Efraim Karsh's "Palestine Betrayed" is an answer to the "New Historians'" view of Israel during the War of Independence. In it, Karsh makes a strong argument that the vast majority of the tragedy of the "naqba" was because of Arab, not Jewish, actions.
Karsh makes a startlingly effective case for the fact that the mainstream Zionist leadership wanted to live with their Arab cousins in peace. He brings quote after quote, from Herzl to Jabotinsky to Ben Gurion, that shows that the plan of ethnic cleansing that we are told so incessantly about by Arabs today is simply a fiction. He goes into some detail about Arab-Jewish cooperation immediately after the Balfour Declaration - and before the Mufti.
Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle is a remarkable book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. It details whathas allowed Israel, a besieged nation with few natural resources and under political and military pressure from birth, to become an incubator for a hugely disproportionate number of successful entrepreneurial enterprises compared to any other nation. It also asks what other nations could learn from Israel's success....For Zionists, this is an exhilarating book to read; it shows how Israelis turn adversity into advantage. For businesspeople, it gives insight into how to reward risk-takers and innovators.
Good Arabs continues on the theme of Cohen's earlier book, looking at how the Israeli military and police establishments interacted with Israeli Arabs from 1948 to 1967.
Good Arabs sheds much light on 1950s Israeli Arabs and it demolishes some myths. As with Cohen's previous book, it is an important addition to understanding recent history and it gives us some lessons for today.
The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations
The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations is a combination of memoir and analysis of Lee Smith's time in the Arab world since Al Qaeda's attack. The name of the book is based on a quote by Bin Laden, where he says "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse."
Smith's book shows that this is close to the truth in the Arab world. While many Americans tend to support the underdog, Arabs will gravitate - not necessarily like, but gravitate - towards the stronger party.
The Middle East is a mess that many Americans naturally would like to abandon, but the downside of doing so would be catastrophic. Like it or not, America is the "strong horse," and it is not a role to be relinquished without serious thought about its consequences.
This may be the single most important lesson from Lee Smith's thesis.
"Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End."
For most of the book, Daniel Gordis describes the problems facing Israel, and the problems seem insurmountable: peace with Palestinian Arabs is a chimera, young American Jews no longer identify with Israel and have increasingly become immersed in anti-Israel leftism, the ability of Jews to articulate the reasons that Israel is needed is deteriorating, Israel will never be at peace as long as Hamas and Hezbollah and similar groups exist, the number of prominent people who are against the very existence of Israel keeps increasing, Iran and increasing technology ensures that Israel will always live under a cloud of worry about total annihilation, Israel's Arab minority is increasingly radical and hostile to Israel's existence, Israelis themselves have lost passion for Zionism, and an Israel that doesn't embrace its Judaism has little chance of survival.
The problems are laid out well. Gordis doesn't pull any punches and he doesn't hide from any problems. He acknowledges and does not try to minimize the real pain that Palestinian Arabs have and the real problems in Israeli society today. He explores and pokes holes in simple solutions and stopgaps that people have suggested (like Israel trading the Wadi Ara area for settlement blocs to help reduce the demographic problem - even anti-Israel Arabs that live there would end up moving elsewhere in Israel rather than become members of a Palestinian Arab state.)
Myths, Illusions and Peace
Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the possibilities of diplomacy in the most intractable conflicts of this decade, those between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs and those between the US and Iran. Ross and Makovsky's goals are to find and support a clear-eyed but sober diplomatic means to manage these conflicts, and they take on both the neoconservative viewpoints of people like Norman Podhoretz and the "realist" viewpoints of Walt and Mearsheimer.
Myths, Illusions and Peace is a work of nuance, of recognizing that problems are not easily solved and of the importance of looking at context. It is difficult to review the book properly as the authors develop their arguments over many pages and anything I write will be necessarily simplistic representations of those arguments. It is not easy to find important concepts that they skipped.
The Truth About Syria:
The Truth About Syria, by Barry Rubin, effectively illuminates the inner machinations of the Syrian leadership and how the West should act towards that state.
The newly-released paperback edition was forwarded to me by Professor Rubin to review.
Syria is unique in that it is a weak country that has managed to make itself critically important at minimal risk to itself. Using a combination of publicly available articles and MEMRI translations, Dr. Rubin shows many examples to describe the Syrian leaders' mindset and strategy.
