Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land (Review)

Book cover for "Arab and Jew" by David K. Shipler.Title: Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land

Author: David K. Shipler

Narrator: Robert Blumenfeld

Publication Year: 1987

Pages: 608 (audio length: 28 hours 1 minute)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from

From the cover:

The Jew, according to the Arab stereotype, is a brutal, violent coward; the Arab, to the prejudiced Jew, is a primitive creature of animal vengeance and cruel desires. In this monumental work, David Shipler delves into the origins of the prejudices that have been intensified by war, terrorism, and nationalism.

Focusing on the diverse cultures that exist side by side in Israel and Israeli-controlled territories, Shipler examines the process of indoctrination that begins in schools; he discusses the far-ranging effects of socioeconomic differences, historical conflicts between Islam and Judaism, attitudes about the Holocaust, and much more. And he writes of the people: the Arab woman in love with a Jew, the retired Israeli military officer, the Palestinian guerilla, the handsome actor whose father is Arab and whose mother is Jewish.

I wanted to love this book more than I did. I swear. It has all kinds of promise for exposing the prejudices inherent in the conflict in Israel/Palestine, between Arabs and Jews in the region, and while it definitely covered those topics, I don’t feel like the book as a whole was very reader-friendly.

For starters, it’s long. Very long. Sprawling, in fact. And it’s jam-packed with information. Sometimes that information is extremely well-organized, but sometimes it feels a lot like it’s rambling. And from time to time, it also feels repetitive. I think that, in order for Arab and Jew to be a truly excellent book, it needed to be pared down and really streamlined to keep the reader on top of things. I shouldn’t be confused so many times in a book as to how I got from reading about one topic to another tangential one in a single section.

There are also times in the book when it feels like Shipler is leaning towards one “side” or the other. I’m not sure that’s actually his intent – in fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s not, as his effort to be neutral is obvious from the start – but sometimes it just seems to happen without his realizing it. It’s only occasional, though, which makes it a bit  discombobulating when it does happen.

Other than that, though, I still enjoyed reading Arab and Jew. It’s obvious that the author has done his research and really delved deep into the conflict. I learned an awful lot from reading this book, particularly with respect to the varying opinions on both “sides” of the issue, and especially when it regarded the difference between historical context and what is happening right now. It was sometimes hard to hear the opinions that were being expressed by people Shipler interviewed, or research he cited, but I think it’s important to learn about all aspects of the issue, even if they make me uncomfortable. While the book has bee updated, it’s still not completely up to the minute on the conflict; for that reason, I wouldn’t recommend it as the only book to read on the topic, but I definitely wouldn’t exclude it, either. The depth of knowledge and analysis is far more useful than many other books I’ve read on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

As for the audiobook production: it was pretty good. The narrator’s tone and pacing were excellent for narrative non-fiction on such a complicated and controversial issue, and it’s obvious that Blumenfeld made an effort to get the pronunciation of words, names, and places right in both Hebrew and Arabic. (He didn’t always succeed, but at least in my opinion, he got it “more right” than a lot of books that include this kind of multilingual vocabulary.) His voice allowed for the narration to fade in the background for the most part, and for me to immerse myself in the book itself – characteristics that I value deeply in “issues”-based non-fiction audiobooks.

If you’re interested in a detailed exposition of the different opinions involved in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, this might be the book for you. It’s definitely not a book that you’d pick up for general interest, though, as it’s simply too involved. And make sure you’re prepared for the length and level of detail: it can be intimidating at times. All in all, though, Arab and Jew accomplishes what it sets out to do: expose the issues and opinions surrounding the conflict so that readers can see both “sides” in relation to each other.


2 thoughts on “Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land (Review)”

  1. I skimmed the title/author/etc to get to your review, but then I was like Hmm, something is familiar about the author’s name…he wrote a really amazing book called The Working Poor: Invisible In America, one of the few books I’ve read on the topic that actually spoke to my own experience.

    So even though I’m not that knowledgeable about about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict I kind of want to read this book. Do you think the information was outdated since it was published in 1987, or does it hold up well?

    1. A little bit of both, actually. It’s been slightly revised as of sometime in the late ’90s, so there were footnotes and other interjections that updated anything major that’s changed. It’d probably be a really good primer up to around the point of the first intifada, I think. Its strength is really when he talks about the attitudes of the people involved, and those likely haven’t changed drastically since the last revision. If you want to know more about the events that happened since then, though, you’d want to pick something more recent up after reading it.

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