From the prizewinning Jewish Lives series, a masterful new biography of Theodor Herzl by an eminent historian of Zionism
The life of Theodor Herzl (1860–1904) was as puzzling as it was brief. How did this cosmopolitan and assimilated European Jew become the leader of the Zionist movement? How could he be both an artist and a statesman, a rationalist and an aesthete, a stern moralist yet possessed of deep, and at times dark, passions? And why did scores of thousands of Jews, many of them from traditional, observant backgrounds, embrace Herzl as their leader?
Drawing on a vast body of Herzl’s personal, literary, and political writings, historian Derek Penslar shows that Herzl’s path to Zionism had as much to do with personal crises as it did with antisemitism. Once Herzl devoted himself to Zionism, Penslar shows, he distinguished himself as a consummate leader—possessed of indefatigable energy, organizational ability, and electrifying charisma. Herzl became a screen onto which Jews of his era could project their deepest needs and longings.
About Jewish Lives:
Jewish Lives is a prizewinning series of interpretative biography designed to explore the many facets of Jewish identity. Individual volumes illuminate the imprint of Jewish figures upon literature, religion, philosophy, politics, cultural and economic life, and the arts and sciences. Subjects are paired with authors to elicit lively, deeply informed books that explore the range and depth of the Jewish experience from antiquity to the present.
In 2014, the Jewish Book Council named Jewish Lives the winner of its Jewish Book of the Year Award, the first series ever to receive this award.
More praise for Jewish Lives:
“Excellent.” – New York times
“Exemplary.” – Wall St. Journal
“Distinguished.” – New Yorker
“Superb.” – The Guardian
Penslar (Jews and the Military), a professor of Jewish history at Harvard, provides an excellent, concise biography of Theodor Herzl (1860 1904), architect of modern Zionism. The focus is less on the biographical details of Herzl's life though the broad strokes are covered and more on the vision Herzl created that allowed him to position himself as the great visionary of Zionism at the end of the 19th century. Penslar focuses on three elements: Herzl's "inner life," his relation to Zionism, and his (self-defined) position in the world. While Zionism as an idea already existed, Herzl saw himself as the man of the hour, ready to step forward and take the movement to new heights. As a journalist, Herzl championed the Zionist cause and established the Zionist newspaper Die Welt in Vienna in 1897. He later formed and headed the First Zionest Congress. Penslar is meticulous in taking the reader along Herzl's many attempts to bring the Zionist dream to life, which included approaches to Wilhelm II, the Ottoman Empire, the Rothschild banking family, and Cecil Rhodes. Penslar is sympathetic to but not forgiving of his subject, as when he depicts Herzl's tumultuous marriage to Julie Naschauer. This is an exceptionally good, highly readable volume that will appeal to general readers and specialists alike.