A Kirkus Best Book of the Year
During World War II, with apocalypse imminent, a group of well-known Jewish scientists and artists sidestepped despair by challenging themselves to solve some of the most difficult questions posed by our age. Many had just fled Europe. Others were born in the United States to immigrants who had escaped Russia’s pogroms. Alternately celebrated as mavericks and dismissed as eccentrics, they trespassed the boundaries of their own disciplines as the entrance to nations slammed shut behind them.
In Stargazing in the Atomic Age, Anne Goldman interweaves personal and intellectual history in exuberant essays that cast new light on these figures and their virtuosic thinking. In lyric, lucent sentences that dance between biography and memoir as they connect innovation in science with achievement in the arts, Goldman yokes the central dramas of the modern age with the brilliant thinking of earlier eras. Here, Einstein plays Mozart to align mathematical principle with the music of the spheres and Rothko paints canvases whose tonalities echo the stark prose of Genesis. Nearby, Bellow evokes the dirt and dazzle of the Chicago streets, while upon the heels of World War II, Chagall illuminates stained glass no less buoyant than the
effervescent notes of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
In these essays, Goldman reminds readers that Jewish history offers as many illustrations of accomplishment as of affliction. At the same time, she gestures toward the ways in which experiments in science and art that defy partisanship can offer us inspiration during a newly divisive era.
The efflorescence of energy and creativity in Jewish communities in the traumatic twentieth-century is celebrated in these sparkling essays on Jewish intellectuals. Goldman explores the lives and works of modern Jewish scientists, artists, composers, and writers, putting them in the context of the war, persecution, and migration to America, which shaped their lives and the larger Western culture in which they were rooted. . . . The result is an absorbing excavation of the Jewish experience. A beguiling meditation on Jewish achievements that shine brightly against a dark background.
—Kirkus (starred review) and a Kirkus Best Book for 2021
From Saul Bellow to Marc Chagall, Goldman offers a tour de force
of Jewish accomplishment, an unapologetic correction to the narrative of agony, and a lesson on how to press on with light in the face of darkness.
—Charles Dunst, Los Angeles Review of Books
Anne Goldman's exhilarating essays show, among many other things, that the most convincing way to write about history and culture is to write from a unique personal perspective. These essays shine a bright light on each of their subjects—scientists, writers, artists, musicians—while the character of the author shines brightly from the page.
—Edward Mendelson, Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University
This is a Book of Wonders. Initially a study of Jewish intellectual influence as represented by a handful of great men, its heart is a story of a young Jewish girl whose indomitable spirit and radiant, hungry intelligence will not be deterred from meeting the world in its full particularities. Part autobiography, part biography, it is in every part a stunningly researched inquisition into cultural formation and cultural inheritance. From Einstein to Mozart, from Rothko to Rhapsody in Blue
serves as a matrix of matrices, following threads of ancient Judaic traditions as they manifest in modern music, literature, and science. With an almost cosmic pursuit of tangent and a core belief in trans-generational correspondence, Goldman has given us a true tale of diversity, one tuned to our precise American moment: It’s a glorious encomium to the children (and grandchildren) of immigrants.
—Aaron Shurin, author of The Blue Absolute and Flowers & Sky: Two Talks
In these essays, Anne Goldman identifies nine holy sparks—Jewish thinkers who do no less than anchor contemporary science and culture. Grounding her contemplation of the myriad forms genius can take is a father, who, like the stars in her essays, shrugged off a world into which he did not fit, ignoring the crippling self-pity that dooms innovation of all kinds. Via synthesis, analogy, and metaphor, Goldman’s agile mind moves between ideas about the complexities of being human in keeping with the ones my father, Saul Bellow, packed into his novels.
—Gregory Bellow, author of Saul Bellow’s Heart
In celebration of postwar Jewish-American experience and achievement, Goldman brings a keen-eyed sympathy to her indomitable subjects.
—Zachary Leader, author of The Life of Saul Bellow
Powerful [and] wildly successful ... shimmers with so much truth, it stops one in their tracks. Goldman engages each of her subjects with an exceptional deftness, alacrity, and energy.
—Juli Berwald, Jewish Book Council