Got some leisurely reading time on your hands this Hanukkah season? We’ve got you covered. As the year winds to a close, we asked our editors to round up some of the best books of 2014, for your reading pleasure. Take a break from festivities next week to curl up with one these page-turners, from My Promised Land to Lawrence in Arabia.
Nadine Epstein (Editor & Publisher)
Lawrence of Arabia. If you would like to travel back to before the time when the borders of today’s Middle East were drawn, this is the book for you. You’ll meet a varied cast of true characters, from Lawrence himself to german spy Kurt Prufrock, American oil/state department man, William Yale and proto-Zionist/agronomist Aaron Aaronsohn. I’ve read many books on the history of the Middle East, and I’ve never felt as informed as I did while reading Scott Anderson’s wonderful book. I loved being brought back to the times of the Ottoman Empire and learning about what its decline actually involved. The book reads like a thriller and you won’t put it down.
George Johnson (Senior Editor)
I second Lawrence. So many great insights and revelations, especially about war hero Lawrence, and how by a combination of brilliance, brashness and fearlessness, he gave the British forces the victory in the Middle East that perhaps Lawrence himself was trying to undermine. There is a wonderful symmetry in the clandestine machinations of the main characters, each angling for the own side’s post-War spoil. How many people knew that Chaim Weizmann’s sister was part of Aaronsohn’s network?
Other nominees: Like Dreamers, by Yossi Klein Halevi. Tracks the post ’67 War lives of seven Israeli paratroopers who captured Jerusalem as Jews united in an historic dream of the return to Zion (thus the title – taken from Psalm 126). What follows is an ironic portrait of the diversity of political aspirations and commitments and at the same time revealing the complexity of the Israeli personality. Could easily have been titled “Portrait of a Nation.”
My Promised Land, by Ari Shavit. A “history” told through biographical sketches and interviews with Israelis and Palestinians whose stories tell both the seminal events that today shape the seemingly irreconcilable conflicts that are the legacy of Israel’s success as a nation. Gives American Jews a feel for the difficultly of reaching easy judgments about what is the right path for Israel in resolving these conflicts.
Sarah Breger (Managing Editor)