Eric Gart­man is the author of Return from Zion: The His­to­ry of Mod­ern Israel. He will be blog­ging here all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series on The ProsenPeo­ple.

His­to­ry is a source of con­tin­ued fas­ci­na­tion for all peo­ples. His­to­ry tells us where we came from, who we are, and offers answers to how we should live and what may hap­pen in the future. It is there­fore no sur­prise that as the Peo­ple of the Book,” Jews are enam­ored by his­to­ry at least as much as any oth­er peo­ple, and prob­a­bly more so. Despite this inter­est in our past, and the myr­i­ad of books that come out annu­al­ly, too many his­to­ries are stol­id and labo­ri­ous, lack­ing the emo­tions and atmos­phere that dom­i­nat­ed the lives of those who came before us. Why is this so? The biggest sin­gle rea­son is that those who are pro­fes­sion­al­ly tasked with writ­ing his­to­ry are tied to a sys­tem that delib­er­ate­ly dis­cour­ages mak­ing those books easy and inter­est­ing to read. Acad­e­mia demands pro­fes­sors write heav­i­ly-foot­not­ed, dis­pas­sion­ate analy­ses intend­ed to move the field for­ward. These works are required for every his­to­ri­an who seeks tenure in an edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tion. While these are nec­es­sary and impor­tant, they are not intend­ed for the gen­er­al read­er, nor are they suit­able for the non-spe­cial­ist seek­ing to learn more about a par­tic­u­lar top­ic. To address this issue, acad­e­mia issues text­books. We are all famil­iar with these-large, hard­cov­er bound tomes that cov­er large top­ics and come com­plete with maps, tables, charts, and pho­tographs. While they are writ­ten in sim­ple lan­guage for the gen­er­al audi­ence, they are nev­er intend­ed to be any­thing but infor­ma­tive. You will not learn what it was like to be a sol­dier in the trench­es, a farmer in the fields, a wit­ness to a riot. Text­books will not explain the hopes and dreams of those who make his­to­ry, who dri­ve the process. While they are impor­tant, in my opin­ion, they are not enough.

Take a look at the best-sell­ers in his­to­ry on any book list. You will not find aca­d­e­m­ic trea­tis­es or text­books. What you will find are well-writ­ten, stim­u­lat­ing tales that are both impor­tant and inter­est­ing. Authors like David McCul­lough, Doris Kearns Good­win, Stephen Ambrose, or Jay Winik, to name a few, man­age to tell us the sto­ries of the past that are so impor­tant to our under­stand­ing of our world, and in a live­ly man­ner. These authors prove that his­to­ry books can (and should) be both infor­ma­tive and interesting.

That was the approach I took in writ­ing my forth­com­ing his­to­ry of Israel, Return to Zion. It’s writ­ten in easy lan­guage, like I’m talk­ing to the read­er in a casu­al con­ver­sa­tion. I’ve includ­ed eye-wit­ness accounts of key events to give the read­er a visu­al and vis­cer­al pic­ture of what hap­pened. There is some analy­sis as well, but it is not heavy-hand­ed or laden with jar­gon. I’ve also includ­ed some infor­ma­tion from new­ly-declas­si­fied doc­u­ments not pub­lished else­where. It’s my hope that read­ers will find this style of writ­ing engag­ing. We are the Peo­ple of the Book, and I hope to have writ­ten a his­to­ry wor­thy of our name.

Eric Gart­man is an intel­li­gence ana­lyst for the Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Defense who has lived and stud­ied in Israel and trav­eled exten­sive­ly through­out the Mid­dle East.

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