Israel’s Prime Ministers and Their Books

November 22, 2022 | Tevi Troy
About the author: Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. His latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump.

Perhaps fittingly for the nation-state of the people of the book, 40 percent of Israelis between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five report reading at least one book a week. The country’s leaders have also included some voracious readers, beginning with David Ben-Gurion, as Tevi Troy writes:

Ben-Gurion was the first and perhaps the most creative reader. His library had books in multiple languages, and he had a well-cultivated appetite to read books in their original languages. As far back as 1922, Ben-Gurion had a library of 775 books, in English, German, Hebrew, French, Arabic, Latin, Russian, Turkish, and Greek.

Ben-Gurion’s collection eventually reached 18,000 books. Although he was known as a frugal man, his main indulgence was in both buying books and having them shipped to Israel, an expensive proposition in the early days of the state. He particularly loved the wisdom of the Greeks and read Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War a reported sixteen times. With a Greek dictionary at hand, he also read the Septuagint version of the book of Genesis.

Menachem Begin’s reading interests were narrower than . . . Ben-Gurion’s, focusing mostly on history and biography. Philosophy, poetry, novels, and art were not part of his reading diet. He was, however, a huge consumer of news. According to [his biographer] Daniel Gordis, Begin regularly read “every major Israeli newspaper, as well as the Times of LondonLe MondeTIME, and Newsweek.” There was a practical element to his reading. In advance of the Camp David summit, he read Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s autobiography. In subsequent years, he also read the autobiography of Jehan Sadat, Sadat’s widow, in addition to books by American journalists like Bob Woodward and William Safire.

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