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My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel Paperback – February 3, 2015

4.5 out of 5 stars 1,681 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Shavit is a columnist for the center-left Israeli daily Haaretz. Unlike some on the Israeli Left, he isn’t an anti-Zionist provocateur. Rather, he is a fervently patriotic Israeli with an abiding love for his nation’s history and the best of its traditions and institutions. So his honest and sometimes brutally frank portrait of his homeland’s past and its present dilemmas is especially poignant. Shavit’s narrative is strongest when he utilizes the stories of individual Israelis to paint a rich tableau based on personal experiences. What emerges isn’t necessarily optimistic. He regards the current peace process as a dead end, since no Palestinian leader or government can guarantee an agreement that offers the necessary security for Israel. Yet his own military experience on the West Bank has convinced him that control over Palestinians is poisonous and cannot be sustained. Finally, he makes clear that Iran truly is an existential threat that must, somehow, be neutralized. This is a masterful portrait of contemporary Israel. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“This book will sweep you up in its narrative force and not let go of you until it is done. [Shavit’s] accomplishment is so unlikely, so total . . . that it makes you believe anything is possible, even, God help us, peace in the Middle East.”—Simon Schama, Financial Times
 
“[A] must-read book . . . Shavit celebrates the Zionist man-made miracle—from its start-ups to its gay bars—while remaining affectionate, critical, realistic and morally anchored. . . . His book is a real contribution to changing the conversation about Israel and building a healthier relationship with it. Before their next ninety-minute phone call, both Barack and Bibi should read it.”—Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times
 
“[An] important and powerful book . . . [Shavit] has an undoctrinaire mind. He comes not to praise or to blame, though along the way he does both, with erudition and with eloquence; he comes instead to observe and to reflect. This is the least tendentious book about Israel I have ever read. It is a Zionist book unblinkered by Zionism. It is about the entirety of the Israeli experience. Shavit is immersed in all of the history of his country.  While some of it offends him, none of it is alien to him. . . . The author of My Promised Land is a dreamer with an addiction to reality. He holds out for affirmation without illusion. Shavit’s book is an extended test of his own capacity to maintain his principles in full view of the brutality that surrounds them.”—Leon Wieseltier, The New York Times Book Review 
 
“Spellbinding . . . In this divided, fought-over shard of land splintered from the Middle East barely seventy years ago, Mr. Shavit’s prophetic voice carries lessons that all sides need to hear.”The Economist
 
“One of the most nuanced and challenging books written on Israel in years . . . [The] book’s real power: On an issue so prone to polemic, Mr. Shavit offers candor.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
“A tour de force.”—Jewish Journal

“Reads like a love story and a thriller at once.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“[A] searingly honest, descriptively lush, painful and riveting story of the creation of Zionism in Israel and [Shavit’s] own personal voyage.”—The Washington Post
 
“Shavit is a master storyteller. [His] retelling of history jars us out of our familiar retrospections, reminds us (and we do need reminders) that there are historical reasons why Israel is a country on the edge. . . . Required reading for both the left and the right.”The Jewish Week
 
“The most extraordinary book that I’ve read on [Israel] since Amos Elon’s book called The Israelis, and that was published in the late sixties.”—David Remnick, on Charlie Rose
 
My Promised Land is an Israeli book like no other. Not since Amos Elon’s The Israelis, Amos Oz’s In the Land of Israel, and Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem has there been such a powerful and comprehensive book written about the Jewish State and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ari Shavit is one of Israel’s leading columnists and writers, and the story he tells describes with great empathy the Palestinian tragedy and the century-long struggle between Jews and Arabs over the Holy Land. While Shavit is being brutally honest regarding the Zionist enterprise, he is also insightful, sensitive, and attentive to the dramatic life-stories of his fascinating heroes and heroines. The result is a unique nonfiction book that has the qualities of fine literature. It brings to life epic history without being a conventional history book. It deepens contemporary political understanding without being a one-sided political polemic. It is painful and provocative, yet colorful, emotional, life-loving, and inspiring. My Promised Land is the ultimate personal odyssey of a humanist exploring the startling biography of his tormented homeland, which is at the very center of global interest.”—Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister and Defense Minister of Israel
 
“With deeply engaging personal narratives and morally nuanced portraits, Ari Shavit takes us way beneath the headlines to the very heart of Israel’s dilemmas in his brilliant new work. His expertise as a reporter comes through in the interviews, while his lyricism brings the writing—and the people—to life. Shavit also challenges Israelis and Diaspora Jewry to be bold in imagining the next chapter for Israel, a challenge that will no doubt be informed by this important book.”—Rick Jacobs, president, Union for Reform Judaism

“This is the epic history that Israel deserves—beautifully written, dramatically rendered, full of moral complexity. Ari Shavit has made a storied career of explaining Israel to Israelis; now he shares his mind-blowing, trustworthy insights with the rest of us. It is the best book on the subject to arrive in many years.”—Franklin Foer, editor, The New Republic
 
