Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of the independence of modern Israel. Few in 1948 thought it would last as long, surrounded as it was by a hostile Muslim world, now only partly hostile. The U.S. has been crucial in that survival, and Walter Russell Mead’s The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People (Knopf, 2022) explains why. Mead began it with the goal of writing a short book that “would discredit the antisemitic legend that falsely attributes American support for Israel to the machinations of a secretive and all-powerful Jewish lobby.”
The book turned into a long one that fulfills not only the original mission but also much more. Mead shows how Israelis miraculously gained and maintained independence despite Arab attempts to annihilate them. Israel also had to overcome strident objections from the U.S. Department of State, England, and many other countries: Harry Truman provided crucial support, as did — surprise — Josef Stalin. The Soviet dictator was anti-Semitic before 1947 and after 1948, but during those two years he supported Israel out of a desire to twist the British lion’s tale. That’s the book’s centerpiece, but Mead’s elegant writing teaches a lot of history before and after.
The tidbits in Rick Richman’s And None Shall Make Them Afraid: Eight Stories of the Modern State of Israel (Encounter, 2023) make for good frosting on Mead’s cake. Theodore Herzl, the father of Zionism, died in 1904 at age 44, and his three children also died young and tragically: drug overdose, suicide, Holocaust. In the early 1920s it seemed that Jews and Arabs could get along in the land that became known as Israel, but Britain’s pro-Arab leaning curtailed such hopes. Chapters about Louis Brandeis, writer Ben Hecht, Golda Meir, and others provide more human interest.
Richman points out that France, England, and The New York Times all tried to appease Nazis. Editors headlined a major Times article in January 1938, “Five Years of Nazism — and Now What? Germany, Remade by Hitler, More Ready for Compromise.” Author Frederick Birchall said Germany was almost crime-free and “peace and order prevail throughout the land.” The only oblique reference to Nazi treatment of Jews came in a reference to full employment in Germany except for those with “physical or racial disability.”
Some Americans absorbed good lessons from the failure of appeasement. William Inboden’s The Peacemaker (Dutton, 2022) has a large photo of Reagan on the cover and shows how, “with the peaceful end of the Cold War, collapse of the Soviet Union, renewal of the United States, and global expansion of freedom and prosperity, Reagan’s grand strategy succeeded beyond even his imagining.”
Turning to domestic politics: In the Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism (Basic, 2022), Matthew Continetti draws a line from Charles Lindbergh to Patrick Buchanan to Donald Trump. Nicole Hemmer’s Partisans (Basic, 2022) points out that Donald Trump’s anti-immigration views were not new to the Republican Party: Pat Buchanan campaigned similarly in 1992 and 1996 but received only 23 and 21 percent of the vote, in part because moderates were unified for George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole, respectively.
Briefly noted: Clint Smith’s Above Ground (Little, Brown, 2023) includes vibrant poems celebrating fatherhood. Zülfü Livaneli’s The Last Island (English translation by Ayse Sahin for Other Press, 2022) is a Turkish author’s look at how a former president moves to a paradisical island and turns it into a dictator’s dystopia. The Varieties of Spiritual Experience by David Yaden and Andrew Newberg (Oxford, 2022) reports that 30-35% of Americans tell pollsters they have had a religious or mystical experience. Scott Christensen’s What About Free Will? (P&R, 2016) is a Christian’s helpful guide through a crucial subject.
Also, Craig Blomberg in 775 readable pages definitively describes The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: He succeeds in (as the subtitle says) Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs (B&H, 2016). If you want to warm up with something short, Can We Trust the Gospels by Peter Williams (Crossway, 2018) is a good introduction. Daniel Doriani’s Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible, an expansion of the useful pointers he first published in 1996, should be in every church library (P&R, 2022).