Modern Wars and Their Monsters

288 pages

24 halftones

October, 2016

ISBN: 9781479889655



Add to Cart Available: 9/16/2016

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Maya Barzilai is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Literature and Jewish Culture at the University of Michigan. 

All books by Maya Barzilai

A monster tour of the Golem narrative across various cultural and historical landscapes 

In the 1910s and 1920s, a “golem cult” swept across Europe and the U.S., later surfacing in Israel. Why did this story of a powerful clay monster molded and animated by a rabbi to protect his community become so popular and pervasive? The golem has appeared in a remarkable range of popular media: from the Yiddish theater to American comic books, from German silent film to Quentin Tarantino movies. This book showcases how the golem was remolded, throughout the war-torn twentieth century, as a muscular protector, injured combatant, and even murderous avenger. This evolution of the golem narrative is made comprehensible by, and also helps us to better understand, one of the defining aspects of the last one hundred years: mass warfare and its ancillary technologies.

In the twentieth century the golem became a figure of war. It represented the chaos of warfare, the automation of war technologies, and the devastation wrought upon soldiers’ bodies and psyches. Golem: Modern Wars and Their Monsters draws on some of the most popular and significant renditions of this story in order to unravel the paradoxical coincidence of wartime destruction and the fantasy of artificial creation. Due to its aggressive and rebellious sides, the golem became a means for reflection about how technological progress has altered human lives, as well as an avenue for experimentation with the media and art forms capable of expressing the monstrosity of war.


  • “Barzilai certainly puts her finger on a central paradox of European and Jewish culture coming out of the Great War: how can death and technological creativity coexist? The golem myth is a clever and successful way to probe that question.  . . .  Fascinating and intellectually venturesome.”

    —Alan Mintz, Chana Kekst Professor of Jewish Literature, The Jewish Theological Seminary

  • "This tracking of the adaptations of the Golem myth from World War I to the present becomes a probing cultural history of the past hundred years. Maya Barzilai moves with assurance from fiction, theater, and film to comic books and graphic novels, perceptively commenting on their formal aspects while preserving a lucid sense of the relevant historical contexts. This is a splendid piece of critical reflection."

    —Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley

  • “Savior, soldier, demon, oaf—a golem is all these and more, and Barzilai guides us a fascinating tour of its supple mythology through shifting cultural and historical contexts.”

    —Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman, authors of The Golem of Paris

  • Fascinating and well argued, Golem examines the modern incarnations of the old Jewish myth, tracking its many meanings as it crosses between generations and cultures, from the muddy trenches of WWI to the killing fields of science fiction. An indispensable text for anyone looking to understand our ongoing fascination with the golem figure, in all its malleable forms. 

    —Helene Wecker, author of The Golem & the Jinni