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The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933 [Kindle Edition]

Amos Elon
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"Brilliant, far-reaching, passionate. . .sweeping and marvelously detailed. . .finely, intimately, movingly drawn. . . a book for the ages." --The New York Times

"[Elon] is a master of the telling anecdote. . ..One should be grateful for what Elon has done." --Los Angeles Times

"A work packed with beautifully sketched portraits, and constructed with a practiced eye for memorable, well-executed anecdotes." --The New York Times Book Review

"Impressive. . .Could hardly be improved upon." --The New York Review of Books

"If there is one book Americans should read this winter, it is Amos Elon's The Pity of It All--a meticulous and wrenching history of a people in a place at a moment in time that bears urgently upon our own." --Joan Didion, author of Political Fictions


From an acclaimed historian and social critic, a passionate and poignant history of German Jews from the mid-eighteenth century to the eve of the Third Reich

As it's usually told, the story of the German Jews starts at the end, with their tragic demise in Hitler's Third Reich. Now, in this important work of historical restoration, Amos Elon takes us back to the beginning, chronicling a period of achievement and integration that at its peak produced a golden age second only to the Renaissance.

Writing with a novelist's eye, Elon shows how a persecuted clan of cattle dealers and wandering peddlers was transformed into a stunningly successful community of writers, philosophers, scientists, tycoons, and activists. He peoples his account with dramatic figures: Moses Mendelssohn, who entered Berlin in 1743 through the gate reserved for Jews and cattle, and went on to become "the German Socrates"; Heinrich Heine, beloved lyric poet who famously referred to baptism as the admission ticket to European culture; Hannah Arendt, whose flight from Berlin signaled the end of the German-Jewish idyll. Elon traces how this minority-never more than one percent of the population-came to be perceived as a deadly threat to national integrity, and he movingly demonstrates that this devastating outcome was uncertain almost until the end.

A collective biography, full of depth and compassion, The Pity of It All summons up a splendid world and a dream of integration and tolerance that, despite all, remains the essential ennobling project of modernity.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 2002 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 466 Seiten
  • ISBN-Quelle für Seitenzahl: 0312422814
  • Verlag: Metropolitan Books; Auflage: Reprint (26. April 2013)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
  • X-Ray:
  • Durchschnittliche Kundenbewertung: 5.0 von 5 Sternen  Alle Rezensionen anzeigen (1 Kundenrezension)
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #86.816 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

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5.0 von 5 Sternen
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen
5.0 von 5 Sternen Amazing book 18. Mai 2011
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
This book ought to be mandatory reading for all who claim that the Holocaust was a logical result of German anti-Semitism.
And the delivery service was excellent.
War diese Rezension für Sie hilfreich?
Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.9 von 5 Sternen  49 Rezensionen
58 von 61 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Elegant and engaging 28. Januar 2004
Von Ein Kunde - Veröffentlicht auf
I am surprised to be the first reviewer of this book. Although the title may suggest that the book is narrow and scholarly, nothing could be further from the truth. By focusing on Germany in the Enlightment and modern periods, Elon has written a microcosm of the history of anti-Semitism and of Europe. Using well-known German Jews, like Heine, and lesser-known figures, Elon brings these 200 years of history to life. He is historically scrupulous, but writes with the ease of a novelist. It's a good read that's good for you.
51 von 57 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen AN OUTSTANDING WORK OF UNIVERSAL SCOPE 20. November 2005
Von Alexander Lerman - Veröffentlicht auf
This is one of the finest works of history, in any subject, I have ever read.

Elon transcends "Jewish History" to write a book that is indeed about Jews in Europe - and is thus about Europe, European civilization, and the enlightenment in general. Prior to reading this work, I had no idea of the significance of Napoleon to the Jewish people, nor the horrific conditions under which most Jews lived. The heavy representation of Jews among progressive reformers and visionary intellectuals reflects the yearnings of the elite of an opressed and ostrasized class - and their vital contribution. Anti-semitism co-mingled with economic and political reactionary views in response to both Jewisch emancipation, and social, cultural and political progressive movements in Europe - culminating in the madness and obscenity of the holocaust. Elon traces with regret the degree that Hitler confirmed and gave strength to Jewish sepratists, who viewed the assimilationist and universalist yearnings of generations of European Jews as racial and religious treason.

