A state at any cost The life of David Ben-Gurion

Tom Segev, 1945-

Book - 2019

The definitive and newsworthy biography of Israel's founder and longest-serving prime minister.

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BIOGRAPHY/Ben-Gurion, David
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New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2019.
First American edition
Item Description
"Originally published in Hebrew in 2018 by Keter Books, Israel."
Physical Description
804 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 753-770) and index.
Main Author
Tom Segev, 1945- (author)
Other Authors
Haim Watzman (translator)
  • The road to power
  • The vow
  • Scroll of fire
  • Birds
  • Foreign labor
  • Sejera
  • Deportation
  • New world
  • Authority
  • Scandals
  • Unification
  • Conversations
  • Winds of war
  • Zionist alertness
  • Holocaust and schism
  • The limits of power
  • Maps
  • Partition
  • War
  • New Israelis
  • Anxieties
  • The nasty business
  • The second round
  • Yes to the old man
  • The lavon affair
  • Twilight
  • Another kind of Jew.
Review by Choice Reviews

There are hundreds of books on Israel's founder and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973). What does this new book add? Segev is one of Israel's leading historians of 20th-century Jewish and Israeli topics, and he is also a journalist. In this treatise, he successfully sets Ben-Gurion's personal and professional life in the contexts of local and world events, presenting an in-depth portrait of a complicated leader, the central player in one of the most consequential political events of the last 100 years. Segev had access to previously unreleased archival material, and the result is an honest, unromantic, meticulously researched biography. Ben-Gurion reflected the colonialist and nationalist attitudes of his era; he steered his followers away from Marxism and prioritized his ideas of Zionism above socialism. Well documented with extensive notes and bibliography and eight pages of photographs, this is an important resource for readers at all levels (though some familiarity with the subject will be helpful). Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.--D. Mizrachi, University of California, Los AngelesDiane MizrachiUniversity of California, Los Angeles Diane Mizrachi Choice Reviews 57:08 April 2020 Copyright 2020 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

To say that Segev (Simon Wiesenthal) has written another history of David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973) would be an understatement. Using newly available archives as well as an incredible eye for characterization, the author presents a definitive biography of Israel's former prime minister. While Ben-Gurion's legacy still weighs heavily, even in modern-day Israel, Segev sets out to reanalyze that legacy with fresh interpretations. Few would question Ben-Gurion's drive, but Segev illustrates moments of the leader's ambivalence to native Palestinians, all the while pushing forth with a Jewish Nation State. Segev masterfully displays Ben-Gurion's political and military strengths throughout, from his secret 1948 negotiations with the British to the 1956 Suez crisis, while also delving into personal opinions on family, friends, and rivals. Featuring many characters and nuances, this translation from Watzman will at times cause even the most devoted history buff to pause and do some brief online research before proceeding. VERDICT Scholars and devoted readers of political history, notably of the Middle East, will turn to Segev's majestic analysis of this pivotal leader for decades to come.—Keith Klang, Port Washington P.L., NY Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Israeli historian Segev (1967) provides an exhaustive biography of the country's first prime minister. Drawing on his subject's prolific writings and historical archives, Segev traces David Ben-Gurion's life from his 1886 birth in the small Polish town of Plonsk to his death in 1973. As a teenager, Ben-Gurion lectured on Jewish independence; he moved to Palestine in 1906 (motivated by Zionist ideology but also personal unhappiness) and became a socialist labor organizer convinced that the conflict between his people's aspirations and those of Palestinian Arabs couldn't be resolved peacefully. He became a left-wing political leader and then the first prime minister of the new country upon its establishment in 1948. In perhaps the most newsworthy section, Segev writes that Ben-Gurion opposed the preemptive strike that launched the Six-Day War, because he accurately predicted that a victory involving the acquisition of more territory would dramatically increase the number of Arabs under Israeli control. Segev's Ben-Gurion comes across as personally abrasive—an unfaithful spouse and indifferent parent who could be ruthless in pursuing his political goals. Segev persuasively shows how Ben-Gurion's early choices foreshadowed those he would make later, but the book is sometimes weighed down by detail. The nonspecialist might be better served by less encyclopedic treatments. (Aug.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The award-winning author of One Palestine, Complete documents the life story of Israel’s late founder and longest-serving prime minister, discussing such topics as his secret British negotiations, support of forced Arab transfers and tempestuous private life. Illustrations. Bibliography. Index.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The definitive and newsworthy biography of Israel's founder and longest-serving prime minister.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist

"[A] fascinating biography . . . a masterly portrait of a titanic yet unfulfilled man . . . this is a gripping study of power, and the loneliness of power." —The Economist

As the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion long ago secured his reputation as a leading figure of the twentieth century. Determined from an early age to create a Jewish state, he thereupon took control of the Zionist movement, declared Israel’s independence, and navigated his country through wars, controversies and remarkable achievements. And yet Ben-Gurion remains an enigma—he could be driven and imperious, or quizzical and confounding.

In this definitive biography, Israel’s leading journalist-historian Tom Segev uses large amounts of previously unreleased archival material to give an original, nuanced account, transcending the myths and legends that have accreted around the man. Segev’s probing biography ranges from the villages of Poland to Manhattan libraries, London hotels, and the hills of Palestine, and shows us Ben-Gurion’s relentless activity across six decades. Along the way, Segev reveals for the first time Ben-Gurion’s secret negotiations with the British on the eve of Israel’s independence, his willingness to countenance the forced transfer of Arab neighbors, his relative indifference to Jerusalem, and his occasional “nutty moments”—from UFO sightings to plans for Israel to acquire territory in South America. Segev also reveals that Ben-Gurion first heard about the Holocaust from a Palestinian Arab acquaintance, and explores his tempestuous private life, including the testimony of four former lovers.

The result is a full and startling portrait of a man who sought a state “at any cost”—at times through risk-taking, violence, and unpredictability, and at other times through compromise, moderation, and reason. Segev’s Ben-Gurion is neither a saint nor a villain but rather a historical actor who belongs in the company of Lenin or Churchill—a twentieth-century leader whose iron will and complex temperament left a complex and contentious legacy that we still reckon with today.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

The definitive, newsworthy biography of Israel's founder and most iconic prime minister