Who Speaks for Islam:
"Who Speaks for Islam," is exactly what I was hoping it would not be: an apologetic essay for Muslims that selectively uses numbers to prove a point.
This is not a book of scientific fact; it is an opinion piece masquerading as science. When the authors say that only 7% of Muslims worldwide consider the 9/11 attacks "completely" justified they do not say how many consider the attacks "somewhat" or "mostly" justified. Then, the authors go on to label the 93% who may or may not consider the 9/11 attacks somewhat or mostly justified to be "moderates". This is absurd, and it appears that the reason that the authors do not release the raw data is because they realize that the detailed poll findings would not conform to the spin that they decided to clothe their results in.
The Israel-Arab Reader:
This is the seventh edition of The Israel-Arab Reader - A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, and it is an invaluable reference guide. Going in chronological order, editors Rubin and Walter Laqueur have unearthed a large number of important primary documents, from the Bilu Group Manifesto (predating Herzl's The Jewish State by 14 years) up to the Annapolis Conference.
The Iron Cage part 1 and part 2
In 2006, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi published "The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood." Khalidi, an American of Palestinian Arab descent, occupies the prestigious Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia University and he heads the Middle East Institute of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.
Khalidi's book has been lauded for its supposed even-handedness in being critical of Palestinian Arabs and in describing their missed opportunities, in addition to the usual blame given to the British and Zionists for their troubles.
However, a closer analysis of the book shows that Khalidi is deceptive in his writings, and one cannot escape the fact that he is knowingly dishonest in pushing through his narrative. While he is certainly guilty of omitting and downplaying many facts of Palestinian Arab history, he is also guilty of sleight of hand where he will string together sentences that contain mostly truth but give the reader an impression that is wholly false.
Army of Shadows:
When used in wartime, the word "collaborator" is a loaded term. Like the words "traitor" and "treason," "collaborator" is pejorative by its nature, but its negative implication is only in the subjective context of the labeler.
Hillel Cohen, in his fascinating book "Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948," consciously uses these words in the context that Palestinian Arabs use the words today. As a firm member of the post-Zionist historians, perhaps this is not surprising, nor his use of the word "Nakba." But to Cohen's credit, despite his constant use of these terms without scare quotes, he is an honest enough historian to show that the supposedly treasonous behavior done by countless Palestinian Arabs between the Balfour Declaration and the founding of Israel was often anything but.
Despite its flaws, this well-researched book is a very important addition to the history of the Palestinian Arabs and of Zionism.
Power, Faith and Fantasy:
Michael Oren's Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present
is an important book, and one that would be difficult for me to do justice to. Oren uncovers a rich and complicated relationship between the United States and the Middle East that is older than the US itself. From the Barbary Wars through the first adventurers and missionaries who visited the area in the 19th century, on through American involvement in Egypt's early bids for independence and on to the American influence on Zionism, it is truly an encyclopedic work.
Meticulously researched, almost any random sentence could become an entire blog entry here. This is both a strength and a weakness as the sheer volume of facts is close to overwhelming. As a reference book it is stellar; as an enjoyable read it is somewhat less appealing, but for students of American history it is invaluable.
The Truth About Muhammad:
I approached Robert Spencer's book, The Truth About Muhammad, with some reservations. Spencer is clearly a scholar of Islam but he appears to be relying on Islamic translations of primary sources, not the original Arabic. And there is no way for an outsider to know whether he is quoting anything out of context, or if he is cherry-picking the worst possible stories to prove his point, either consciously or subconsciously.
To his credit, he relies almost exclusively on (translations of) Islamic primary sources, notably two early Muslim biographies by Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sa'd, that are considered reliable by most Muslims. It is important to realize that Spencer is not attempting a biography of the historical Mohammed as much as he is trying to reconstruct his life and legend as Muslims understand him, without the apologetics that usually make their way into the Islamic teachings meant for Western ears.
His point is, that since Mohammed is considered a model to be emulated by all Muslims, it is critical to look at how he is said to have lived his life.
And it isn't pretty.
"Fromms: How Julius Fromm's Condom Empire Fell to the Nazis" is an English translation of a book published two years ago in Germany. It is a quick read, less than 200 pages of actual text. Even at this short length, it feels as if the authors padded it as much as they could.
Julius Fromm was Germany's condom king between the two world wars. He innovated the manufacture and quality control of the product and became fabulously successful.
But, he was Jewish.