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Book Review: O Jerusalem!

There are topics throughout all academic disciplines that are so insidious and complicated that very few people can actually explain them.  However, nobody wants to admit that they don’t know everything.  Recently, I realized I knew far less than I thought about the Israeli/Palestine conflict.

Peace of Mind = staying out of conversations you aren’t ready for

A rare quiet moment in Jerusalem

A rare quiet moment in Jerusalem

One of the keys to not annoying everyone is to stay out of conversations you aren’t ready for.  This can be difficult because we don’t like to admit that we are not experts in everything.  When I should be listening, I often hear myself “instructing” instead during inexplicable out of body experiences.  “Why are you saying that?” I ask myself.  “You don’t know anything about this topic.”

This is on my mind because recently someone gave me a lecture on the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  When they asked for my opinion, I answered honestly, “I don’t know enough about it” to comment.  He wanted me to comment anyway.  Normally, that is when I would make something up to relieve the pressure.  Adjusting my glasses and using a couple of big words usually pacifies people, but not this guy.

Biting off more than you can chew when the topic is this big

Most people I have asked to explain this ancient conflict to me mumble something about Jews and Arabs hating each other.  That’s where I was at as well.  At work one day I picked up a copy of The Economist and decided it was time to master Middle Eastern history.  Big mistake.  One of the problems I’ve had investigating Israel and Palestine is that most publications I’ve tried assume I have way more knowledge than I do.  It feels like picking up a book on calculus when I still have problems defining what a fraction is.

Enter O Jerusalem! by Larry Collins.  This is a massive history book that, as page-turners go, is far superior to The Da Vinci Code. I am not kidding.  It tells the story from many, many points of view.  When the book begins, the British are counting down to their exit from Palestine.  They have been the peacekeepers.  As soon as they reveal that they are leaving, the Israelis and the Palestinians begin preparing for the “inevitable” war they must fight.  The countdown unfolds with as much suspense as anything I’ve ever read.

Every single story in this book–and most events are presented as stories that read like screenplays–could be its own blockbuster movie.  Golda Meir and David Ben-Gurion are two of the largest Larger-Than-Life characters I’ve ever met.  And they were real!  If you want to have your heart broken, you got it.  If you want suspense that outweighs anything the increasingly lousy 24 has come up with, put yourself in Ben-Gurion’s shoes when he is making Hard Choices.

bgurion

David Ben-Gurion

If you want your pulse to race, read the back and forth battles that go on forever.  If you want a race against the clock, read about the Arabs shutting down the only road by which the Jews can get food into Jerusalem.  Much more effective than the red LEDs that count down on our TV bombs and the scenes we all love where someone has to have a bullet removed without anaesthesia.

This conflict is all too real and far too little is actually known about it. This wonderful  O Jerusalem book  answered all of the questions that I had and more, while not behaving like a textbook or requiring me to come to the table with a comprehensive knowledge of Middle Eastern History.

I can’t say enough good things about O Jerusalem! It’s not a fun book to read–the situation is too grim and relevant–but it is one of the more valuable books I’ve experienced.

If you lack knowledge in this area and aren’t sure where to start, O Jerusalem!is the way to go.

Let us know how it goes in the comments section.


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  • Dermanus May 24, 2009, 10:44 am

    Thanks for the book. I have the same problem. There’s so many people with very strong feelings either way that it’s impossible to get a balanced view point, or even simple facts in the proper context.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 24, 2009, 10:52 am

      You’re welcome. I think, for me, this book works so effectively because it is told like a story. There’s no judgment or academics. It’s just a bunch of snapshots of events. You watch them unfold and can decide for yourself what they mean. If you read this, please let me know what you think.

  • Steve May 25, 2009, 8:00 am

    Josh: Thanks for the review. I love the sub-heading, “Peace of Mind = staying out of conversations you aren’t ready for” — if only more “experts” would heed this admonition. I have not read “O Jerusalem” but it is now on my 2009 reading list.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 25, 2009, 8:10 am

      Can’t agree enough, Steve. You won’t be sorry. I think we all have some weird need to “teach” at times, even though we are in no position to do so.

  • Dien March 31, 2010, 8:38 pm

    Thank you for an interesting review. It certainly arouses my curiosity to read it. I came across this title while looking for any movie about the Palestine/Jew subject and found “O Jerusalem” and “The Gate of Sun”. Not sure when I have the opportunity to watch the movies but for now I’ll have 2 books to read over this Easter (4 days long weekend in Australia).

    • Josh Hanagarne March 31, 2010, 8:43 pm

      You’re welcome! If you read it, please let me know what you think.

  • Steven Bergson November 21, 2011, 9:57 am

    “the British are counting down to their exit from Palestine. They have been the peacekeepers. As soon as they reveal that they are living, the Israelis and the Palestinians begin preparing for the “inevitable” war they must fight. ”

    The British revealed that they were living? Did everyone just assume, before that, that the Brits were zombies?

    I think you meant to type LEAVING.