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Menachem Begin: A Life Hardcover – November 27, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

For the first three decades of Israel’s national existence, politics was dominated by the Labor coalition; the possibility that the right-wing Likud, led by Menachem Begin, could take power seemed remote and even absurd. Many Jews, both within and outside of Israel, reviled him as an extremist with Fascist tendencies. In a dramatic shift, he and his party rose to power in 1977. It is symptomatic of the rightward political transformation of Israel that Begin is now a widely revered political figure on a par with David Ben Gurion. Shilon has written a scrupulously balanced and comprehensive biography of the frustratingly complex and enigmatic leader. Born to a staunchly Zionist family in Brest-Litovsk, then part of the Russian Empire, Begin was drawn to a particularly militant strain of Zionism, influenced by the persecutions of Jews that he witnessed firsthand. In Mandate Palestine, he was a mercurial underground fighter who could be both a rigid ideologue and a practical tactician. Shilon reveals often fascinating and surprising details about Begin as a politician in independent Israel. This is a superbly researched examination. --Jay Freeman


"I read this book, which was written with immense talent and based on profound research, with great interest. This biography represents a decisive contribution to the truth."—Shimon Peres
(Shimon Peres)

“The most comprehensive and thorough biography published to date about Begin . . . will be of particular interest to American Jews”—Benny Morris, author of 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War
(Benny Morris)

"Avi Shilon has beautifully documented Menachem Begin's remarkable life and explained his complex character; in addition, this well-translated biography provides important insights into Begin's historic prime ministry."—Daniel Pipes, Middle East Forum 
(Daniel Pipes)

"The first comprehensive biography about the leader and the man. . . . A pioneering event in its field."—Time Out Tel Aviv
(Time Out Tel Aviv)

“A fully realized, important portrait of a significant 20th-century leader.”—Kirkus, starred review


 “This first comprehensive biography of Menachem Begin…reveals a man of great contradictions and influence in the shifting political developments of his time.”—Publishers Weekly
(Publishers Weekly)

“Shilon masterfully details Begin’s life.”—Choice


Finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Awards in the Biography, Autobiography, Memoir category.
(National Jewish Book Awards Jewish Book Council 2013-06-11)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 584 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (November 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300162359
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300162356
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,061,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Aleph on February 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the book very much. It is richly detailed, compellingly told and skillfully presented from beginning to end. The author leverages his skill as a journalist to unearth this important story and present this epic tale in a way that is genuinely accessible to a wide readership.

My one complaint -- and it is a maddening one -- is his persistent, passive-aggressive suggestion that Begin was manic-depressive, debilitated by mental illness. The author concedes that neither he, nor his sources, could ethically make such a diagnosis; but again and again this meme returns, like a bad penny.

While I think there are other explanations for Begin's charismatic successes, and crushing setbacks, than mental illness, to my mind these innuendos do more for the author than they do his story. I think that he repeatedly whispers this idea to avoid falling in love with his subject; who, as the story reveals, is much a much larger figure than the author, you or I, or anyone we know.

If the author can be forgiveness this weakness, and you will need to forgive him several times during the journey, this book is worth twice what you are asked to pay for it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, detailed although sometimes un-idiomatically translated, shows us how in the career of one man the Yishuv, or Israel as it is now known, has continually had to choose between acting with moral clarity and acting with prudence. One anecdote about Begin's father epitomizes the contrast. A Polish soldier attempted to cut off his beard; father responded by hitting him with his walking stick. By the end of the encounter the father was bruised and battered but his good cheer was still evident to his son even if others might see this as a humiliating incident. He'd learned that if someone was unalterably opposed to you, there was no recourse but to fight.

Begin, like Ben-Gurion, was a Zionist prodigy who headed organizations early in life. As a disciple of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, he rejected any form of socialism , which involved a class struggle, in favor of national unity. The motives for action were to be absolutely clear and involve all of society. He quickly became commander in the Polish division of Jabotinsky's youth organization, Betar, and later in its militia, Irgun. At the beginning of World War II, Begin travelled east to escape the Germans, but the Soviet authorities imprisoned him as a Zionist and (therefore) a bourgeois nationalist. In June 1941 he was sent to a labor camp on the Pechora River near the Arctic Circle.

For Jabotinsky and his organization, the most important issue was that the Jews should control Eretz Israel, defined as in the Bible to include in addition to the west of Jordan, the east which the British had ceded to King Abdullah. Betar, the Jabotinsky-founded youth organization, had split from the main body of Zionism in 1931 on the question of borders. A split within Betar had occurred in 1938 over the question of cooperating with the British.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book changed my view of Begin. Personalized it. His standoffishness and need for formality was with him since a very young age. He always had leadership. Heavily influenced by his father. His advocacy of "both banks of the Jordan" was at once a guiding principle and a slogan which no other politician could trump. There was no further you could rationally go. It was important that the labor oriented governments of the early days had another view. Many thought him a radical - out of touch, but that extreme left centered governments of the early years did finally learn that they did not have all right and justice in their views.
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An excellent description of the life and philosophy of one of the most important political figures in Israeli political history. The book should be used as a guide for current day politicians in present day Israel. Even if you have read previously about Begin you will discover this book to be a important addition to enhance your knowledge.
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