Since he was elected to Israel’s Knesset in 1959, Shimon Peres served in twelve different capacities, some of them — including prime minister — more than once. His final position was as the country’s ninth president. His term ended in 2014, and he died two years later at the age of ninety-three.
It was a long life, through which ran two main themes — the pursuit of his dreams, no matter how outsized they seemed to others, and his optimistic view, which prevailed even through bleak situations. While Daniel Burnham instructed “Make no little plans,” the Peres variation was “Dream no small dreams.”
Peres was born in a shtetl in Poland, and when he was eleven, his family moved to Mandatory Palestine. He quickly adapted, determined to fulfill his Zionist dream by becoming a kibbutznik and working the land. But politics intervened early on, in the person of David Ben-Gurion, who became a mentor to Peres.
He did join a kibbutz, and he characterizes the time he spent there as “some of the happiest days of my life,” enhanced by his 1945 marriage to Sonia Gelman. His kibbutz days soon ended, as Ben-Gurion tapped him, along with Moshe Dayan, as new young leaders who were committed to his vision, policies, and politics, and who could transmit these to the next generation. Peres, too, realized that it was leadership, not agriculture, to which he aspired.
Ironically, the man who, in his later years, would be known (and frequently scorned) as a dove, began his political journey from the opposite direction — as a procurer of arms for the soon-to-be-declared state, which was faced with an arms embargo and had too few weapons to defend itself from the expected attacks. Peres’s own view, however, is that there was no irony in this. He didn’t change; the situation did. The goal was always peace, but at that time, war was the only way towards its achievement. When negotiations seemed possible, he embraced them.
After the War of Independence came the building of the IDF and, along with it, the creation of the new state’s own aircraft industry, notwithstanding the poverty in the country. But most audacious of all at that time was the beginning of Israel’s attainment of nuclear capability. It was necessary, Peres argued, as a deterrent. The French agreed to assist.
Still to come were the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Entebbe rescue, the Oslo accords, the Nobel Peace Prize, and the technology revolution that has redefined Israel as “the start-up nation.” With all this, the list is far from exhausted.
The life of Shimon Peres spans the full panoply of modern Israel. It is history as memoir, albeit from a single, personal perspective — that of one of the founding generation who saw himself as often misunderstood, denigrated, and mistrusted. At the same time, Peres expresses no bitterness, only satisfaction and pride in how and why he pursued his dreams. This book is a reminder of those who were, individually and collectively, larger than life.