An Empire of Their Own (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
The relationship between history and biography has always been difficult to define. Society and the individual are inseparable and interrelated; there is no individual outside of society, yet society is made up of individuals. The biographer necessarily distorts history by viewing the past through the life of his or her subject. What is alien to this subject, what occurs outside the control or knowledge of the individual, is reduced in importance or omitted, while contributions, even minor ones, are magnified. Social history, on the other hand, emphasizes the role of people in groups and sees vast forces operating in society that significantly negate the agency of individual human beings. At one extreme there is the psychohistorian who examines childhood development and the unconscious to explain human actions; at the other extreme is the social historian who ignores such factors and all but obliterates the historical role of “the Great Men.”
In An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, Neal Gabler attempts to overcome this problem by welding prosopography—or collective biography—with social history. The resulting study of the Jews who invented Hollywood (his phrase), while failing to overcome the dualism between the individual and society, does provide a fascinating study of the growth of the film industry and the studio system.
Five of the six major studios were headed by Jews, marginal to and discriminated...
(The entire section is 1904 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Booklist. LXXXV, September 1, 1988, p. 23.
Chicago Tribune. September 28, 1988, V, p. 3.
Commentary. LXXXVI, December, 1988, p. 72.
Kirkus Reviews. LVI, August 1, 1988, p. 1119.
Library Journal. CXIII, November 1, 1988, p. 104.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 25, 1988, p. 2.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, October 23, 1988, p. 1.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIV, August 5, 1988, p. 75.
Time. CXXXII, November 21, 1988, p. 138.
Variety. CCCXXXIII, November 2, 1988, p. 84.
(The entire section is 52 words.)