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.
Avi Shilon is a historian and his main field of expertise is Israel Studies. His dissertation focuses on The Revisionist Movement Leaders' Attitudes Toward Jewish religion 1925-2005. His first book, Menachem Begin: A Life, was published by Yale University press in 2012. His second book, Ben Gurion: His Later Years in the Political Wildernesshad been published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016. His new book, The Decline of the Left-wing in Israel: Yossi Beilin and the Politics of the Peace Processwill be published by I.B Tauris on November 2019. Shilon is currently a visiting scholar at the Taub Center for Israel Studies, NYU, and he also writes op-ed columns for Haaretz.
Kai Bird is executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography. co-authored with Martin J. Sherwin the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Knopf, 2005). He has also written biographies of John J. McCloy and McGeorge Bundy—and a memoir, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis(Scribner, 2010). His most recent book is The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames (Crown, 2014), and he is currently working on a biography of President Jimmy Carter.