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Berl: The Biography of a Socialist Zionist, Berl Katznelson 1887-1944 by Anita Shapira (translated from the Hebrew by Haya Galai; 156,000 words, 20 illustrations)

“A youthful breakaway from the traditional Jewish society of White Russia, Berl Katznelson (1887-1944) emigrated to Palestine [in 1909] during the pioneering spasm of socialist Zionism known as the second aliyah. In the interwar period he helped David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Tabenkin to establish several of Israel’s enduring Labour party frameworks and trade union institutions and thus to bring about socialist Zionism’s early hegemony. Wherein lay the source of Katznelson’s immense authority? What was his particular contribution to the development of the culture and mores of the developing Jewish society of his times? Anita Shapira’s achievement lies both in her subtle presentation of these questions and in her temperate search for the answers... This richly evocative biography... will allow social historians throughout the Western world to appraise a figure who is now becoming justly revered in his own country.” — Stuart A. Cohen,
The American Historical Review

“Anita Shapira’s [book] was something of a best seller when it first appeared in Hebrew in 1980 and it is not difficult to understand the reason... Dr Shapira recounts Katznelson’s life in the context of the fluctuating Arab-Jewish relationship and the waverings of mandatory policy; the whole dominated increasingly by the deteriorating Jewish position in Europe. That is what makes this book more than a biography — it is also a contribution to the history of Israel in its formative stage. The present English edition... remains an essential work for the understanding of Zionist and Israeli history.” — Lionel Kochan,
The English Historical Review

“It is to the credit of Anita Shapira that she has single-handedly rescued Berl Katznelson from oblivion. When her book was first published in Hebrew, it immediately became a best-seller and its author the focus of a great deal of media attention. For good reasons. The book obviously touched a nostalgic nerve in the general public, perhaps a longing for a lost generation of giant idealists. But it could do so — though this was hardly the author’s intention — because it portrayed an unidealized, very human and therefore very real man. It is rare to find an historian Professor Shapira’s caliber, who also has the talents of a novelist... Throughout the book one feels the sure hand of the historian guiding the reader, examining with him the subject of the book from a few angles, employing a variety of techniques and sources (primarily archival), until a fully rounded personality emerges... this volume [is] a well-rounded, sympathetic, yet by no means uncritical analysis of one of the most fascinating figures in Jewish life in the twentieth century.” — Jehuda Reinharz,
Middle Eastern Studies

“[T]he first full scholarly life of one of Israel’s founding fathers... The portrait which emerges here is of an attractive leader, whose personality inspired a degree of respect and devotion bordering worship. The author admits the difficulty in pinpointing the sources of Katznelson’s magnetism, but she demonstrates how it infused the varied facets of his socialist politics, which he took to be as much a moral as an organizational calling. In effect, his greatness was in his personification of the conscience of the Jewish labour movement in its formative phase in the interwar years.” — J.M. Winter,

“This book is an abridged version of a two-volume work in Hebrew, published in 1980. It covers Katznelson’s personal life and political activities in attempting to answer the riddle of his special leadership powers and can serve as an introduction to the study of Labor Zionism in Palestine between 1914 and 1944... this book makes a contribution to discovering the roots of today’s conflicts.” — Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi,
Middle East Journal