In an attempt to rectify Zionist history, Simon Schama has re-examined the role of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and his son James in the Jewish settlement of Palestine--and, inseparably, the record of the two agencies they set up to channel their philanthropic contributions into specific projects. Author of the well-received Patriots and Liberators (1977), Schama was invited to examine the archives by the Rothschild family. He refutes Herzl's charge that the colonies were a "rich man's pastime to while away what would otherwise have been idle hours" by illustrating how Baron Edmond's immediate concern in 1882 for the sanctuary of Eastern European pogrom victims was, by the turn of the century, translated into a total commitment to the development of a self-supporting Jewish homeland and finally a state. These stages paralleled his own concrete contributions: purchasing land and equipping colonies (when colonies were not ditty words), developing cash crops and industry, and finally in 1957 simultaneously dismantling the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association while underwriting the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) building as a testament both to the existence of the Jewish state and the Rothschilds' role in building it. Along the way, Schama maneuvers skillfully through the cluttered detail of budgets, expenditures, equipment, crop experimentation (with wine, tobacco, and perfume), border disputes, and administrative problems, providing occasional vignettes of local Palestinian conditions under Ottoman rule, Baronial outrage at colonists' ingratitude toward his centralized regime, agents' ineptness, and encounters with Herzl, Balfour, and Weizmann. Meanwhile the Baron evolves from a "benevolent onlooker" to an "active accomplice"; and, with Schama's thoroughly documented, incisively written account, he and his family take theft significant places in Israeli history.