My Promised Land

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“Required reading on the state of Israel today.” –Christiane Amanpour

An authoritative and deeply personal narrative history of the State of Israel, by one of the most influential journalists writing about the Middle East today  

Not since Thomas L. Friedman’s groundbreaking From Beirut to Jerusalem has a book captured the essence and the beating heart of the Middle East as keenly and dynamically as My Promised Land. Facing unprecedented internal and external pressures, Israel today is at a moment of existential crisis. Ari Shavit draws on interviews, historical documents, private diaries, and letters, as well as his own family’s story, illuminating the pivotal moments of the Zionist century to tell a riveting narrative that is larger than the sum of its parts: both personal and national, both deeply human and of profound historical dimension.

We meet Shavit’s great-grandfather, a British Zionist who in 1897 visited the Holy Land on a Thomas Cook tour and understood that it was the way of the future for his people; the idealist young farmer who bought land from his Arab neighbor in the 1920s to grow the Jaffa oranges that would create Palestine’s booming economy; the visionary youth group leader who, in the 1940s, transformed Masada from the neglected ruins of an extremist sect into a powerful symbol for Zionism; the Palestinian who as a young man in 1948 was driven with his family from his home during the expulsion from Lydda; the immigrant orphans of Europe’s Holocaust, who took on menial work and focused on raising their children to become the leaders of the new state; the pragmatic engineer who was instrumental in developing Israel’s nuclear program in the 1960s, in the only interview he ever gave; the zealous religious Zionists who started the settler movement in the 1970s; the dot-com entrepreneurs and young men and women behind Tel-Aviv’s booming club scene; and today’s architects of Israel’s foreign policy with Iran, whose nuclear threat looms ominously over the tiny country.

As it examines the complexities and contradictions of the Israeli condition, My Promised Land asks difficult but important questions: Why did Israel come to be? How did it come to be? Can Israel survive? Culminating with an analysis of the issues and threats that Israel is currently facing, My Promised Land uses the defining events of the past to shed new light on the present. The result is a landmark portrait of a small, vibrant country living on the edge, whose identity and presence play a crucial role in today’s global political landscape.




Reviews and Praise

Named a best book of the year by The Economist

“[A] searingly honest, descriptively lush, painful and riveting story of the creation of Zionism in Israel and [Shavit’s] own personal voyage.”
–Washington Post

“[A] must-read book.”
—Thomas Friedman, New York Times

“This book [is] the most extraordinary book that I’ve read on [Israel] since Amos Elon’s book called The Israelis and that was published in the late 60s.”
—David Remnick on Charlie Rose

“Israel is not a proposition, it is a country.  Its facticity is one of the great accomplishments of the Jews’ history…. It is one of the achievements of Ari Shavit’s important and powerful book to recover [that] feeling … and to revel in it, to restore the grandeur of the simple fact in full view of the complicated facts. My Promised Land startles in many ways, not least in its relative lack of interest in providing its readers with a handy politics.  Shavit…has an undoctrinaire mind.  He comes not to praise or to blame, though along the way he does both, with erudition and with eloquence; he comes instead to observe and to reflect. This is the least tendentious book about Israel I have ever read.  It is a Zionist book unblinkered by Zionism.  It is about the entirety of the Israeli experience. Shavit is immersed in all of the history of his country.  While some of it offends him, none of it is alien to him.  His extraordinary chapter on the charismatic and corrupt Aryeh Deri, and the rise of Sephardic religious politics in Israel, richly illustrates the reach of his understanding…. There is love in My Promised Land, but there is no propaganda…. The author of My Promised Land is a dreamer with an addiction to reality. He holds out for affirmations without illusion. Shavit’s book is an extended test of his own capacity to maintain his principles in full view of the brutality that surrounds them.”
–Leon Wieseltier, The New York Times Book Review (front page review)

“Shavit is a master storyteller…[his] retelling of history jars us out of our familiar retrospections, reminds us (and we do need reminders) that there are historical reasons why Israel is a country on the edge…required reading for both the left and the right.”
—The Jewish Week

“[O]ne of the most nuanced and challenging books written on Israel in years… [The] book’s real power: On an issue so prone to polemic, Mr. Shavit offers candor.”
—The Wall Street Journal

“[S]pellbinding… Mr Shavit subtly builds his stories with a mix of individual portraits, historical detail and personal memoir…[he] is that rare person who can listen as intensely as he can think. Although he is a columnist for the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz, he transcends tribal politics. Sympathetic but unflinching, he finds things to chastise—and admire—on every side. In a place with too much history and too much certainty, a “lonely rock in a stormy ocean,” he manages to reach conclusions without lapsing into narrow judgments, and finds truth without asserting that it is the only truth…In this divided, fought-over shard of land splintered from the Middle East barely 70 years ago, Mr Shavit’s prophetic voice carries lessons that all sides need to hear.”—The Economist

