BEN-GURION: The Burning Ground, 1886-1948 by Shabtai Teveth

BEN-GURION: The Burning Ground, 1886-1948

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David Ben-Gurion, Israel's architect and first Prime Minister, is arguably the most important figure of 20th-century Jewish life. A consumed, brilliant master of an enormous range of knowledge and abilities, he is not an easy subject for biographers: he did too much. Teveth wisely realizes that no single volume could adequately grasp Ben-Gurion's life, and therefore chooses to write about Ben-Gurion only up to the founding of Israel in 1948. This choice is important, for it is the pre-1948 Ben-Gurion who is most in need of a comprehensive biographer. From his birth in Plonsk, Poland, in 1886 through his first Zionist activities as a young teen-ager and his emigration at 20 to the land that would be Israel, Ben-Gurion was a man with a mission. As this book so carefully explains, that mission was the refounding of a Jewish nation in the historical homeland of the Jews under a secular authority, with the eventual aim of redeeming Jewry through their own labor. In some respects this is a political biography, for Teveth sees Ben-Gurion's great struggle as the establishment of authority. The book proceeds chronologically, sometimes straight-jacketed by such adherence to time-order. It leaves out a lot of history external to Ben-Gurion's direct quest. But those bringing a background of Zionist knowledge to this book will find it the most useful. If the prose is not always felicitous, this is more than made up for in the inherent drama of events in nation-building, and the awful realization of the tragic side of the quest as the painful reality of the Holocaust emerges. An invaluable guide to understanding how Ben-Gurion was able to create a vision for his society, and an incredible record of how he structured the institutional foundations of so remarkable a nation as Israel.

Pub Date: June 8th, 1987
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin