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A Crack in the Earth: A Journey up Israel's Rift Valley Hardcover – May 29, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Israeli author Watzman (Company C) ambitiously takes on the whole of geological and human history as they developed in the Rift Valley, the defining geographical feature between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian West Bank. Though he occasionally drops too much information too quickly, Watzman is a talented storyteller, deftly engaging readers interested in the Earth's constant evolution, along with those more likely to be interested in the humanity affected by it. With a nice sense of irony and the absurd, the American-born Watzman makes a lively tale out of his travels in the valley, lending a practiced ear to experts and plain folks alike. Yet there are important gaps. Though he clearly wants to do justice to all the rift's stories, frequently referring to his belief that "people see the same landscape differently depending on who they are," Watzman fails almost utterly to bring in non-Jewish voices; the one Arab we meet is an Israeli Bedouin. He is also inconsistent in his references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, mentioning Palestinian violence frequently, but largely ignoring Israeli military operations and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands. Though this is a thoroughly enjoyable read, readers won't get a fully rounded version of the tale Watzman attempts to tell. (June 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Praise for Company C:
“An Israeli version of Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead (2004), both hard-nosed and illuminating.”   —Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374130582
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374130589
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,184,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in 1956 in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington DC. I attended Duke University and, after graduating in 1978, a went to Israel for a year that has turned into a lifetime. Except for my year and a half of regular army service, I have made my livingas a freelance translator and journalist. My translations include Tom Segev's The Seventh Million, Elvis in Jerusalem, and One Palestine Complete, as well as David Grossman's The Yellow Wind, Sleeping on a Wire, and Death as a Way of Life.

I live in Jerusalem with my wife, Ilana, and my four children, Mizmor (21), Asor (20), Niot (16), and Misgav (14). We are active members of Kehilat Yedidya, a liberal Orthodox community equally concerned about democracy in Israeli society and traditional Jewish values.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David B. Brumer on June 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"The rift valley is a natural object, created by physical forces. But when we look at it, we don't see the physical object. We see stories and ideas and our own histories. People see the same landscape differently depending on who they are, when they live, what they've done, and what stories they heard when they were children."

Being congenitally predisposed to this unique and magnificent part of the physical world, I can attest to this pronouncement made by Haim Watzman in his majestic tale of a journey up the Jordan Rift Valley, "a crack in the earth's crust that begins where the Indian Ocean's waters mix with those of the Gulf of Aden." Watzman focuses on the stretch of the rift from the northern shore of the Dead Sea at Eilat to the Golan Heights bordering Syria in his riveting new book, "A Crack in the Earth".

Through a blend of science and faith, Watzman has crafted a story that tells about geological phenomena, scientific analysis, archeological examination, and philosophical musings through the distinct perspectives of biologists, zoologists, kibbutzniks, and other ordinary, modern-day inhabitants of the rift. Watzman, who is himself religiously observant, points out that he is also a journalist and a man of science, making him naturally skeptical. He challenges accepted biblical verities with the same investigative rigor that he uses when scrutinizing geological and biological ones. He notes that "modern archaeology and textual scholarship have cast doubt on the historical truth of the Bible for decades now...in many ways modern Orthodox Judaism is not a religion of the Bible. It's much more a religion built by the sages upon the foundation of the Bible, after the destruction of the Temple and the rise of Christianity.
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By L. King on August 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Chaim Waitzman is a professional translator and I've greatly admired some of his other work. This is his 2nd solo effort. As an occasional hiker and paddler I enjoy trying out different routes not just for the exercise and comradery but also for gaining an understanding of the history and geography of the land. Waitzman takes us on a journey along the continental rift between Africa and Arabia, starting from Eilat and ranging as far north as the Bekka Valley in Lebanon which the map on the opening page shows quite vividly in high relief. He's a journalist as well, and along the way he interviews a number of interesting professionals who've studied the geology and ecology of the rift and presents their theories and observations.

The book is divided into 3 sections, each with it's own map which I found quite useful in placing the narrative. IMV the first covering the lower Negev and third discussing the upper Galilee are strongest. We're treated to a variety of scientists describing what the area was during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, and whether or not the rift is a transform fault like the San Adreas or a graben - a stretching of the Earth between two other faults. We meet Uzi Avner, and archeologists who specializes in ancient desert cultures and has some interesting extrapolations based on stone structures that he has found. Later on this motif resurfaces in the "cheirograph legend" which I learned as a child, where Adam and Eve, afraid of the dark following the first sunset are deceived by Satan to swear allegiance to him on a stone that is hidden in the Jordan.

Further north Dr.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author is a good writer and his descriptions are interesting but the book is not very much about the geology or the archeology of the Jordan Rift Valley. In writing about about places, he gives us more of his on reminiscences than anything else. When writing about geologists he seems more interested in their personal lives than their work.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on October 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It would be nice to read a book for once that didn't have the author's opinion interlaced into it, but that would be a hard request of any author these days, for most writers feel they must leave their imprint.

This is such a book, and its only saving grace is that it doesn't include to much of the authors own rantings and ravings and opinions. The history is interesting, from the geology of the land to the most modern times it is a sweeping account of a journey from the Negev to the Hulah valley. Although the book seems to want to draw parellels between the shaky earth, the rift valley, and the politics of the region, this is a very weak metaphor, the Jordan river valley is one of the most peaceful parts of the country and so is the border there.

Nevertheless the stories of the Christian Arab tribes, the ancient peoples of the area, the siege of Masada, Diocletian, the modern Zionists and the all too often read about 'Arab-Israeli conflict' are interesting. There are several jaring and obnoxious asides in the text. The author reminds us time and again that he is a 'religious' Orthodox Jew, but then goes on to tell us how his 'faith' admires the Rabbis who revived Judaism rather than the 'extremist' zealots at Masada who fought to the death. But he libels the Zealots. Modern Orthodoxy is based on the Jews that survived the Roman war, but they are also theological descendants of Rabbi Akiva who supported the Bar-Kochba rebellion. The author is far from bring part of the religious mainstream, and his observations about religion are very far from those of Orthodox Judaism.

That being said, it is a highly readable and pleasant account, it at times wordy despite its short stature, a fair and interesting book, full of stories and facts.

Seth J. Frantzman
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