Reviewed by B.J. Epstein in SBR 2013:2
Review Section: Brief Reviews
Who and what are the Jews? And why should we care? These are some of the questions that Staffan Skott – well-known journalist, author, and translator – explores in his new book.
As Skott states early on, ‘Judaism is a humanity unto itself – as diverse and heterogeneous as all of humanity on our planet.’ In this extensive, detailed exploration of the Jewish people, Skott offers facts, figures, context, and his own personal take on a variety of topics, such as the number of Jews alive today and where they live – including the Scandinavian Jewry – the culture of the Jews and what they believe in, with precise explanations of ritual while backing away from religious dogma. Difficult subjects, such as anti-Semitism and the modern state of Israel are discussed with discretion and a certain amount of distance. At all times, Skott writes with humour, learning and with passion for his subject.
This is a book to dip into. For example, a reader can learn where the star of David symbol came from and how and why it was used at different points in time, including by the Nazis, or how the typical Jewish last name London comes not from the city but rather from the Hebrew word for ‘scholar’ (lamden). Skott’s work is an entertaining, well-researched guide to Jewish culture, and it fills a gap in the market. As he notes, ‘the history of the Jews is a lesson for others in how you protect your culture and community’ and this history is one very much worth reading.