Coming October 25, 2011

David Ben-Gurion was a mythic figure, a founding father of Israel, and the country's first prime minister, but he was also a real man, brimming with human contradictions, who was observed in all his complexity by Shimon Peres. Peres was a young man when he became a protégé of Ben-Gurion's in the 1940s and he remained closely connected to him until his death in 1973. He combines personal recollection and a deep sense of history, politics, and culture in his biography of David Ben-Gurion. Peres's extraordinary biography, written with David Landau, former editor-in-chief of Haaretz, is not a memoir, but it is inevitably shaped by Peres's time with "the old man," as Ben-Gurion was known by those around him. It offers an intimate look at history -- the creation of the State of Israel, its fateful wars, and the decisions, many of them controversial, that determined its future course. Peres, currently the president of Israel, has thought a great deal about the sort of leader Ben-Gurion was: visionary and pragmatic, steeped in old world yiddishkeit and yet forward looking and unsentimental in the extreme. A leader able to break the taboo of accepting reparations from Germany. A leader who, for all his prophetic foresight, was capable of granting Orthodox Israelis an exemption from Israel's army on the mistaken assumption that the time of the very religious was over. Peres's Ben-Gurion emerges as a flawed but great leader, Israel's Washington and Jefferson combined, and in some sense its Lincoln, too, for the War of Independence in 1948 brought with it a danger of civil war. Ben-Gurion is, for Peres, an emblem not only of the energy that created the state of Israel but of the sort of leadership that the country desperately needs today as it faces unparalleled threats from without -- and within.

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