A History of Judaism by Martin Goodman and Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492-1900 by Simon Schama – review

Goodman details the complex history of a dynamic religion while Schama’s immersive book resists bleakness, his varied protagonists blazing with vitality

In 1523 a slight, dark-haired man named David Ha-Reuveni appeared in Venice claiming to be the commander-in-chief of the army of the 10 lost tribes of Israel on a divine mission to liberate the holy land from the Muslims. Having won the cautious backing of Jewish leaders and obtained a letter of introduction from Pope Clement VII, he made a triumphal voyage to Lisbon where he very nearly persuaded King João III of Portugal to provide him with weapons and a fleet of warships to reclaim Jerusalem. Ha-Reuveni overplayed his hand, however, and, condemned for promoting Judaism among the Iberian peninsula’s forced converts to Christianity, he was burned at the stake in Spain.

His adventures are one of the many points of overlap in these two histories, one religious ...

The Future Is History by Masha Gessen review – Putin and Homo Sovieticus

The author’s claim that the regime in Russia is ‘totalitarian’ is extravagant, but she has written a fascinating account of the toxic legacy of the Soviet era

In her clinical practice during the 1990s, Moscow psychoanalyst Marina Arutyunyan encountered three generations of women living under the same roof. The grandmother tyrannised her daughter and granddaughter with demands for needless work and repeated invasions of their privacy. Her behaviour was finally explained when it emerged that she was a former guard in the Gulag: “The family was now recast as a camp, complete with dead-end make-work, the primacy of discipline, and the total abolition of personal boundaries.” Cases such as this led Arutyunyan to a wider diagnosis of Russia as a traumatised society unable to free itself from the psychological subjugation fostered during the long decades of Soviet rule. This idea of a people held captive by its own past ...

Lenin the Dictator and The Dilemmas of Lenin review – a revolution twisted?

Victor Sebestyen and Tariq Ali take a fresh look at the architect of October 1917, and his responsibility for what followedThe life of Vladimir Lenin undoubtedly lends itself to the “great man” approach to history. When, a month after the February Revolution, Lenin returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland, power was divided in an uneasy alliance between a provisional government dominated by liberals on the one hand and Soviets of socialists and anarchists on the other. In the face of opposition from the other leftwing parties and from many members of his own, Lenin argued relentlessly and effectively for an immediate end to “dual power” and for “all power to the soviets!”. As the government floundered, undone by a disastrous war and a collapsing economy, his position won increasing support within the party and among growing numbers of disaffected and radicalised workers and soldiers. Without his resolve and leadership, ...