This is without doubt one of the best biographies to have been written about David Ben-Gurion, perhaps the most interesting Jew of the 20th century. The historian and journalist Tom Segev manages to hold the reader’s attention for almost seven hundred pages (not including the endnotes), despite the fact that the life of Israel’s founding father and first prime minister is well known from many earlier biographies.
Segev’s literary prowess, together with his impressive archival research and his use of telling anecdotes, makes A State at Any Cost compulsory reading for anyone who wants to understand Ben-Gurion and Israel during its formative years. The book also demonstrates why Ben-Gurion continues to be relevant today. Positions he adopted during his periods as prime minister (1948–53 and 1955–63) are still commonly held among the Israeli public, whether consciously or otherwise. In the wake of September’s general election, which was marked by the efforts of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to incite public opinion against Israel’s Arab population, it is fascinating to read how Ben-Gurion, the leading left-wing Zionist of Israel’s first two and a half decades, told his Cabinet in 1956 that the Arab population must remain under military rule, since ‘an Arab is first and foremost an Arab’.
Ben-Gurion was a complex character and his statements were often contradictory. His anti-Arab remarks were mirrored by comments about his own people that sometimes bordered on the anti-Semitic. Some of his deeds shared the same characteristic. During both the Israeli War of Independence and the Sinai Campaign of