A Crack in the Earth: A Journey Up Israel's Rift Valley

Farrar, Straus and Giroux  2007

Some might find it hard to get excited about geomorphology. Reading Haim Watzman’s new book about the Jordan River Valley might change that attitude.

It is a place imbued with history, a place that is at the same time the crux of conflict and the key to the future. Arabs and Jews live in the Jordan River Valley. Jordan and Israel are both within the Jordan River Valley. It is the largest seismological rift in the world. Jericho, the oldest city in the Western world, the city at the lowest point below sea level, lies at the base of the Valley. The Dead Sea is there. It is a natural wonder. 

And it is more. The Jordan River Valley is not just an amazing spot on the map of the world. It is the people there who make the rift what it is. Watzman weaves together history, science, politics, and people in an impressive work. He truly puts The Rift on the map. 

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The rift valley is a natural object, created by physical forces. But when we look at it, we don’t see just the physical object. We see stories and ideas and our own histories. People see the same landscape differently depending on who they are, when they love, what they’ve done, and what stories they heard when they were children. Any mere physical description of the rift will pale in comparison with how even the most literal-minded human being sees it.

The Beginnings of A Crack in the Earth

By Haim Watzman

There’s a game I’ve played with myself ever since I was a boy. Sometimes I stop, wherever I am, and try to imagine the landscape as it was before people came. I do this knowing that, in fact, the goal is impossible to achieve, for we can only see a place in terms of our own minds, lives, thoughts, dreams, and stories—our own or those of others. Israel’s rift valley, which I’ve lived in and along for the last three decades, seemed like a perfect landscape in which to play with this idea. As a journalist covering science, archaeology, and other areas of scholarship, I had written about many people working in the rift and about many sites there. So here was a place I knew in many ways—its facts, its human history and ecology, and my own experience. A Crack in the Earth is my portrayal of this complex weave of perspectives

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