colonialism, empire, revolution and war.
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent and engaging story. It's long but it keeps you in its grasp at all times with the stories of individuals, whom you can't help but care about. Deeply moving at times, but also funny. Clearly extensively researched and full of risk detail. Delightful.
Murray Braun
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read the first four chapters which deal with the 16th century. Compared with "A Convenient Hatred: History of Anti-Semitism," there is little if anything written about Luther and the importance of the reformation. The stress here is on Italy and Turkey with a side-trip to Safed.
Chris Sharpe
Holy crap that was obscenely long! So many stories that you can't see the whole narrative, and really requires you to have a fairly good working knowledge of Jewish practice (also French and Latin) to make sense of it all.
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
learned a lot from this volume as well
Simon Harrison
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Schama’s usual light touch, deployed to make the longer reads no issue, is widely dispersed in Belonging. It feels like a slog. Good but not Schama-Great.
Peter Eckstein
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This Simon Schama's second volume in what eventually will be a 3 part series is as wonderful and comprehensive and readable as volume 1. Schama writes history like a novel. You actually care about what happens to these historical characters, from the Spanish refugees of 1492, to Jewish boxers in 18th century Britain to Dr. Herzl himself. I heartily recommend it!
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Simon Schama was born in 1945. The son of a textile merchant with Lithuanian and Turkish grandparents, he spent his early years in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. When his parents moved to London he won a scholarship to Haberdashers’ Aske’s School where his two great loves were English and History. Forced to choose between the two he opted to read history at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Here he was taught ...more

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The Story of the Jews (2 books)
  • The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BCE – 1492 CE
“The wearing of skullcaps in public was criminalised, as were other items defined as habitually Jewish. But Hasidic Jews responded by adopting the costume of the Polish-Russian merchant; the black fox-fur shtreimel hat worn over the yarmulka, the long belted black coat and white stockings that merchants wore in St Petersburg. This is what they still wear in Jerusalem and elsewhere, imagined as distinctively Jewish dress, which frozen over the generations it has duly become.” 0 likes
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