A State at Any Cost
The Life of David Ben-Gurion
by Tom Segev
Pub Date 24 Sep 2019
2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist
"[A] fascinating biography . . . a masterly portrait of a titanic yet unfulfilled man . . . this is a gripping study of power, and the loneliness of power." —The Economist
As the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion long ago secured his reputation as a leading figure of the twentieth century. Determined from an early age to create a Jewish state, he thereupon took control of the Zionist movement, declared Israel’s independence, and navigated his country through wars, controversies and remarkable achievements. And yet Ben-Gurion remains an enigma—he could be driven and imperious, or quizzical and confounding.
In this definitive biography, Israel’s leading journalist-historian Tom Segev uses large amounts of previously unreleased archival material to give an original, nuanced account, transcending the myths and legends that have accreted around the man. Segev’s probing biography ranges from the villages of Poland to Manhattan libraries, London hotels, and the hills of Palestine, and shows us Ben-Gurion’s relentless activity across six decades. Along the way, Segev reveals for the first time Ben-Gurion’s secret negotiations with the British on the eve of Israel’s independence, his willingness to countenance the forced transfer of Arab neighbors, his relative indifference to Jerusalem, and his occasional “nutty moments”—from UFO sightings to plans for Israel to acquire territory in South America. Segev also reveals that Ben-Gurion first heard about the Holocaust from a Palestinian Arab acquaintance, and explores his tempestuous private life, including the testimony of four former lovers.
The result is a full and startling portrait of a man who sought a state “at any cost”—at times through risk-taking, violence, and unpredictability, and at other times through compromise, moderation, and reason. Segev’s Ben-Gurion is neither a saint nor a villain but rather a historical actor who belongs in the company of Lenin or Churchill—a twentieth-century leader whose iron will and complex temperament left a complex and contentious legacy that we still reckon with today.