Elon is a masterful yet unobtrusive historian. Reading his book is like spending a term with a great professor, under whose tutalage the world becomes larger, sadder, and more deeply intelligible. Elon's work itself stands as a statement that the Holocaust and the Nazi movement did not destroy humanity's progressive vision
36 von 42 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen The Failed Secular Jewish Messianic Era in Germany 12. Juni 2005
Von givbatam3 - Veröffentlicht auf
Belief in the coming of the Messiah and a Messianic era of world peace is an integral part of traditional Judaism. Even secularized Jews, starting with Moses Mendelssohn and others, transfer this belief into an attempt to create a worldly utopia in the here and now while abandoning traditional Jewish observance. This explains why various universalist, utopian philosophies, such as Marxism, attracts secular Jews. Similarly, attempts to create an improved "Reform" Judaism, or a quasi-universalist Socialist Zionism attracted Jews who had abandoned belief in the Jewish religious tradition. Amos Elon, a Jew of this type, in this outstanding book, looks back at what seemed at the time, the most successful attempt of the Jews to shed their supposedly "parochial" traditions and to assimilate into what looked like a vital culture, Germany of the 19th and early 20th century which had such a flowering of music, literature, art, science and industry in which Jews played such a major role. Although most Jews abandoned religious tradition in the period, moving upward in the social and economic mileu of Germany, and felt that they were as German as any non-Jewish German, especially after having fought as good patriots in the wars of the 1870 and 1914-1918, the whole edifice of German Jewish assimilation came crashing down, dragging much of Europe into the abyss with it. Many Jews came into prominence in the highest levels of German society and politics, even into the Kaiser's entourage, and yet, when the crunch came with the defeat in 1918, the Kaiser and others blamed "the Jews" for the defeat, even though the Jews were the most loyal of all Germans. As Elon points out, many in Europe admired or feared the Germans, only the Jews loved them. And this love was totally unrequited, as the Germans, as a people, decided that the Jews were responsible for all their problems and that the Jews would have to be annihilated, even if it meant the destruction of their own country in the process.

Elon describes well the adoption of the "kulturreligion", the religion of culture that the German Jews adopted with their almost fanatical devotion to music, literature, art and philosophy, and their blind, fanatical patriotism that burst out in 1914 when even many who would later claim to be pacifists such as Martin Buber expressed bloodthirsty enthusiasm for war and German aggression.

What is especially interesting is how Elon is expressing his own longing for such a secular messianic era. Once an ardent Zionist, who thought a similar Israeli society based on a similar "kulturreligion" would develop in Israel and people like him would be revered as national "philosophers", he, to his horror, saw the revival of traditional Jewish religious observance, bringing him to the decision earlier this year to leave Israel for good. As he stated in a newspaper interview, he used to be able to call the Prime Minister of Israel to arrange a personal meeting, but today, the political elite has no interest in him, so he sees no reason to remain in Israel.

At the end of the book, he express the despair of the good German Jews who loved their country so much. Instead of pointing out how tens of thousands of German Jews made "aliyah" (immigrated) to Israel and enriched the emerging society there, in spite of the inevitable hardships, he instead focuses on all the Jews who committed suicide, unable to live outside their beloved Fatherland which had foresaken them. Elon is giving expression to his own despair that the Jewish state is returning to its own Jewish roots and his alienation from them.

This book is a must for those who want to understand the tragic culmination of Jewish life in Germany and Europe as a whole, and the odyssey of the alienated Jew who simply wants to abandon his own people and tradition, something that the Germans and Europe proved is impossible.
33 von 40 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A superb, sad, brilliant book 9. September 2005
Von Alvin Rosenfeld - Veröffentlicht auf
Amos Elon's book is a masterpiece. I read it cover to cover and could not put it down. Filled with crucial historical data and drawn from a wide variety of sources, it is engrossing while being perhaps the saddest book I ever read. Elon captures the poignancy of the German Jews wish to be true parts of Germany, their heartfelt efforts. Yet throughout, despite the times when it feels like they are on the threshhold of acceptance, you know the end of the story and sense its tragic inevitability.

Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, co-author with Bruno Bettelheim, The Art of the Obvious.
14 von 16 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Could it have been otherwise? 22. Juli 2009
Von Charles S. Fisher - Veröffentlicht auf
Is it possible to write history that doesn't anticipate its eventualities? If we were to write about Jews in Germany without knowing what happened after the stock market crash of 1929, would our understanding be quite different? The picture that Elon paints of assimilation, differentiation, and anti-Semitism can not avoid drawing judgments from anticipation of what eventually happened. And, of course, that is what the reader is interested in. How was the stage set for the Holocaust? With the Holocaust in mind our judgment of both Germans and Jews focuses on the fatal flaws that seem to lead to it. This magnifies what otherwise might be seen as mundane failings.

Elon's writing is both succinct and clear. He makes his points with literary skill. I am sure that technical historians have taken exception to almost every claim he made. Nonetheless he has drawn a picture of Jews in Germany which has given me insight into my own genealogy but also left me with many questions. Because of residential restrictions that allowed only wealthy Jews to live in German cities and the rapid increase in their economic success and assimilation into German kultur, Elon's history is bound to be tilted in the direction of this rich and creative strata. The names used to characterize different phases of German Jewish history are truly impressive: Mendelssohn, Haber (who improved poison gas during WWI making it a more effective weapon and while doing pesticide research invented Zyklon B later used in concentration camps to kills Jews), Rathenau (who organized the German economy in WWI which was otherwise totally unprepared and was assassinated while serving as foreign minister during Weimar), Einstein, Buber, Heine, etc. But what then of the lesser Jews. Their population grows from 100,000 in the early 19th century to 5 times as many by WWI. My great great grandfather came from Bavaria after 1848, a schuhmacher, maybe a fischermann. What were their experiences like as opposed to bankers, doctors then publishers, and scholars. Who were the poor Jews living in small towns and then cities when they were subsequently allowed to? Were there none? Elon says that in 1800 70% of Prussian Jew were paupers living as peddlers and beggars. By 1870 60% had "secure middle-class status," making German Jews the most upwardly mobile people in modern European history. As Germany became a state it lifted restrictions on Jewish occupations and education. By 1867 all Jewish fourteen year olds could read German and 15% of Berlin high school students were Jewish, quadruple their proportion in the population. Despite these openings, streams of anti-Semitism persisted, often embedded in German nationalism growing out of the romantically inspired idea of a German volk. Jewish financial and intellectual accomplishment kept Jews in the limelight.

It is fascinating to think that if we stopped motion at various points in Elon's narrative we would have very different ideas of the situation of Jews in Germany. The high points were Napoleon's emancipation, the late 19th century when it is claimed that Jews in Germany were the most free in Europe, the beginning of WWI when the Jew are both outspoken nationalists and increasingly acceptable as real Germans. With German military victories in the east commanders tried to get eastern Jews to rise up against the hated Russians who responded by deporting a half million Jews eastward. Nevertheless the Germans shipped a fifth that many Polish and Lithuanian Jews to Germany as forced laborers. German Jews did not protest this as they had paid for the transshipment through Germany in box cars of Russian Jews fleeing the pogroms, sealing them off from infecting German society and causing embarrassment to German Jews. Another highpoint was in the late 20's before the crash when the anti-Semitism of the post WWI collapse seemed to dwindle. Are we to say these eras blinded successful Jews to an intrinsic underlying German anti-Semitism which growing out of the crusades and the plague years, would erupt when there was a need for a scapegoat. After the defeat of Napoleon and the reaction in its wake, with de-emancipation and hard times, there were pogroms in Bavaria and elsewhere which caught the authorities by surprise. The offenders were both the underclasses and the bourgeoisie. Elon claims nothing like this had happened since the Dark Ages. As the century progressed Jews were assimilating rapidly. Yet after the stock market crash of 1873 there was another outburst of anti-Semitism blaming Jewish stockbrokers for the crash. Again after WWI anti-Semitism was rampant, blaming the Jews for defeat and the punitive Versailles treaty. This eased with economic improvement. Then the depression decimated the recovering society and brought Hitler to power. Somewhere behind anti-Semitism Elon finds lurking the German bureaucracy, the Junker gentry, the churches, and the educational system. Was it a fatal flaw for accomplished Jews to identify with being German? Were they kidding themselves all along? Certainly liberation from Ghetto religious narrowness is something I can identify with. And aside from Buber's romanticizing Hassid's there was little wish to replicate the Jewish madrasas of Poland and Russian. Elon gives us little information how much of this tradition existed among the not-so-rich Jews. With their literacy in German, did orthodox traditions fall away? I assume the use of Yiddish, so despised by the assimilated as an impoverished language, vanished.

I find myself cheering for my ancestors' reformation of Judaism. The reform temple of my youth had Sunday school but also Friday services. My stettl born mother and my yekes father managed a religious household tilted in the reform direction. And the Turkish looking dome on temple Isaiah Israel on the south side of Chicago looks exactly like one of the great German synagogues pictured in Elon's book. The Zionists counter claim that wanting to be German undermined something intrinsically Jewish in the heart of Jews and that German's would never really accept Jews seems proven by the Holocaust. Yet like Elon I wonder whether without the humiliating and economically destructive Versailles treaty and the depression the strain of rigidity in Germany would not have subsided and both the subsequent history of the world and Jewry would not have been totally different. As a residually sentimental Jew, I watch with horror human's blind self destruction from the Cold War through Vietnam, two Afganistans, India and Pakistan, Darfur, Israel and Palestine and American Republicans fiddling their conservative tunes while the US burns in its own greed and twisted international blundering. Standing in Berlin in 1898 or 1914 would I have been as optimistic as elite German Jews or as nationalistic. My Jewish acquaintances range from famous scientists to well known spiritual teachers. We are all very much Americans. While we might despise American involvement in Iraq and have mixed opinions about Israel we share the pre-Nazi lack of paranoia of German Jews. Many Zionists might say we are naïve. History proved German Jews misguided. But history is after the fact. It is easy to say, ah, they were blind. If I knew this morning what I know this evening about today's stock market, I would be a rich man. But it doesn't work that way. In addition to this unknowing, there is sometimes arrogance and self-satisfaction. Elite German Jews certainly were not exempt from these. In any case I, for all my "understanding" of history, could have been one of them. No one knows what comes next!

Charlie Fisher Emeritus professor and author of Dismantling Discontent: Buddha's Way Through Darwin's World
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