The best books in Israel studies

Who am I?

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, DPhil, St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, is Professor of Politics, Founding Director of the Middle East Study Centre, University of Hull; Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Vice President of The Association for Israel Studies. Raphael taught, inter alia, at Oxford (UK), Jerusalem, Haifa (Israel), UCLA, Johns Hopkins (USA), and Nirma University (India). He was twice a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Distinguished Visiting Professor, Faculty of Laws, University College London. Raphael Has published extensively about Israel, including Basic Issues in Israeli Democracy (Hebrew), Israeli Democracy at the Crossroads, and Public Responsibility in Israel (with Ori Arbel-Ganz and Asa Kasher Hebrew).


I wrote...

Israeli Institutions at the Crossroads

By Raphael Cohen-Almagor,

Book cover of Israeli Institutions at the Crossroads

What is my book about?

I love this book. This is a truly fascinating collection of essays about Israeli society and its institutions. It is written by practitioners who have experience and understanding, who are equipped with the insight and knowledge, and who bore responsibility while serving the public in the various institutions. Among the authors are former State President Yitzhak Navon, former cabinet minister Gad Yaakobi, former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Naomi Chazan, former Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, Former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, the State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, and former member of the Press Council Raphael Cohen-Almagor. The decision-makers provide fresh, practical observations and personal, valuable accounts of their respective roles.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Israel: A History

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

I have been teaching from this book for many years. Books about Israel are fraught with bias. Many are post or anti-Zionist. They do not represent Israeli mainstream and the Israeli perception of history. Anita Shapira is Israel’s foremost historian of Zionism who received the Israel Prize, the highest prize Israel confers on its leaders. She describes and explains the emergence of Zionism in Europe against the backdrop of relations among Jews, Arabs, and Turks. Shapira describes the challenges that Zionists had to face in Palestine and from 1948 onwards in the newly established state. Much of her research is based on primary sources: archival sources, including diaries, memoirs, and other documents. This book does an excellent work of explaining Israeli history, politics, and society.

By Anita Shapira,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Israel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by one of Israel's most notable scholars, this volume provides a breathtaking history of Israel from the origins of the Zionist movement in the late nineteenth century to the present day. Organized chronologically, the volume explores the emergence of Zionism in Europe against the backdrop of relations among Jews, Arabs, and Turks, and the earliest pioneer settlements in Palestine under Ottoman rule. Weaving together political, social, and cultural developments in Palestine under the British mandate, Shapira creates a tapestry through which to understand the challenges of Israeli nation building, including mass immigration, shifting cultural norms, the politics of war…


Book cover of To the End of the Land

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

Grossman has a way with words. There are not many people who master Hebrew as he does. His ability to express ideas, thoughts, sentiments, characters, the inner human streams that run in our hearts and minds is admirable. Grossman takes you by the hand, slowly makes you immerse in the story, your soul intertwined with the pictures he paints, you become part of all that is happening to the heroes, all the twists and turns, the emotions, the turmoil, the storms, the fears, the hopes, the love. This book is about the love for the land of Israel and about the love of a mother to her child. There are similarities and differences between the two that Grossman delicately deciphers. I have never read such a characterization of a relationship between parents and children. It is deep. It is penetrating. It is true. It sweeps you off your feet.

A Woman Run Away from News is a masterpiece of the kind that wins a Nobel Prize. I was proud to be invited by the BBC to discuss the book with Grossman when it was launched in Britain.

By David Grossman, Jessica Cohen (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To the End of the Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A stunning novel that tells the powerful story of Ora, an Israli mother, and her extraordinary love for her son, Ofer, in a haunting meditation on war and family.

“One of the few novels that feel as though they have made a difference to the world.” —The New York Times Book Review

Just before his release from service in the Israeli army, Ora’s son Ofer is sent back to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, so that no bad news can reach her, Ora sets out on an…


Book cover of Origins of Israeli Policy

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

This is a classic book. It explains Jewish life in Palestine that grew and developed as antisemitism grew in Europe to unprecedented heights. The pre-Israel state is called the Yishuv. Lissak, an Israel prize Laureate, and Horowitz who studied at my Oxford College, do a brilliant job in weaving together history, sociology, and political science to explain and narrate the challenges and achievements of Zionists in transforming the Yishuv into a functional state.

