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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
The creation of Israel in 1948 was greeted as "a milestone in the history of the world." However, the founding of the Jewish state was not only important in political realms; for centuries, it had been the impossible dream of the Jewish people. In his newest book, Israel: A History, eminent historian Martin Gilbert tells how the "illusion" became reality.
Through Gilbert's compassionate portrait, a society that is frequently riven by tensions between, and within, ethnic groups and ideological positions emerges as vibrant. Unlike any other nation in history, Israel had to overcome dreadful hardships while being founded on high ideals and great expectations. Gilbert accomplishes far more than a survey of Israel's 50-year history. He starts his account of the struggle to create the state with a look at its beginnings in the 19th-century Zionist movement and the first pioneers, who contended with hostile Arab neighbors and endemic malaria to found Jewish settlements in a harsh land, fulfilling a 2,000-year-old dream.
Israel: A History not only covers the story of the nation but also includes the personal stories of numerous individuals who had a profound impact on the country, including Theodor Herzel, a Hungarian-born Jew who founded the World Zionist Organization in 1896. Among other figures Gilbert brings to life are Chaim Weizmann, a Russian Jew who attended the Second Congress in 1898 and went on to become Israel's first president; and a young Russian immigrant named David Gruen, who nearly died of malaria in 1906 and who,asDavid Ben-Gurion, "was to play the leading part both in the establishment of a Jewish State fifty-two years later and in its growth and preservation," Gilbert writes.
Gilbert's detailed and readable account of the history of Israel covers such milestone events as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which the British became the first nation to support a "National Home for the Jewish People" in Palestine, and the British mandated government following World War I. Gilbert's description of the War of Independence — the first of five wars fought by Israel for its survival — combines military, social, and diplomatic history into a riveting narrative of both heroism and cowardice.