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Altneuland, Theodor Herzl (1902)

The utopian novel that became a reality

Adam Kirsch
September 17, 2013

When Herzl published his novel in 1902, the Zionist movement he headed was just a few years old and the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine was still a distant fantasy. But Herzl gave that fantasy substance, imagining that within 20 years the Jews would have reclaimed their “Old New Land” and built a modern society there, complete with socialist economics and advanced European culture (he imagined the population speaking German, as well as Hebrew and Yiddish). Altneuland is perhaps the only Utopian novel ever written that actually came true, sort of; the title of the book’s Hebrew translation, Tel Aviv, gave its name to what is now Israel’s largest city.

Adam Kirsch is a poet and literary critic, whose books include The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.