The current Israeli president teams with a journalist to survey and celebrate the life of David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), one of the founders of the State of Israel.
This latest entry in Nextbook’s Jewish Encounters series makes no real pretense of objectivity. As a young man, Peres (The Imaginary Voyage: With Theodor Herzl in Israel, 2000, etc.) worked with Ben-Gurion and idolized him (still does), so the narrative is hardly fair and balanced. There are several issues, however, that divided Peres and co-author and Economist writer Landau (once editor-in-chief of Haaretz), and at those moments the authors step outside the narrative, shifting to a dialogue format to discuss/debate the issues. These include Ben-Gurion’s focus on Zionism at the possible expense of rescuing Holocaust victims, the controversial partition deal he accepted in 1948, the decision to align with the West, his determination not to create a theocracy in Israel and the effectiveness of reprisal raids launched against attacking states and political entities. Because Landau crafted the text from a series of taped interviews with Peres, there is a personal, conversational tone throughout, which brightens and sharpens in the dialogue segments. The authors occasionally step outside politics to provide some conventional information. Their subject was born David Gruen in Poland in 1886; an early love affair went sour before his marriage, during which he had children. But this is principally a story about intractable, internecine politics and a fierce politician whose intelligence, will, biblical convictions and courage were fundamental in the successful creation of Israel. If the authors sometimes soar too high (calling Ben-Gurion a “mythic figure” and a “modern-day prophet”), readers must remember that this is history in the form of gratitude, not a disinterested dissertation.