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Israel: Is It Good for the Jews?


A very personal journey through Jewish history (and Cohen’s own), and a passionate defense of Israel’s legitimacy.

Richard Cohen’s book is part reportage, part memoir—an intimate journey through the history of Europe’s Jews, culminating in the establishment of Israel. A veteran, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, Cohen began this journey as a skeptic, wondering in a national column whether the creation of a Jewish State was “a mistake.”

As he recounts, he delved into his own and Jewish history and fell in love with the story of the Jews and Israel, a twice-promised land—in the Bible by God, and by the world to the remnants of Europe’s Jews. This promise, he writes, was made in atonement not just for the Holocaust, but for the callous indifference that preceded World War II and followed it—and that still threatens.

Cohen’s account is full of stories—from the nineteenth century figures who imagined a Zionist country, including Theodore Herzl, who thought it might resemble Vienna with its cafes and music; to what happened in twentieth century Poland to his own relatives; and to stories of his American boyhood.

Cohen describes his relationship with Israel as a sort of marriage: one does not always get along but one is faithful.

© Sigrid Estrada

Richard Cohen is the former publishing director of Hutchinson and Hodder & Stoughton and the author of Chasing the Sun, By the Sword, and How To Write Like Tolstoy. Works he has edited have gone on to win the Pulitzer, Booker and Whitbread/Costa prizes, and twenty-one have been #1 bestsellers. For more than 35 years he has written, edited, and lectured on numerous subjects around the world, from talks on the Queen Mary 2 to the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium. For seven years he was a visiting professor in creative writing at the university of Kingston-upon-Thames in London. Among the authors he has edited are Madeleine Albright, Vanessa Redgrave, Sebastian Faulks, Studs Terkel, John Keegan, Richard Holmes, John le Carre, Jeffrey Archer, Sir Harold Evans, Tony Benn, Barbara Castle, William Trevor, Kingsley Amis and Fay Weldon. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
For two years he was program director of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, and during his tenure it became the largest book festival in the world. Five times U.K. national saber champion, Cohen was selected for the British Olympic fencing team in 1972, 1976, 1980, and 1984 and has been four times world veteran champion.  He has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Book Review and most British quality newspapers.

“With lucidity, compassion and a healthy dose of humor, Richard Cohen examines the Jewish experience in all its complexity. Israel: Is It Good for the Jews? is a fascinating, intellectual and emotional journey.”

– Christiane Amanpour

“This is a fun and evocative journey of discovery into the origins of Israel – highly iconoclastic, deeply personal and just plain readable. It will make you wonder once again at this unlikely tale of the Jews and their astonishing creation. Is Israel good for the Jews? I don’t know. But this book is.”

– Barbara Walters

“This book is a triumph for Richard Cohen. He not only illuminates the history of Israel with brilliant analysis and insight; he supports it with extraordinary research that will inform even those with the greatest knowledge of the Middle East. He brings clarity to the key issues that have emerged throughout the history of Israel and focuses the reader on those issues that might very well determine the future of Israel. Agree or not with his analysis or his predictions, this is a must read for anybody who cares about Israel and the region.”

– Mort Zuckerman

“For Richard Cohen, as for me, history is about family. He has used his own to help explain why the creation of Israel was no arrogant episode of European colonialism, but an effort by the drowning to find a life raft. Cohen has written with wit, passion, insight and an eye for the telling detail. This book won’t change your life. It will merely make it more interesting.”

– Gay Talese

“This is a fabulous yarn — everything from the irrepressible Churchill in his bespoke suit to Cohen’s grandfather, an immigrant in a sweatshop, making the clothes of others. Fabulous historical characters walk the hallways of this book and together they tell an engrossing and inspiring story. From the first page, this is a joy to read.”

– Nick Pileggi

“Richard Cohen's Israel: Is It Good for the Jews? is brilliant, and epic in its scope. Cohen's stylish writing and smart analysis makes reading it a pleasure. And it's full of one "I-didn't-know-that" after another. 5 stars.”

– Lesley Stahl

More books from this author: Richard Cohen