When Your Grandparents Are Intellectuals: A Family’s History Through Books

Shelves containing Communist histories, including Chimen and Henry Collins’s book on Marx. This bookcase was just to the right of the bed. Photo courtesy of Sasha Abramsky and his family.

All of that mid-century Marxist devotional intensity was concentrated in Mimi and Chimen’s bedroom. There were Socialist and Communist books in Russian, German, Yiddish, French, English, Hebrew. There were old pamphlets so yellowed by time that one risked their disintegration simply by touching them. When Chimen and his close friend Henry Collins, who had collaborated on a number of articles about Marx beginning in the early 1950s—they had met through the Historians’ Group of the Communist Party—decided to write their book Karl Marx and the British Labour Movement: Years of the First International, the books and documents in Chimen and Mimi’s bedroom provided the nucleus for their research. It was, as Chimen had always intended it to be, a working library.

—From journalist Sasha Abramsky’s account of his grandparents’ intellectual lives, The House of Twenty Thousand Books is a tour of Chimen and Miriam Abramsky’s massive book collection of Jewish history and socialist literature.

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