The Past as Prologuernby Jacob NeusnerrnA People Apart: The Jews in Europe,rn1789-1939rnby David VitalrnOxford: Oxford University Press;rn941 pp., $45.00rnDavid Vital describes his work as arnpoHtical history, whose subject isrnthe exercise of legitimate violence. Hernrecounts how the Jews of Europe addressedrnthe political crisis that overtookrnthem between the end of the ancienrnregime in 1789 and the collapse of theirrnrebuilt social order in Europe in 1939:rnHis subject is nothing less than the politicalrnevolution of the Jewish people.rnBeginning with an account of Jewishrnpolitics over the long centuries of Christianrnrule in Europe, Vital proceeds tornan analysis of “integration and fragmentation.”rnHaving demonstrated howrnEnlightenment thinkers in England,rnFrance, the Germanys, Poland, and Russiarnall defined the Jews “as an encumbrancernto be dealt with,” he considersrnearly responses, fearful as well as positive,rnto political emancipation before turningrnto the formulation of “the Jewish Question”rn—that is to say, the re-characterizationrnand re-demonization of the Jews.rnThe second part of his account describesrn”movement” (pogroms, povertv’, migration,rndecline, and the focus on EasternrnEuropean Jewry as “the question”), thenrnmoves on to “auto-emancipation” (thernJews’ reconsideration of themselves as arnpolitical entity, foreshadowing Zionism),rnand, finally, to “crystallization,” the crisisrnof the final third of the 19th century inrnwhich antisemitism emerged as a violentrnpolitical movement.rnPart 111 embraces World War 1 andrnZionism; “Bolshevik Russia and thernbinding of its Jews,” “the great slaughter”rnof the period of the Bolshevist wars; thernnation-state as grindstone and ancientrnfrictions in the new Poland; Polish equivocationrnand Jewish ambivalence; therncrushing of the German Jews; and, lastly,rn”denouement,” which describes Jewishrnpolitical organization and the aims ofrnZionism, the needs of the Jews, pragmatismrnand honor, the final rejection,rnand—as epilogue—a couple of pages onrnthe culmination of a century and a half ofrnJewish history, amounting to the massrnmurder of more than five-and-a-iialf millionrnJews.rnA sad story, but also a tale that has beenrntold many times; the challenge presentedrnby its dramatic power and form havernproved irresistible to historians over therncenturies. Indeed, just as the destructionrnof the Temple in 586 B.C. led to the formationrnof the Pentateuch and the authorizedrnhistory from Genesis throughrnKings, so, quite naturally, have historiansrnsought to identify, organize, and explainrnthe events that led directly from 1789 torn1939. The particular perspective ofrnZionism, with its interest in the Jews’ takingrncontrol of their own destiny and actingrnon their ov’n initiative, certainly compelsrna hearing, since many identify’ therncreation of the state of Israel in 1948 —rnnot the destruction of European Jewrv—rnas the proper epilogue to the tragedy.rnGiven the importance and massiverncomplexity of the subject and the obviousrncontrol exhibited by Vital over his material,rnI wish I could report that the book isrna success and deserves a wide reading.rnAlas, if within this ungainly sprawl of 900rnpages there is a 300-page book waiting tornemerge, Oxford’s editors have not helpedrnto discover it. (The publisher’s slipshodrnapproach is elsewhere apparent: a glued,rnnot sewn, binding for a book of nearlyrn1,000 pages!) To put matters bluntly: ArnPeople Apart is not so nuich a weightyrnwork of thought as a ponderous, heavyhandedrncobbling together of little narrativesrninto a single big, tedious, only occasionallyrncoherent stor}’.rnPart of the problem is stylistic. Vitalrnwrites verbose, endless sentences strungrnout in paragraphs sometimes running forrna page and a half. This in addition torntruekloads of infelicitous word choices,rnacres of prose lacking any sense ofrnrhythm or music, to say nothing of simplernmistakes in grammar missed by therncopy editor. There are sentences in thernbook that, reread three and four times,rnstill prove beyond comprehension.rnSome are simply awkward, the product ofrna tin ear for language, as in the followingrnpassage:rnAnd ever’thing in the invertebraternand increasingly fragmented structurernof Jewish society continues asrnbefore to militate against ideas, reflections,rnand programs beingrnpulled together as a basis for coherentrnand co-ordinated action or evenrnthe very simple declarations ofrncommon purpose and intention onrnwhich the least of political acts isrnnecessarily contingent.rnWhat can Vital possibly mean by thatrnsentence? Imagine reading 940 pages ofrnsuch soggy, chmky prose! Readers discoveringrnfor themselves that a randomrnsampling yields still more appalling assaultsrnon the English language will sharernmy curiosity: Where were Lord Bullock’srnand Sir William Deaken’s minds whenrnthis book came their way, and how couldrnthe editors at Oxford University’ Press bernso utterly distracted as not to have noticedrnthat this book is only marginally intelligible?rnIf Vital’s prose utterly lacks grace andrnmusic, his narrative is a match for it, beingrnas ponderous, slow-witted, and heavyhandedrnas the language. Vital seems generallyrnto have outlined his topics andrnconstructed his paragraphs accordingly,rnresorting to transitions of a facile characterrnfor what he must have hoped wouldrnmake for a sustained presentation. Butrnhistory should be narrative, and, in thernhands of a master, it is. Because Vitalrnfails to compose a story with a beginning,rna middle, and an end, he fails to informrnreaders of what they need to know whenrnhe introduces a given subject, necessar)’rnto his outiine but not logically called forrnby the narrative strategy he has adopted.rnThe logic of his book is not a narrativernlogic, and so what coherence A PeoplernApart has owes nothing to the traditionalrnhistorical method which insists on presentingrna well-shaped stor)’ with urgencyrnand energy. As an historian. Vital appearsrnto be competing for a Nobel Prizernin Boredom.rnStill, if the book is dull, the topic is not.rnThe real problem is its heuristic assumption:rnThe Jews, having long constituted arnnation among other nations, in the 19thrncentury faced the problem of finding arnplace for themselves within other nationsrnas the old order, which had accommodatedrntheir particular nationality on itsrnown terms, ga’e way. In response to thisrncrisis, Zionism amounted to the re-nationalizationrnof the Jewish nation. Presentedrnin this way, the story of the Jews in Europernin the 19th and early 20th centuriesrnbecomes the story of antisemitism andrnthe Jewish response to it. Vital hands thernantisemites a victory they did not earn:rnthe power to define what matters aboutrnthe Jews and their history. But this reading,rnby politicizing and externalizing “thern32/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn