The 100 Books Project: To the Other Shore.

“To the People! To the beautiful, simple People, so noble in spite of centuries of brutalizing suffering! Like a clarion call the notes ring in my ears, amidst the din of contending views and obscure phraseology. The People!” – Alexander Berkman.

“To the Other Side: The Russian Jewish Intellectuals Who Came to America” by Steven Cassedy

I will happily admit that I will judge a book by its cover. At least, with this one I did. I had been eying it in the bargain basement of Horizon Books in Traverse City, MI every time I visited, but, often, a book with a stronger plot or more interesting premise won out and I left “To the Other Side” behind. But I kept going back to it, because I found the image on the cover of it so damn beautiful. The jacket of the book tells me it’s from the cover of The Comrade: An Illustrated Socialist Monthly from their debut volume in October of 1901. No wonder I’m such a rampant socialist-commie bastard: they put such hot chicks on their propaganda!

(But, seriously, it is such a beautiful sketch. I want to frame it).

The book behind the pretty picture was…scholarly. It wasn’t written in a particularly engaging fashion, though it was interesting in presenting the information it provided. Russian Jewish Migration to the United States in the Late Eighteen Century and the use of Yiddish in their publications while pursuing nihilist and socialist lives is not exactly a period of history I’ve considered an interest of mine; I’m sure it would have been more entertaining if that were the case, but, still, I learned some things, and there were some particularly interesting bits on Marxist literary criticism (now we’re talking!) in the early part of the twentieth century. Their response to The Jungle was particularly interesting to me, as well as, earlier in the book, mentioning some of the way young Jewish intellectuals rebelled against the conformity of their religion to embrace Russian nihilism by doing such things as cutting their hair and wearing funny hats. Emma Goldman also stood out as an interesting person I might like to learn more about one day.

So, basically, it was a scattering of really interesting details of a societal movement amid a mostly repetitive and scholarly look at some of the Russian Jewish immigrants and their intellectual pursuits. A good reference book, should I ever need research on that particular subject. Until then, it’ll just look pretty on the shelf, with that amazing cover sketch.

Books read: 7 out of 100.


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