4 of the Best Books by or about Israelis
John Owen shares his top book picks
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From insightful memoirs to marvellously complex works by Nobel Prize winners, these are the best books written by or about Israeli’s.
4 of the best Israeli books
The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis
In 2002, the Nobel Prize for Economics was shared between an American economist and an Israeli behavioural psychologist in a departure that was much commented on at the time. Daniel Kahneman, the psychologist winner, was not really that interested in economics, he was instead obsessed with human decisions, in working out why we make good and bad choices and how rational we are. In conjunction with another Israeli psychologist, Amos Tversky, he helped to revolutionise the way all manner of scientists and social scientists appraised mankind’s ability to make rational choices.
Michael Lewis’s new book tells the story of Kahneman and Tversky’s long friendship. Kahneman was brought up a Jew in Nazi-occupied France, while Tversky’s parents were among the early pioneering Zionists who moved to Israel from Russia before his birth. Lewis holds that both men were deeply shaped by their Israeli upbringing, Kahneman as a survivor building a life and Tversky as a defender of his nation (both were, as with all Israeli men, enlisted into military service). Both early students of psychology at the Hebrew University, they came together as lecturers a few years later when Tversky gave a seminar to Kahneman’s students. A strong friendship developed out of their academic association, such that both their wives felt they had a stronger bond to each other than their families and they frequently had to adjust their own careers in order to stay geographically near to each other.
Lewis’s engaging prose carries the story as does his carefully supported characterisation of the protagonists, Kahneman supplied almost all the ideas that Tversky obsessively tested using a scientific rigour that his collaborator found hard to mimic. In his books on finance and economics, Lewis has always been able to distil very complicated ideas into something understandable for the general reader, and he further demonstrates that skill here by using real-world examples to explain their most complex theories. £25, Allen Lane
Where Memory Comes/Where Memory Leads, Saul Friedländer
Where Memory Leads is the second volume of Saul Friedländer’s own memoirs and is published alongside a reissue of Where Memory Comes. Both are wonderful accounts of a man who went from Holocaust survivor to important roles in the Israeli government to a far more critical approach to his adopted country later in life as he became more widely known as the most prominent Israeli historian on the Holocaust, £20.99, Other Press
A Horse Walks Into a Bar, David Grossman
Probably Israel’s most highly decorated novelist, Grossman’s latest tome offers a take on the notion of fame and expectation as it describes a stand-up comedian deliberating melting down by telling the story of his life and loves on stage. The narrator is a childhood friend of the comic, summoned to watch this spectacle for reasons he finds hard to fathom. The thrust though is the comedian’s monologue, by turns tragic and hilarious as he subjects his audience to his story. £14.99, Jonathan Cape
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
After winning the Nobel Prize, Kahneman wrote a book intended for the general reader about the theories that he and Tversky developed. For those who enjoy Lewis’s account of their academic and personal friendship, it is well worth reading as it goes into far greater depth than Lewis ever can in explaining how humans think and why they make the decisions they do. £10.99, Penguin