Jews and American Popular Culture
by Paul Buhle
December 2006, 992pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
3 volumes, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-275-98793-0
$171, £132, 149€, A235
eBook Available: 978-0-313-05481-5
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

This three-volume work tells the story of how Jewish Americans overcame anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant biases, and poverty to shape American film, television, music, sports, literature, food, and humor.

A who’s who of scholars, authors, and journalists examines the contributions of the Jewish people to American culture, from film, food, and fiction to television, music, sports, and humor.

Since they first began arriving in the United States in large numbers at the end of the 19th century, Jewish Americans have played a significant role in shaping American culture. The influence of the Jewish people is deeply and richly felt in many realms, including art, literature, politics, humor, and sports, to name just a few. The American film industry was pioneered by the likes of Adolph Zukor, Harry Cohn, and Jack Warner. Tin Pan Alley and Broadway sparkled with the creativity of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Stephen Sondheim. Where would rock ‘n’ roll be without Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and the Beastie Boys? Jews and American Popular Culture examines the influence of a highly creative and resilient people who have flourished despite the myriad forms anti-Semitism has taken since their earliest arrival.

Chapters explore topics across a range of time periods and genres, including assimilation, stereotypes, and the Holocaust. In addition to examining the works of such compelling figures as Woody Allen, Philip Roth, Hank Greenberg, the Three Stooges, Allen Ginsberg, Wendy Wasserstein, and Ann Landers, a team of unparalleled scholars explains how a comparatively small, initially underprivileged group of people managed to overcome great odds and wield wide-ranging influence on contemporary culture. Shut out of more traditional fields, Jews in the final decades of the 19th century and the opening decades of the 20th century embraced the new technologies of film, radio, and television, as well as new industries and areas of commerce, from the department store to novelty toy distribution. What resulted is an American culture shaped by a resilient minority population. From Betty Boop to Barbie, from The Honeymooners to Friends, the creative spirit of American Jews defines our culture. Edited by acclaimed author Paul Buhle, featuring the work of leading scholars and journalists, and presenting a never-before published comic strip by Harvey Pekar (whose life was featured in the film American Splendor), this definitive, comprehensive three-volume set represents the first-ever work of its kind.


"Buhle has made an important contribution to the understanding of the impact of Jews on popular culture in the US. The encyclopedia is a compendium of 52 essays that cover a diverse range of subjects, from David Wagner's The Social Film and the Hollywood Blacklist to Albert Fried's The Story of America's Jewish Gangsters. Additional topics include Jews and Beauty, Food in Jewish American Culture, and Fashion, all by scholars or writers with expertise in their fields. Buhle's introduction examines contemporary Jewish history within the context of US popular culture, and notes that it has taken five generations of Jewish participation in popular culture to disprove the argument made by anti-semites such as Otto Weininger that Jews had a talent for the superficial arts as compensation for their inability to create real art. Also included in the introduction are illustrations by Harvey Pekar, the famed cartoonist. The three-volume work includes photos, suggested readings that accompany each essay, and notes on the contributors. Given the quality of the essays as a whole, the encyclopedia should become an indispensable resource work for scholars and students engaged in research on the Jewish experience in the US. Essential. All levels/libraries."—Choice, July 1, 2007

"Though this set has the heft of a reference series, it works best in a circulating collection. It is not an encyclopedia but rather an insightful and eclectic compilation of essays by noted scholars and writers....There are many unusual but telling meditations on popular culture in this expansive series (e.g., The Jew and the Nose: Plastic Surgery and Popular Culture written by Beth Aviva Preminger, a plastic surgeon). One of the strong points of the series is that each entry has a list for further reading....Libraries with strong American Jewish studies collections should definitely have this set. Academic institutions and large public libraries should consider."—Library Journal, April 15, 2007

"[T]his engaging and learned series of essays traces the achievements of Jews in many American entertainment forms. The complex history offers numerous examples of innovators moving into the center of the American entertainment industry from its margins....Like their subjects, Buhle's essayists deserve a widespread audience for their lively studies of progressive and popular American culture."—Science & Society, January 1, 2008

"[W]hile not claiming to provide any definitive or comprehensive answer to the inevitable question--Why have Jews had such a central impact on American popular culture?--does move, in many of the pieces included, toward a suggestion: Shut out of more traditional fields, Jews creatively embraced the emerging technologies of film, radio, an television, as well as many new commercial opportunities from the department store to the invention and distribution of novelty games and toys. What resulted was an American culture shaped in large degree by a resilient and talented minority population....[t]his collection is a sturdy beginning to the description and analysis of the unendingly interesting subject of Jews and American popular culture."—Congress Monthly, April 1, 2007

"Given the surprisingly ground-breaking nature of the collection, the quality of its contributors, and the breadth of the ground it has broken, this project is invaluable....[a] fascinating and broad collection of essays."—ZEEK, August 1, 2007

"Jews have had a central impact on many aspects of American popular culture, and this handsome three-volume reference set presents a scholarly, yet accessible, survey of the history of Jewish involvement in pop culture. Editor Buhle does an admirable job of grouping the essays by areas of interest. The more familiar areas of study, such as Jews in movies and literature, get the most attention. Other topics receive comprehensive treatment, such as jews in television and theater, radio broadcasting, and music. Jews in sports should be a popular section. Most intriguing are areas of popular culture given little coverage in past publications: fashion, toys, department stores, amusement parks, pornography, the Internet, gangsters, and the Jewish nose....The never before published comic strip by Pekar is a nice bonus. Highly reccommended for academic libraries as well as large public libraries."—Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter, June 1, 2007

"In this collection of 51 essays, academics and journalists relate the contributions of Jewish creators and performers to American popular culture, covering the ethnic origins of the American obsession with the movies, moguls and the studio system, the social film and the blacklist, musicals, censorship, animation, talk radio, television drama, comedy writing, Yiddish theater, vaudeville, Broadway, drama, klezmer music, Tin Pan Alley, folk music, jazz, rock, protest, high lit, the pulps, children's literature, advice columns, satire, comics, baseball, boxing, basketball, the Olympics, amusement parks, the Catskills, fashion, toys, food, department stores, gangsters, porn, beauty, plastic surgery, popular front culture and the Internet. Think how much richer life would be if fewer talented people had to overcome anti-Semitism."—Reference & Research Book News, May 1, 2007

"Editor's Choice This isn't just a quick and dirty survey of American Jews doing mass culture. It's 861 pages, with scores of references to further reading, that explains what Jews were doing what they were doing, when they were doing it, and what impact that had on other Jews and non-Jews alike. If you want to sound smart about Jewish pop culture--and we know a thing about this--there really is no better place to start your library."—American Jewish Life, April 1, 2007

"Paul Buhle's ^IJews and American Popular Culture^R takes on an essential subject with tremendous range, subtly and sensitivity. Above all, the writing of the many excellent contributors is as colorful and rich as the subject itself. I came away from reading this book with a much clearer and more focused idea of the role of Jewish personality, values, and thinking in the formation of modern American culture than ever before."—Jon Landau^Lrock writer and President, Jon Landau Management, Inc.
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