I have taught from this book. Moshe Lissak was a dear colleague and friend. We met at Oxford in 1991 and kept in touch almost up until his death. He kindly supported my career.

By Dan Horowitz, Moshe Lissak, Charles Hoffman

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Origins of Israeli Policy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English, Hebrew (translation)


Book cover of 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

History is often in the eye of the beholder. There are many histories, not just one. This is true in general and this statement is particularly apt when we discuss the first Arab-Israeli war. When I teach about the conflict, students ask me for an objective account of the war. My answer is that none is in existence but the closest to the truth, in my opinion, is Morris’ account. It is the best book about the war, based on maticulate survey of documents. It provides a thorough explanation of the war in each and every stage.

Morris paid a price for his honesty. I was happy to pave his way into Israeli academia.

By Benny Morris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 1948 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Benny Morris demolishes misconceptions and provides a comprehensive history of the Israeli-Arab war of 1948

This history of the foundational war in the Arab-Israeli conflict is groundbreaking, objective, and deeply revisionist. A riveting account of the military engagements, it also focuses on the war's political dimensions. Benny Morris probes the motives and aims of the protagonists on the basis of newly opened Israeli and Western documentation. The Arab side-where the archives are still closed-is illuminated with the help of intelligence and diplomatic materials.

Morris stresses the jihadi character of the two-stage Arab assault on the Jewish community in Palestine. Throughout,…


Book cover of The Oxford Handbook of Israeli Politics and Society

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

This is an important collection of essays. It provides state-of-the-art understanding of Israeli society, its history, politics, and sociology. The book is wide-ranging and comprehensive. Its chapters were written by well-known authorities. The book includes important chapters on the Israeli electoral system, the Israeli Arab citizens, state and religion, gender in Israel, the Jewish ethnic divide and ethnic politics in Israel, the political economy of Israeli neoliberalism, Israel’s national security, the military in Israeli politics, political culture and Israeli politics, Israeli institutions and Israel’s position in the world.

I was invited to contribute to this volume but had to decline due to previous commitments.

By Reuven Y. Hazan (editor), Alan Dowty (editor), Menachem Hofnung (editor) , Gideon Rahat (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Oxford Handbook of Israeli Politics and Society as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This publication offers the most wide-ranging examination to date of an intriguing country, one that is often misunderstood. It serves as a comprehensive reference for the growing field of Israel studies and is also a significant resource for students and scholars of comparative politics, recognizing that in many ways Israel is not unique but rather a test case of democracy in deeply divided societies and states engaged in intense conflict.

The Oxford Handbook of Israeli Politics and Society considers the role of external hostilities, but this is not taken as the main determinant of Israel's internal politics. Rather, the Handbook…


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The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

Book cover of The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

Alexander Rose Author Of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

A long time ago, I was an early-aviation historian, but eventually realized that I knew only half the story—the part about airplanes. But what about airships? Initially, I assumed, like so many others, that they were a flash-in-the-pan, a ridiculous dead-end technology, but then I realized these wondrous giants had roamed and awed the world for nearly four decades. There was a bigger story here of an old rivalry between airplanes and airships, one that had since been forgotten, and Empires of the Sky was the result.

Alexander's book list on Zeppelin airships

What is my book about?

From the author of Washington’s Spies, the thrilling story of two rival secret agents — one Confederate, the other Union — sent to Britain during the Civil War.

The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was ordered to acquire a clandestine fleet intended to break Lincoln’s blockade, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, an upright Quaker lawyer determined to stop Bulloch in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal.

Their battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Washington's Spies, the thrilling story of the Confederate spy who came to Britain to turn the tide of the Civil War-and the Union agent resolved to stop him.

"Entertaining and deeply researched...with a rich cast of spies, crooks, bent businessmen and drunken sailors...Rose relates the tale with gusto." -The New York Times

In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents-one a Confederate, the other his Union rival-were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission.

The South's James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire…


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