“[A] tour de force. Written in lyrical prose by a distinguished journalist who listens attentively when he interviews, Shavit engages his subjects and also the land of Israel…“My Promised Land” is a work without peer. No single work depicts the complexity, vitality and achievements of Israel society as well. And no other work also depicts Israel’s failings and its challenges so poignantly, so lovingly and so soberly..”– The Jewish Journal

“A virtue of Shavit’s virtuous book is that it exhumes the dream of Zionism — and also its success.”— Washington Post

[A] valuable new book… Its success indicates something intriguing: a significant audience for a serious discussion about Israel, rooted in reality and without polemic. Shavit’s book provides an in-depth portrait of contemporary Israeli society in a way that few recent books have—or have even attempted. From the founders’ dilemmas and romantic yearnings for statehood to a contemporary Israel whose politics lunges between crisis and petty intrigue and whose landscape encapsulates the fast-paced, even hedonistic dynamism of Tel Aviv, Shavit tells a tale that gets the reader inside daily reality.”—Dissent Magazine

My Promised Land is an Israeli book like no other. Not since Amos Elon’s The Israelis, Amos Oz’s In the Land of Israel, and Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem has there been such a powerful and comprehensive book written about the Jewish State and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ari Shavit is one of Israel’s leading columnists and writers, and the story he tells describes with great empathy the Palestinian tragedy and the century-long struggle between Jews and Arabs over the Holy Land. While Shavit is being brutally honest regarding the Zionist enterprise, he is also insightful, sensitive, and attentive to the dramatic life-stories of his fascinating heroes and heroines. The result is a unique nonfiction book that has the qualities of fine literature. It brings to life epic history without being a conventional history book. It deepens contemporary political understanding without being a one-sided political polemic. It is painful and provocative, yet colorful, emotional, life-loving, and inspiring. My Promised Land is the ultimate personal odyssey of a humanist exploring the startling biography of his tormented homeland, which is at the very center of global interest.”
—Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister and Defense Minister of Israel

“With deeply engaging personal narratives and morally nuanced portraits, Ari Shavit takes us way beneath the headlines to the very heart of Israel’s dilemmas in his brilliant new work. His expertise as a reporter comes through in the interviews, while his lyricism brings the writing—and the people—to life. Shavit also challenges Israelis and Diaspora Jewry to be bold in imagining the next chapter for Israel, a challenge that will no doubt be informed by this important book.”

—Rick Jacobs, president, Union for Reform Judaism

“This is the epic history that Israel deserves—beautifully written, dramatically rendered, full of moral complexity. Ari Shavit has made a storied career of explaining Israel to Israelis; now he shares his mind-blowing, trustworthy insights with the rest of us. It is the best book on the subject to arrive in many years.”

—Franklin Foer, editor, The New Republic

“A beautiful, mesmerizing, morally serious, and vexing book. I’ve been waiting most of my adult life for an Israeli to plumb the deepest mysteries of his country’s existence and share his discoveries, and Ari Shavit does so brilliantly, writing simultaneously like a poet and a prophet. My Promised Land is a remarkable achievement.”

—Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent, The Atlantic

“Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land is without question one of the most important books about Israel and Zionism that I have ever read. Both movingly inspiring and at times heartbreakingly painful, My Promised Land tells the story of the Jewish state as it has never been told before, capturing both the triumph and the torment of Israel’s experience and soul. This is the book that has the capacity to reinvent and reshape the long-overdue conversation about how Israel’s complex past ought to shape its still-uncertain future.”

—Daniel Gordis, author of Saving Israel and Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College, Jerusalem

“With the heart of a storyteller and the mind of a historian, Ari Shavit has written a powerful and compelling book about the making of modern Israel. No country is more emotionally connected to the United States, and no country’s fate matters more to many Americans. And yet until Shavit’s My Promised Land, it has been growing more difficult to sense the character of Israel through all the caricatures. This book is vital reading for Americans who care about the future, not only of the United States but of the world.”

—Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

My Promised Land is a passionate yet fair-minded account of how the Israel of today came into being. Whether or not you agree with its premises and assumptions, you will find this book hard to put down for its sheer narrative force. Both lyrically personal and rigorously reported, Ari Shavit’s book will undoubtedly shape for years to come the conversation about a country we all talk about but few of us know well.”

Daphne Merkin, author of Dreaming of Hitler and Enchantment