An analysis of the evolution of US policy toward the Middle East--as well as of the foreign-policy elite that guided it--that goes far deeper than the headlines. America's concern with the Middle East, says Kaplan (Soldiers of God, 1990, etc.), began in the 19th century with the missionaries who braved great hardship, with little success, to bring the Christian message to the area. Eventually, these missionaries concluded that education might be the best way of proselytizing--a conclusion that Kaplan calls ``probably the most inspired idea in the history of foreign aid.'' More sustained American interest in the Middle East developed only after WW II, and much of the subsequent history of the ``Arabists'' is tied up with Truman's decision to recognize the State of Israel despite the almost universal opposition of his foreign-policy advisors-- opposition that, according to Truman, smacked of anti-Semitism. Kaplan, himself Jewish, handles this controversy evenhandedly, and notes that then-Assistant Secretary of State Loy Henderson was remarkably prescient about the aftermath of our recognition of Israel: decades of constant trouble and expense, as well ``the rise of fanatic Mohammedanism'' of a kind ``not experienced for hundreds of years.'' In tracing the controversy over recognition, Kaplan relies particularly on interviews with leading Arabists, and he gives vivid pictures of an elite whose skills were developed by the sheer difficulty of mastering Arabic but who nonetheless have been regarded by critics like Francis Fukuyama as ``more systematically wrong'' than any other branch of the foreign service. The Arabists' story, Kaplan says, is one of dramatic successes (e.g., the extraction of the Falasha Jews from the Sudan, revealed here in all its truth perhaps for the first time) but of great failures as well (for instance, the failure to predict the true aims of Saddam Hussein). Full of fascinating, sometimes brilliant, insight into the politics of the area and its impact on those entrusted with US policy.