Help me know more about Israel
October 10, 2012 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Can you please recommend a good book on the formation of modern Israel?

I'm about half-way through the book 'A Peace to End All Peace', which I am finding both enjoyable and enlightening. Though it's a thoroughly detailed and slightly dry read, it's also accessibly written (read: one only needs a marginal understanding of history to get the gist of who/what's being written about). Still, it's a bit broader in its scope than I had thought it would be.

Once I finish this book, I'd like to read one concerning the history of the formation of modern Israel itself (not the Israel of biblical times as much as the last two hundred years or so). I am not a religious person, but am interested in developing a better understanding of why this region is the center of such contention and debate, and why the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in particular seems to so consistently dominate world politics.

While I could use Amazon recommendations or go have a chat with my local bookseller about this, I thought I'd tap the relentlessly reliable opinions of the Hive Mind first. Have any of you read any books about this which you would recommend? Thanks in advance.
posted by Pecinpah to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I liked The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan. It centers around an Israeli woman, daughter of Holocaust survivors, and the Arab man whose family lived in her house before the Israeli army seized it. Tolan places their stories in the larger context of the founding and political history of Israel. Even handed by my estimation, thoroughly researched, and quite moving.
posted by ActionPopulated at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Leon Uris's Exodus is at least an interesting read, I belive it's fictionalized but based in fact.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:08 PM on October 10, 2012

I highly recommend Tom Segev's One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate (which takes you up to the formation of the state of Israel).
posted by languagehat at 12:29 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be forewarned that most books on the history of Israel are biased towards one side or another.

A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Professor Mark Tessler is nicely objective.
posted by zarq at 12:35 PM on October 10, 2012

You might also consider The Palestine-Israeli Conflict: A Beginner's Guide. The book is divided into two parts. The first half is written by an American Reform rabbi and the second by a UK-based Palestinian Islamic studies professor.
posted by zarq at 12:41 PM on October 10, 2012

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman. It's been 5 or so years since I read it and I still think about it. I got it after reading the book Ruthless Bunny suggested and wanted something that was non-fiction to give a more balanced explanation.

As an aside, Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad has a section on Palestine that's interesting since the view point is from the 1860's.
posted by Spumante at 12:47 PM on October 10, 2012

If you want to get away from academia but still want something interesting and informative, graphic novelists have been doing a lot with Israel within the last few years. I'm just reading Sarah Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, and it's got a lot of Israeli history in it.

Others of recent vintage (I can't speak for their quality since I haven't read them yet, but I probably will after the Glidden): Jerusalem by Guy DeLisle and Palestine by Joe Sacco.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:54 PM on October 10, 2012

I've only read it through to the 1950's but I was impressed by Benny Morris's Righteous Victims. It is thorough and detailed too, and deals specifically with the Arab/Israeli conflict, starting with Herzl's idea of a Jewish homeland in the 1890's, and going through to about the 1990's.

I haven't otherwise studied the history of the region, but he does present atrocities committed by both sides, and he gives the impression in the introduction that he was very interested in a balanced presentation based on a balanced methodology (but then he would, wouldn't he?) So my impression is that it's a pretty balanced book.
posted by Coventry at 12:54 PM on October 10, 2012

Thank you all so much; these are just the kind of answers I was looking for.
posted by Pecinpah at 2:37 PM on October 10, 2012

Herman Wouk. The Hope. The Glory. A teaspoon of sugar(fiction) helps the medicine go down.
posted by notned at 6:12 PM on October 10, 2012

Yeah, Mark Tessler's book is probably your best bet for a one-volume read. Also, this question gets asked regularly, and there's good information previously:

What book should I read to get an understanding of the the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the history of the Israeli state?
What is a good history of the Israel/Palestine conflict?
Looking for literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
posted by mediareport at 8:32 AM on October 12, 2012

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