A BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE

DISPATCHES FROM THE MIDDLE EAST

Twenty-one sparkling essays (originally published in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere) on Israel and the Middle East, covering the period from the Six-Day War up to Benjamin Netanyahu's recent election as Israel's prime minister, by the insightful veteran Israeli journalist, historian, and biographer. Elon (Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Times, 1996, etc.) focuses largely on political and diplomatic events. In two essays written in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War (including the quadrupling of Israel's territory), he presciently expresses concern that his country's extraordinary, lightning-quick victory has been ``marked by more than a trace of arrogance'' and has seemingly resulted in ``a somewhat new, animistic cult of holy places.'' Elon also has a knack for interviewing the right people—not only policymakers, but dissidents and intellectuals who understand a political culture's underlying dynamics. A refreshing change of pace occurs in his more leisurely profiles, particularly one on Yair Hirschfield and Ron Pundik, two academics turned ``freelance'' diplomats who played a key role in initiating and negotiating the 1993 Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO. His celebrations of the political, cultural, and architectural ambience of Amman, Cairo, and Alexandria, are vivid and persuasive. Referring to the latter, a Mediterranean port that once had significant Greek, Jewish, and other foreign communities during the first centuries a.d., Elon calls it ``the New York of the ancient world, the first world city.'' These pieces make one regret that Elon doesn't turn more often to consider modern Israeli culture and society. When he does, he is powerful and direct, as in a piece describing (and decrying) ``the latent hysteria'' in Israeli life induced by the memory and misuse of the Holocaust. One could not ask for a more informed and discerning guide than Elon to both what is tiresomely old and startlingly new between Israeli Jews and their Arab antagonists and partners.

Pub Date: June 5, 1997

ISBN: 0-231-10742-0

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997

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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

CODE TALKER

A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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