A Review: The Golden Age of Achievement

A Review: The Golden Age of Achievement by Steven L. Pease
Published by Deucalion, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-9825168-0-5, $ 32.95

This is an exciting new encyclopedic book about the contributions of the Jewish people have made and continue to make to the development of the world. The uniqueness of The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement: The Comendium of a Culture, a People, and Their Stunning by Steven L. Pease is its comprehensive approach to identifying how individual Jews have furthered a variety fields covering all aspects of life. There is a Jewish belief that man was put on the earth to finish the creation of the world that God started and it is referred to as “Tikun Ha-olam” (making the world a better place). The pages of this book provide examples of how the Jewish people have been striving to complete the creation of the world through their accomplishments and discoveries.

In reading The Golden Age one has a strong sense that many of the major advances in the world were due to the extraordinary efforts and talents of individual Jews who exceeded in their fields of endeavor. The spectrum of subject areas spans from science to education to economics to the performing arts to high-tech to social activists and union leaders to philanthropy, among many others. The book provides a picture of who the Jewish people are and how they have contributed in varied and unique ways to the development of the civilizations of the world. The examples and explanations Pease provides throughout the book focus on the past and present times.

The successes and accomplishments are not the only focus of the book and perhaps the most unique aspects of the author’s approach is the continual reminder that the Jewish people are in infinitesimal percentage of the total world’s population. Perhaps the “miracle” is how could a group of people who are 13 – 15 million (with the most flexible definition of who belongs to the Jewish people) in a world with an estimated 6 billion contribute in such an all encompassing way. For example, given this figure there should have been one Jewish recipient of the 521 Noble Prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine and physiology through 2007, and there were 137 who won these awards.

The identification of Jews who excelled in their achievements is well documented, and one of the strongest aspects of the more than 600 pages is the charts and lists of people provided in the appendix’s exhibits. There are over 100 pages of exhibits that provide specific data on all the categories and provide information on all the recipients and winners of prizes and competitions. In addition to all of this information, the details are well documented in more than 50 pages of end notes.

In its entirety the book tells a fascinating story through the use of the the statistical data. Page after page of the book offers the reader incredible insight into how a people that struggle for their very existence in dealing with political, as well as, violent anti-Semitism over millenniums are able to contribute to their specific countries, as well as, to the world.

Toward the end of the book Pease addresses two challenging questions. In the chapter entitled “Why?” he explores possible reasons for the accomplishments of this small group of people and he offers a number of explanations ranging from “being God’s chosen people” to the status of being second-generation immigrants. Is there something in ascribing the talents to “Jewish genes” or is the general culture of this group of people that hails from an ancient wandering tribe thousands of years ago the reason they have excelled?

The best way to summarize this theme is found in the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 42, Verse 6, I the Lord called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people’s covenant, as a light unto the nations. Certainly the discoveries and contributions Pease documents demonstrate how the Jews have indeed brought light into the world.

However, having said all this and documented the outstanding achievements, accomplishments, developments and contributions Pease does not leave us without wondering about the future. He raises questions that demographers and sociologists have asked for more than a hundred years. Will the Jewish people continue to exist and to contribute to the development of the world as they have done for over thousands of years? Have the Jewish people reached the apex of their ability to contribute and know their own survival is in question due to acceptance and assimilation in other societies around the world? Once you have read the book you will be able to decide for yourself. The struggle for existence is an eternal one for the Jews.

In conclusion I found the book to stimulating and thought provoking. Where as an encyclopedic work runs the risk of being over laden with names, facts, and figures this book is a mosaic that tells a story of the unique role individuals who are part of the “Jewish People” have played in the world. It is worth reading and should be shared with all those who want to know the answer to, “Who are the Jews?”

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy.