Smart Jews

Smart Jews : The Construction of the Image of Jewish Superior Intelligence

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Smart Jews addresses one of the most controversial theories of our day: the alleged connection between race (or ethnicity), intelligence, and virtue. Sander Gilman shows that such theories have a long, disturbing history. He examines a wide range of texts-scientific treatises, novels, films, philosophical works, and operas-that assert the greater intelligence (and, often, lesser virtue) of Jews. The book opens with a discussion of concepts that relate intelligence and race (particularly those that figure in the controversial bestseller The Bell Curve); it then describes "scientific" theories of Jewish superior intelligence that were developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gilman explores the reactions to those theories by Jewish scientists and intellectuals of that era, including Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The conclusion turns to how such ideas figure in modern novels and films, from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon to Stephen Spielberg's Schindler's List and Robert Redford's Quiz Show. Gilman demonstrates how stereotypes can permeate society, finding expression in everything from scientific work to popular culture.And he shows how the seemingly flattering attribution of superior intelligence has served to isolate Jews and to cast upon them the imputation of lesser virtue. A fascinating, highly readable book, Smart Jews is an essential work in our ongoing debates about race, ethnicity, intelligence, and virtue.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 246 pages
  • 150.6 x 236.7 x 25.9mm | 544.32g
  • University of Nebraska Press
  • Lincoln, United States
  • English
  • 0803221584
  • 9780803221581

Back cover copy

Smart Jews addresses one of the most controversial theories of our day: the alleged connection between race (or ethnicity), intelligence, and virtue. Sander L. Gilman shows that such theories have a long, disturbing history. He examines a wide range of texts - scientific treatises, novels, films, philosophical works, and operas - that assert the greater intelligence (and, often, lesser virtue) of Jews. The book opens with a discussion of concepts that relate intelligence and race (particularly those that figure in the controversial bestseller The Bell Curve); it then describes "scientific" theories of Jewish superior intelligence that were developed in the ninteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gilman explores the reactions to those theories by Jewish scientists and intellectuals of that era, including Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The conclusion turns to how such ideas figure in modern novels and films, from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon to Stephen Spielberg's Schindler's List and Robert Redford's Quiz Show. Gilman demonstrates how stereotypes can permeate society, finding expression in everything from scientific work to popular culture. And he shows how the seemingly flattering attribution of superior intelligence has served to isolate Jews and to cast upon them the imputation of lesser virtue.show more

About Sander L. Gilman

Sander Gilman is Henry R. Luce Professor of the Liberal Arts in Human Biology at the University of Chicago. His works include Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness; Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of Jews; and Inscribing the Other (Nebraska 1992).show more

Review Text

Gilman (Franz Kafka: The Jewish Patient, 1995, etc.; Liberal Arts/Univ. of Chicago), who has previously written about physical stereotypes of Jews, turns his attention to the seemingly positive stereotyping of Jews as highly intelligent. Gilman has pondered many aspects of the ways in which the Jew is marked as the Other in Western culture. His latest effort grew out of his reaction to the success of The Bell Curve, with its revival of what had once seemed discredited arguments about race and intelligence. He asserts that the unstated agenda of Bell Curve authors Murray and Herrnstein was the conflation of "intelligence" and "virtue," an implicit linkage of low intelligence and criminality. That argument, Gilman says, has received a great deal of scrutiny, but the equally implicit converse, that Jews are at the other end of the "bell curve," has been more or less ignored. However, as Gilman carefully demonstrates, the notion of the superior intelligence of Jews is also the product of social constructions, shaped by the various political and racial agendas of the combatants. Social Darwinists at the turn of the century downgraded the Jews even as they acknowledged Jewish intellect, counterposing intelligence to supposed physical feebleness; the scientific racism of various fin-de-siecle advocates of eugenics often was accompanied by a distinction between "intelligence" and "craftiness," a difference that was usually posited to the detriment of the Jews. In the book's last two chapters, Gilman discusses Berg's opera Wozzeck and such films and novels as The Last Tycoon, Schindler's List, and Quiz Show to illuminate how notions of Jewish intelligence are inscribed in both high and popular culture as the marker of Jewish difference. As usual, Gilman's insights are dazzling, his arguments rigorous and densely worked out. However, this volume is surprisingly dry, given the loaded subject matter, and will be of interest primarily to specialists. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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