Theodor Herzl began his public life at age 35 and died at the age of 44. In those nine years, Shlomo Avineri writes, he transformed the idea of a Jewish state “from one bandied about by a small coterie of educated but marginal Jews to an item on the international political agenda, a position which it keeps to this day.”
The most unique point in this new biography, which is based on Herzl’s diaries, is that contrary to what many of his other biographers claim, the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus was not the essential source of Herzl’s Zionism. When reading Herzl’s diaries, Avineri explains, one clearly sees that the idea of finding a solution to world anti-Semitism and creating a Jewish state was on his mind much earlier, even in his university days.
Herzl was dreamer. He adjusted his dreams to changing realities, and that, in part, was what made him so very effective a leader and visionary. Originally Palestine was not considered the ideal place for the Jewish state: Herzl thought that his state would be a mini-Switzerland in the Middle East. But when reality set in, Herzl changed his vision.
The book tells the story of Theodor Herzl’s nine years of activity in creating the State of Israel. Avineri does not idealize Herzl; he identifies Herzl’s mistakes, his false starts, and his character flaws. Most importantly, Avineri describes how Herzl took a simple idea, a dream, and put it on the map of the Jewish people and of the world.
- Roger Cohen: World Zionism and Paris’ Personal Political Patterns
- Adam Rovner: 5 Alternate Histories of Zion
- Daniel Gordis: Ideas Do Matter