In Search of Israel

In Search of Israel : The History of an Idea

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A major new history of the century-long debate over what a Jewish state should be

Many Zionists who advocated the creation of a Jewish state envisioned a nation like any other. Yet for Israel's founders, the state that emerged against all odds in 1948 was anything but ordinary. Born from the ashes of genocide and a long history of suffering, Israel was conceived to be unique, a model society and the heart of a prosperous new Middle East. It is this paradox, says historian Michael Brenner--the Jewish people's wish for a homeland both normal and exceptional-that shapes Israel's ongoing struggle to define itself and secure a place among nations. In Search of Israel is a major new history of this struggle from the late nineteenth century to our time.

When Theodor Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress in 1897, no single solution to the problem of "normalizing" the Jewish people emerged. Herzl proposed a secular-liberal "New Society" that would be home to Jews and non-Jews alike. East European Zionists advocated the renewal of the Hebrew language and the creation of a distinct Jewish culture. Socialists imagined a society of workers' collectives and farm settlements. The Orthodox dreamt of a society based on the laws of Jewish scripture. The stage was set for a clash of Zionist dreams and Israeli realities that continues today.

Seventy years after its founding, Israel has achieved much, but for a state widely viewed as either a paragon or a pariah, Brenner argues, the goal of becoming a state like any other remains elusive. If the Jews were the archetypal "other" in history, ironically, Israel-which so much wanted to avoid the stamp of otherness-has become the Jew among the nations.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 392 pages
  • 140 x 216 x 38.1mm | 624g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 24 b/w illus. 4 maps.
  • 069117928X
  • 9780691179285
  • 394,505

Back cover copy

"Michael Brenner is one of the leading authorities on the history of Zionism in the twentieth century, and this book is a must-read for everyone who is interested in the subject."--Walter Laqueur, author of A History of Zionism

"There are excellent histories of both Zionism and the state of Israel, but Michael Brenner has managed to combine the two subjects in a single volume that takes the reader from the original vision of Theodor Herzl to the present. This is an authoritative account of a complex and absorbing story."--Itamar Rabinovich, president of The Israel Institute and Israel's former ambassador to the United States

"Since the birth of political Zionism, the idea of Israel has oscillated between the Jewish millenarian quest for 'normalcy' and the claim of uniqueness of a people with a universal mission. Michael Brenner's elegant study is a compelling voyage into this fascinating contradiction. This absorbing book also sheds much-needed scholarly light on the heated debate between those for whom Israel is an inspiring dream come true and her growing army of detractors."--Shlomo Ben Ami, vice-president of the Toledo International Center for Peace and former foreign minister of Israel

"Elegant and accessible, In Search of Israel is a beautifully crafted exploration of the tensions within the Zionist project between Israel's strivings for normality and its ongoing sense of exceptionalism. Michael Brenner treats a highly contentious subject with grace and tact."--Derek Penslar, Harvard University

"The story of the very different visions for a Jewish homeland, and how they played out in theory and practice, is extremely complex. Michael Brenner does an excellent job of making the various twists and turns of Israel's history intelligible, and he writes with considerable verve, irony, and even humor."--John Efron, University of California, Berkeley
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Review Text

"There are excellent histories of both Zionism and the state of Israel, but Michael Brenner has managed to combine the two subjects in a single volume that takes the reader from the original vision of Theodor Herzl to the present. This is an authoritative account of a complex and absorbing story."--Itamar Rabinovich, president of The Israel Institute and Israel's former ambassador to the United States
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Review quote

"Majestic and deeply engaging. . . . Brenner's book is a gem. It is a timely, brilliantly crafted, and expansively researched masterpiece."---Scott Lasensky, Israel Studies Review "A lucid, valuable text about a homeland that may not yet be a light unto the nations but is surely unique." * Kirkus * "Finalist for the 2018 National Jewish Book Award in History, Gerrard and Ella Berman Memorial Award" "Brenner . . . once again provides a concise and accessible look at a complex topic with this history of modern Zionism. . . . Even readers familiar with the contours of this history will still find something to learn in Brenner's even-handed take." * Publishers Weekly * "It is a rare history that compels the reader to think constantly about the present and even about the future. But that is what the historian Michael Brenner has accomplished in this meticulous journey through the labyrinth of yearning that has led to the modern State of Israel."---David K. Shipler, Moment Magazine "Sophisticated in exposition, drawing on wide-ranging literary sources, among others, and judicious in its treatment of vexatious issues, Brenner's book demonstrates that Israel today is neither a Garden of Eden nor another Albania."---Bernard Wasserstein, Literary Review "Innovative."---Mark Baker, Australian Book Review "A timely and useful survey."---Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal "Brenner's attentiveness to the power of these popular forms of expression gives his study its distinctiveness and importance."---Brent E. Sasley, Middle East Journal "Erudite and elegantly written."---Shlomo Avineri, Jewish Review of Books
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About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies and director of the Center for Israel Studies at American University and Professor of Jewish History and Culture at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. His many books include A Short History of the Jews (Princeton).
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Rating details

23 ratings
4.39 out of 5 stars
5 48% (11)
4 43% (10)
3 9% (2)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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