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A State at Any Cost

A State at Any Cost

The Life of David Ben-Gurion

Tom Segev; Translated from the Hebrew by Haim Watzman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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"[A] fascinating biography . . . a masterly portrait of a titanic yet unfulfilled man . . . this is a gripping study of power, and the loneliness of power." —The Economist

As the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion long ago secured his reputation as a leading figure of the twentieth century. Determined from an early age to create a Jewish state, he thereupon took control of the Zionist movement, declared Israel’s independence, and navigated his country through wars, controversies and remarkable achievements. And yet Ben-Gurion remains an enigma—he could be driven and imperious, or quizzical and confounding.

In this definitive biography, Israel’s leading journalist-historian Tom Segev uses large amounts of previously unreleased archival material to give an original, nuanced account, transcending the myths and legends that have accreted around the man. Segev’s probing biography ranges from the villages of Poland to Manhattan libraries, London hotels, and the hills of Palestine, and shows us Ben-Gurion’s relentless activity across six decades. Along the way, Segev reveals for the first time Ben-Gurion’s secret negotiations with the British on the eve of Israel’s independence, his willingness to countenance the forced transfer of Arab neighbors, his relative indifference to Jerusalem, and his occasional “nutty moments”—from UFO sightings to plans for Israel to acquire territory in South America. Segev also reveals that Ben-Gurion first heard about the Holocaust from a Palestinian… More…

"[A] fascinating biography . . . a masterly portrait of a titanic yet unfulfilled man . . . this is a gripping study of power, and the loneliness of power." —The Economist

As the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion long ago secured his reputation as a leading figure of the twentieth century. Determined from an early age to create a Jewish state, he thereupon took control of the Zionist movement, declared Israel’s independence, and navigated his country through wars, controversies and remarkable achievements. And yet Ben-Gurion remains an enigma—he could be driven and imperious, or quizzical and confounding.

In this definitive biography, Israel’s leading journalist-historian Tom Segev uses large amounts of previously unreleased archival material to give an original, nuanced account, transcending the myths and legends that have accreted around the man. Segev’s probing biography ranges from the villages of Poland to Manhattan libraries, London hotels, and the hills of Palestine, and shows us Ben-Gurion’s relentless activity across six decades. Along the way, Segev reveals for the first time Ben-Gurion’s secret negotiations with the British on the eve of Israel’s independence, his willingness to countenance the forced transfer of Arab neighbors, his relative indifference to Jerusalem, and his occasional “nutty moments”—from UFO sightings to plans for Israel to acquire territory in South America. Segev also reveals that Ben-Gurion first heard about the Holocaust from a Palestinian Arab acquaintance, and explores his tempestuous private life, including the testimony of four former lovers.

The result is a full and startling portrait of a man who sought a state “at any cost”—at times through risk-taking, violence, and unpredictability, and at other times through compromise, moderation, and reason. Segev’s Ben-Gurion is neither a saint nor a villain but rather a historical actor who belongs in the company of Lenin or Churchill—a twentieth-century leader whose iron will and complex temperament left a complex and contentious legacy that we still reckon with today.

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THE VOW


“WE’D SWIM AND SPEAK HEBREW”

About forty-five miles west of Warsaw flows a small and picturesque river, the Plonka; it also runs through the town of Plonsk. On one of the last days of summer in 1903,...

Praise for A State at Any Cost

"Segev . . . has spent four decades exploring Ben-Gurion’s impact on Israel, in a body of work that has no equal either for the brilliance of his storytelling or the ironies of his analysis. He is neither a sentimental apologist for Ben-Gurion nor a crusading dethroner in the style of the New Historians with whom he has often been grouped. He is, rather, a student of power, and is at once fascinated and horrified by what he sees." —Adam Shatz, London Review of Books

"[A] deeply researched, engrossing and, in some respects, controversial biography . . . Segev is best when probing the human side of the complex leader. Often brusque in manner, outwardly self-assured and iron-willed, Ben-Gurion poured his innermost emotions into his diaries and letters . . . Through the drama of his life, and despite his failings—both personal and political—Ben-Gurion emerges in Segev’s book as a man of vision and integrity." —Francine Klagsbrun, The New York Times Book Review

"The Israeli historian Tom Segev paints a conflicting portrait of Israel’s founder in his monumental A State at Any Cost . . . Unlike Ben-Gurion’s previous biographers, even the best of whom found it impossible not to stray at times in to hagiography, Segev is unsparing in his depiction of the less appealing sides of his private and political personalities. He also convincingly and meticulously builds the case for Ben-Gurion as a visionary leader, efficient organiser and persuasive advocate wi… More…

"Segev . . . has spent four decades exploring Ben-Gurion’s impact on Israel, in a body of work that has no equal either for the brilliance of his storytelling or the ironies of his analysis. He is neither a sentimental apologist for Ben-Gurion nor a crusading dethroner in the style of the New Historians with whom he has often been grouped. He is, rather, a student of power, and is at once fascinated and horrified by what he sees." —Adam Shatz, London Review of Books

"[A] deeply researched, engrossing and, in some respects, controversial biography . . . Segev is best when probing the human side of the complex leader. Often brusque in manner, outwardly self-assured and iron-willed, Ben-Gurion poured his innermost emotions into his diaries and letters . . . Through the drama of his life, and despite his failings—both personal and political—Ben-Gurion emerges in Segev’s book as a man of vision and integrity." —Francine Klagsbrun, The New York Times Book Review

"The Israeli historian Tom Segev paints a conflicting portrait of Israel’s founder in his monumental A State at Any Cost . . . Unlike Ben-Gurion’s previous biographers, even the best of whom found it impossible not to stray at times in to hagiography, Segev is unsparing in his depiction of the less appealing sides of his private and political personalities. He also convincingly and meticulously builds the case for Ben-Gurion as a visionary leader, efficient organiser and persuasive advocate without whose efforts Israel, as an independent and sovereign state, may never have come into being." —Anshel Pfeffer, The Times (London)

"[A] fascinating biography . . . a masterly portrait of a titanic yet unfulfilled man . . . this is a gripping study of power, and the loneliness of power." The Economist

"Deploying exhaustive research, which included access to previously unavailable archival material, Segev unearths a man of contradictions . . . what Segev’s deft unfolding of the trajectory of Ben-Gurion’s life makes clear is that his legacy is Israel itself." —Diane Cole, The Washington Post

"A magisterial work, sure to take its place as a standard reference . . . those who know Segev’s tours-de-force One Palestine, Complete, 1967, and The Seventh Million know that it is impossible for him to write an uninteresting sentence. There is nobody like Segev for knowing how to spin a yarn—and what a yarn this one is —and for developing a historical context for a narrative." —Jerome A. Chanes, The New York Jewish Week

"Writing without fear or favor, Tom Segev has authority . . . [A State at Any Cost] is also an oblique but illuminating history of the making of Israel." —David Pryce-Jones, The New Criterion

"To say that Segev has written another history of David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973) would be an understatement . . . [A State at Any Cost is] a definitive biography of Israel's former prime minister . . . Scholars and devoted readers of political history, notably of the Middle East, will turn to Segev's majestic analysis of this pivotal leader for decades to come." Library Journal

"Eminent Israeli journalist and historian [Tom Segev] chronicles the life of a driven leader who galvanized others to the exhausting, relentless pursuit of a state of Israel . . . A fair portrait of a difficult, hard-nosed character." Kirkus

"Tom Segev's meticulously researched and most elegantly written new biography of David Ben-Gurion is a must for anybody interested in both the glorious and the dark pages of the history of Zionism and Israel, as reflected throughout the life and times of the Jewish State's most important founding father." —Saul Friedländer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Nazi Germany and the Jews and Where Memory Leads

“[A] carefully researched and nonjudgemental biography . . . Tom Segev’s A State at Any Cost aptly summarizes the lodestar of Ben-Gurion’s life.” Avraham Avi-hai, The Jerusalem Post

“In the course of six years of research, Segev . . . discovered a leader fraught with dramatic contrasts . . . the author has come up with significant historical revelations.” Ofer Aderet, Haaretz

“Tom Segev has completed a monumental task. The work includes the research of a true detective.” —Avner Cohen, author of Israel and the Bomb

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Reviews from Goodreads

Tom Segev; Translated from the Hebrew by Haim Watzman

Tom Segev is among Israel’s leading journalists and historians. His works include The Seventh Million; 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East; Simon Wiesenthal; and One Palestine, Complete (chosen one of ten best books of 2000 by The New York Times).

Haim Watzman is a Jerusalem-based writer, journalist, and translator. He is the author, most recently, of Necessary Stories, a collection of short fiction. His previous books are Company C: An American’s Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel (FSG, 2005) and A Crack in the Earth: A Journey Up Israel’s Rift Valley (FSG, 2007).

Tom Segev

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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