For almost 500 years the Jews of Europe lived in enforced segregation, sequestered in tiny rural villages, locked away at night inside ghettos. Then, in one remarkable act of the French Revolution, the ghetto gates were opened. The Jews of France were given citizenship and an unstoppable process began: Jewish Emancipation. This is the first popular history of the emancipation of Europe's Jews in the 18th and 19th centuries, a transformation that was startling to those who lived through it and continues to affect the way we live today. As Napoleon conquered Europe, he literally tore down the ghetto doors. Jews removed the yellow badges from their coats, and almost overnight ushered in a second renaissance in Western civilisation. Within a century, Marx, Freud, and Einstein created revolutions in politics, human science, and physics that continue to shape our world. Proust, Schoenberg, Mahler, Pissaro, and Kafka redefined artistic expression. Emancipation reformed the practice of Judaism, turning it into a faith with new rituals that could be practised by people living in society's mainstream.
It encouraged some to imagine a modern nation of their own and, within decades, led to the dream of Zionism. Michael Goldfarb tells this dramatic story through the lives and words of the people who lived it.