Farrar, Straus and Giroux
“It’s a great irony that Israel was more secure as an idea than it’s ever been as a nation with an army.”
In AD 70, when the Second Temple was destroyed, a handful of visionaries saved Judaism by reinventing it—by taking what had been a national religion, identified with a particular place, and turning it into an idea. Jews no longer needed Jerusalem to be Jews. Whenever a Jew studied—wherever he was—he would be in the holy city. In this way, a few rabbis turned a real city into a city of the mind; in this way, they turned the Temple into a book and preserved their faith. Though you can burn a city, you cannot sack an idea or kill a book. But in our own time, Zionists have turned the book back into a
temple. And unlike an idea, a temple can be destroyed. The creation of Israel has made Jews vulnerable in a way they have not been for two thousand years.
In Israel Is Real, Rich Cohen’s superb new history of the Zionist idea and the Jewish state—the history of a nation chronicled as if it were the biography of a person—he brings to life dozens of fascinating figures, each driven by the same impulse: to reach Jerusalem. From false messiahs such as David Alroy (Cohen calls him the first superhero, with his tallis as a cape) and Sabbatai Zevi, who led thousands on a mad spiritual journey, to the early Zionists (many of them failed journalists), to the iconic figures of modern Jewish Sparta, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon, Cohen shows how all these lives together form a single story, a single life. In this unique book, Cohen examines the myth of the wandering Jew, the paradox of Jewish power (how can you be both holy and nuclear?), and the triumph and tragedy of the Jewish state—how the creation of modern Israel has changed what it means to be a Jew anywhere.
Most great cities have a reason for being where they are, and doing what they do. Either they sit at the confluence of great rivers, at the head of a mountain pass, on the shore of a canal, on a trade route or a railroad crossing or a superhighway, but Jerusalem, as far as anyone can tell, has no reason for being where it is—at the edge of the desert, on a hill surrounded by identical hills, guarding nothing but itself, doing nothing but being Jerusalem.
Is it the oldest city in the world?
No. Jericho is older. But it’s in that same league, from
Rich Cohen, contributing editor at both Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, talks about why celebrities matter.
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Praise for Israel Is Real
“[Israel Is Real] accomplishes the miraculous. It made a subject that has vexed me since early childhood into a riveting story . . . by narrating the oft-told saga of the Jews in a fresh and engaging fashion. Provocative and entertaining … Cohen brings tough love to Judaism and modern Israel.”—Tony Horowitz, The New York Times Book Review
“A sweeping and impressionistic saga . . . [which] also happens to be a page-turning delight to read. What other book about Zionist history has ever included references to “Howl,” “Goodfellas,” Joseph Mitchell, and Willie Dixon? I commend and admire this book.” —Samuel G Freedman, Chicago Tribune
“Cohen is a masterful and slyly provocative writer who marches boldly into the most controversial issues posed by the existence of Israel. Blending historical narrative with contemporary reportage, Israel Is Real makes an argument that cannot be ignored. Along the way, Cohen establishes himself as being among the most talented essayists of his generation.”—Evan Wright, author of Generation Kill
“A fascinating big-picture account of Israel from its distant past to what happened last week. Rich Cohen tells this story central to mankind with skill, passion, common sense, and wit.”—Ian Frazier, author of Great Plains
“Rich Cohen’s passionate, engaged, thoroughly modern book is—dare I say—a revelation.”—Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
“The best book I’ve ever read about Israel (that troubled state), and the last word on it: all the stories, all the figures, all the fires, all the battles, all the exiles, all the personalities, all the strikes, and all the gutters. Rich Cohen has delivered the full big thing, a monumental book, the best I’ve read and expect to read for a long time. As the priests in the old city would say, it has hava: it’s full of life.”—David Lipsky, author of Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point
“Nobody has yet written about our Middle East heartbreak with such range and lucidity. Rich Cohen has kept an account of the wanderings; he’s kept a record of the tears. Israel Is Real is the definitive book on Israel.”—Darin Strauss, author of Chang and Eng
“Rich Cohen’s book creates a vibrant portrait that offers reasons Israel—surrounded by those who want to exterminate it—deserves to survive.”—Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler