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They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons Hardcover – January 15, 2008

3.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

News of neoconservatism's demise has been greatly exaggerated, according to prolific journalist Heilbrunn, who profiles the largely (though by no means exclusively) Jewish makeup of the movement. Heilbrunn roots his interpretation of neoconservatism's Jewish character in the American immigrant experience, the persistent memory of the Holocaust and Western appeasement of Hitler, among other phenomena. Charting the movement's philosophy from its inception through the foreign policy vision crafted in the 1970s and the culture wars of the 1980s and '90s, Heilbrunn employs a quasi-biblical spin echoed in Old Testament-inspired chapter headings. With the exception of his grasp of neoconservatism's right-wing Christian contingent, Heilbrunn displays an innate understanding of the movement. He argues persuasively that though these self-styled prophets embrace an outsider stance, and though he believes they are happiest when viewed as the opposition, they will remain a formidable influence for the foreseeable future. Heilbrunn's analysis lacks rigor concerning foreign policy assumptions and ideological and economic motives, thus unintentionally leaving his subjects more historically isolated than they really are. His proximity to the conservative movement brings benefits and limitations to this historical analysis. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A fast-paced, edgy profile of the intellectuals whose views about Islam and the Middle East came to dominate foreign policy after 9/11.”
Chicago Tribune

“Persuasive, wide-ranging. . . . Heilbrunn takes a long, nuanced measure of the neocon policy revolution.”
The New York Observer

“Excellent. . . . Heilbrunn adroitly surveys the movement's history from the Trotskyist alcoves of the City College cafeteria up to the present day.”
The New York Review of Books

“Thorough . . . fair. . . . They Knew They Were Right will fit nicely on the rapidly expanding shelf explaining Iraq.”
The Washington Post --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (January 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385511817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385511810
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,279,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By W. Harwood on February 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The positives in this well-written book far outweigh any negatives. He makes fair, well-reasoned judgements. As a retired American diplomat and holder of a doctorate in European history, I have studied and experienced many of the issues discussed in it--human rights in the Carter Administration, for example. I always wondered who were the political appointees in the upper reaches of the Washington bureaucracy who set our policies, and why didn't they listen to us on the ground in unpleasant overseas places? It lays out the Neo-con stress on academics (most have graduate degrees), intellectual ability, combativeness, and adherence to a set of principles in defiance of logic and a clear-headed look at the facts. Heilbrunn's best moments are (1) when he points out the mistakes the Neo-cons make and why, and how their commonalities (not necessarily of religious background) made them a force in Washington; and (2) when he shows how their narrow view of the world got us into the Iraq debacle. Now I know the origin of their harsh self-righteousness -- Old Testament prophets. Having read their periodicals occasionally and their daily commentaries in the press for many years, I finally understand what lies behind them. You don't need to be a policy wonk (I'm not one) to understand this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Heilbrunn knows his subject, and writes with insight into what makes the neocon movement tick. He has had access to many of the major players, and he generally treats them fairly.

The primary problem with this book is the lack of rigor, as noted in the Publisher's Weekly review (on this Amazon page). I have no doubt that Heilbrunn is very familiar with what he's writing about, but often the book ends up just being one journalist's long thoughts on the subject, rather than a well-crafted argument. Obviously this book is not supposed to be an academic monograph, but more documented sources would have helped immensely. Too often I just had to take Heilbrunn's word for claims he was making, which meant that for much of the book I wasn't sure how much to believe. At other points, the author fails to develop important arguments, giving more space to the personalities and mind-set of his subjects. Finally, I don't think Heilbrunn gives enough space to key arguments of critics outside the neocon movement (as opposed to critics who were former friends or associates of key neocons - we do get to hear from them).

So, read the book for Heilbrunn's insights, gained from extensive face-to-face exposure with the key players, but don't expect this to be a rigorous book of political analysis.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An in-depth history and analysis of the neo-conservatives; the men who secured the ear of President George W. Bush and led the United States into invading another country and starting the last Iraq War. Something of which our economy and our military are still suffering the effects.
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Format: Hardcover
Heilbrunn deserves commendation for demonstrating, against all political correctness, that the neoconservative movement is indeed a Jewish movement. While some Jews would worry here about encouraging anti-semitism, most would be so proud of the achievement of the neocons that they would admit the truth: America has in both its political parties become neocon. It believes in the old Wilsonian project of spreading our way of life, even if it means down the throats of people who don't want it. Americans have become so careful about offending Israel and its backers that no one -- unless it is the self-destructive Jesse Jackson -- can even hint at the fact that being on Israel's side does not mean being on the side of extreme rightwing Zionism. Half of the Israeli population would reject neoconservatism and its peculiar view of Israeli needs.

But Heilbrunn fails to see one important factor in neoconservatism. It is the Jewish American attempt to purge from Jewish life all sympathy for left-wing causes. In fact, Jews from the late 19th Century were always, when not orthodox, in favor of radical socialism and communism. As a result rightwing movements in Europe could also appeal to anti-Semitism. Hitler benefited from this enormously. Jews prospered in Bolshevik Russia (see Yuri Slezkine's fine book THE JEWISH CENTURY.) Neocons began by attacking Jewish disabilities in post-Stalinist Russia, which they always exaggerated, then they recruited Scoop Jackson to interfere with our economic relations with the USSR over the question of Jewish emigration. All this was a mascarade to make Jews look rightwing and thereby patriotic in America. But Jews still vote largely for the Democratic Party despite the neocons.

The neocon conservative movement is not a Jewish plot -- but it comes close.
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Format: Hardcover
Starting with the old Trotsky/ Stalin feuds in the 1930's, and then the American response to the Holocaust, up to present day, this book cannot be praised enough. All the articles and commentaries I have read on the neo-cons come together perfectly here. True, many of the original neo-cons were from the New York Jewish Intellectual school, mainly at City College, though Columbia and Chicago also provide much later centers. And the fact that this is nearly a family business is also of note. The former Trotskyists morphed into extreme Commie-haters, moved into the Conservative crowd in the 50's and by the Reagan era hit their initial stride. Shunned by the Nixon and BushI 'Realist" School, they beat the drums, often to no avail, until BushJr. took them up, swords, bombs and all. The rest is history, mostly unpleasant. A sub-title could be "Duped by a Few", but it's obvious that with Bush at the helm, with 9/11, and the Family Feud with Saddam, that the Iraq attack was inevitable. Unfortunately, a small of militant delusionaries and strange idealists took the helm, and an ignorant and naive president was more than willing to listen. For the characters, ideas, disputes, magazines, datelines, etc., of the neo-conservatives, this book is a must!
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