Thursday, August 30, 2018

Dying for Jerusalem: The Past, Present and Future of the Holiest City Hardcover by Walter Laqueur ( Sourcebooks)

The title of this book is deceiving. Relatively little of this book is actually about the conflict(s) over Jerusalem. The phrase "Dying for Jerusalem" makes me think of Arabs fighting Jews over construction of new neighborhoods or Orthodox Jews attacking secular Jews over the nature of life in Jerusalem. Those issues receive very little attention in this fascinating book.

In this book, the highly-regarded scholar Walter Laqueur uses the biographies of famous Israelis as a way to discuss issues from Israeli history and issues facing Israeli society, not just Jerusalem. Also, there is a good deal of background incorporated into the text, but it really helps if the reader is already familiar with the layout and neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

There are a few problems with this book. First of all, some parts are awkwardly written or poorly edited. I will cut Laqueur, the author, some slack. English is his third or fourth language, but his editors should have . . . well . . . edited more. That's their job. They should have made the prose flow better, found and removed the typos, and cut some of the repetition. Another problem with the book--though this will not bother everyone--is that it's very politicized. Laqueur seems to be a moderate (or even non-ideological) Zionist with center-left political views, and he is a moderate, reasoned scholar who disdains extremism, overblown rhetoric, and shoddy scholarship in the service of political ideologies. He uses this book to settle scores with his political or academic opponents. Rarely does he name names, but he describes them, lists their books, or names their university employers. So, readers in-the-know will know whom he's criticizing.

Still, this book is a good way to learn about important figures from a variety of different fields in Israeli history, and it is a good way to become acquainted with various issues that have complicated Israeli history and life in Jerusalem. I definitely recommend it.

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