The near-simultaneous appearance of the three works under review reveals much about the present state of publications devoted to Antisemitism and the Nazi persecution and mass-murder of European Jewry. Virtually any serious bookstore now boasts a whole section devoted to the Holocaust, filled with books targeting almost any type of reader. For better or for worse, genocide sells.
In the popular imagination, the geographical complexity of the Holocaust has been reduced to two Polish towns, Oswiecim and Warsaw. The death camp sited in the former has emerged as not only the definitive death camp and representative of the state-sponsored factory-like mass killings of the Holocaust, but also as a synonym for evil.
Penelope Fitzgerald’s historical novel The Beginning of Spring, set in Moscow in 1913 but written at the height of perestroika, conveys an ambivalence familiar to those of us who spent time there during the Gorbachev years.
Exile has long been central to our understanding of certain Early Modern topics. The flight of English Protestants, and then Catholics, to the Continent in the 16th century, or the exodus of Huguenots (many to England and Ireland) after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in the 17th, are perhaps the best known examples to UK audiences.
Jane Lead and the Philadelphian Society are not particularly well known figures to most scholars of late 17th- and early 18th-century religion. Born in 1624, Lead experienced a spiritual awakening aged 16. On Christmas Day 1640, while her family danced and celebrated, she was overwhelmed with a ‘beam of Godly light’ and a gentle inner voice offering spiritual guidance.
Naturalistic and atheistic worldviews have a long history in Western philosophy, but there was no identifiable culture of atheism within Europe until the 18th century. Prior to then, the number of genuine atheists in European countries was probably very small.
This is an extremely ambitious, thought-provoking, challenging and inspiring book.