“A beautiful, mesmerizing, morally serious, and vexing book. I’ve been waiting most of my adult life for an Israeli to plumb the deepest mysteries of his country’s existence and share his discoveries, and Ari Shavit does so brilliantly, writing simultaneously like a poet and a prophet. My Promised Land is a remarkable achievement.”—Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent, The Atlantic
 
“Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land is without question one of the most important books about Israel and Zionism that I have ever read. Both movingly inspiring and at times heartbreakingly painful, My Promised Land tells the story of the Jewish state as it has never been told before, capturing both the triumph and the torment of Israel’s experience and soul. This is the book that has the capacity to reinvent and reshape the long-overdue conversation about how Israel’s complex past ought to shape its still-uncertain future.”—Daniel Gordis, author of Saving Israel and Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College, Jerusalem

“This book is vital reading for Americans who care about the future, not only of the United States but of the world.”—Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Reissue edition (February 3, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385521715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385521710
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,681 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ira E. Stoll VINE VOICE on May 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is a beautifully written and deeply reported attempt to explain Israel to Israelis and to the world.

The author is candid about his own perspective -- a "left-wing journalist," an "anti-occupation peacenik," yet nonetheless one genuinely aspiring to be balanced and fair. His great grandfather Herbert Bentwich arrived in Israel in 1897, and at the beginning and end of the book the author retraces Bentwich's steps.

Pro-Israel American Jews such as myself will find this book troubling. It argues that the crux of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not the 1967 Six-Day War and the occupation that resulted, but rather the events of 1948. It recounts (though without footnotes, and in a chapter that may well be challenged by other historians) an episode in 1948 in which, the author says, David Ben Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin ordered the expulsion of 35,000 Palestinian Arabs from the city of Lydda.

For all his directness about what he calls "the tragedy of 1948," Shalit is proud of what he calls the "miracle" of Zionism, He writes about Israel's orange groves, its wineries, its high-tech industry, its absorption of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and from North Africa, Yemen, and Iraq, its music scene. He is critical of the Israeli peace movement for imagining that the threat to Israel's existence can be solved and peace achieved by withdrawing from the West bank and Gaza, and he is clear-eyed in describing the threats Israel faces from a nuclear-armed Iran and from the surrounding Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinian Arabs.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm afraid I can't share the enthusiasm that most reviewers have for this book. The author is a terribly conflicted individual (with which I sympathize) and this book is just all over the map. It's hard to know where to begin with my review, but I'm going to break it down into three parts.

1. The Good:

I have to give Mr. Shavit credit where credit is due. He goes way out on a limb with his very descriptive tale of what happened to one Palestinian town in 1948. This isn't easy for any Jew or Israeli to do. Most Jewish authors will shy away from this subject. It's almost totally taboo to acknowledge such things. Authors such as Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe have been severely ostracized for writing very detailed accounts of this sordid side of Israeli history. Also, I believe that most Jews (at least American Jews) are terribly ignorant about this topic. This chapter will probably be read by many Jews and I do think that knowledge is the beginning of progress.

Shavit also shares some of his experiences in Gaza while he was in the IDF. I must admit that I was pretty shocked by the daily torture events that took place there. My own ignorance on this particular topic became very obvious to me. Many young stone throwers were undoubtedly turned into real terrorists after being subjected to the Israeli torture tactics. It isn't a pretty story, but it is an important story and I thank Shavit for sharing what he heard and saw while serving in the military.

2. The Bad:

I am not a big fan of Shavit's style of writing. There are endless stories about Jews coming to Israel and planting oranges, olives, pomegranates or whatever. This tale doesn't need to be told 29 times in order to make his point. Less would have been a lot more.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a history of the major issues facing Israel, told through anecdote, family stories, and interviews with the top players. Though not comprehensive, which left many gaps of incident and detail, it is truly excellent for its clarity of vision, impartiality, and frank acknowledgment of the irreconcilable contradictions and paradoxes at the heart of Israel. I was completely absorbed through the entire book and learned an immense amount from it.

The book begins with a description of the original Zionist vision, coming out of 19C nationalism and directed to the reunification of a long-abused people. Shavit's great-grandfather, a successful businessman in England, was among the founding fathers who first came to visit Palestine, when less than 10% of the population was Jewish. They and others bought up land and began to set up farms and eventually, quasi-communistic kibbutzes. It was to save Jews who faced violent pogroms in E Europe, or at least discrimination elsewhere, as well as to empower them. At the start, most Zionists believed that the Jews could live side by side with the Arabs. These chapters almost put me off the book, as they are written with a kind of wistful sentimentality and pride in the way the settlers began to re-shape the desert into productive farms. Fortunately, the pace picks up once they face conflict with the Arabs and, following WWII, set up the state of Israel.

It was the coverage of 1948 that most impressed me. Shavit is absolutely clear about the ambiguity and hypocrisy at the heart of the founding of the Israeli nation-state.
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