Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Daniel Byman

Daniel Byman is Professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He has served on the 9/11 Commission staff and as an analyst with the U.S. government.

His new book is A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism.

Recently I asked Byman what he was reading. His reply:
I usually read non-fiction and fiction simultaneously, as my moods vary and I enjoy a change in focus.

Like many people, I know only snippets of Egyptian history, often concerning the lives and deeds of individual pharaohs or snippets about hieroglyphs and the pyramids. So I was pleased to discover Toby Wilkinson’s The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt. Wilkinson’s book is ambitious, chronicling almost 3,000 years of Egyptian history. At times it gets a tad pedantic. Mostly, however, it is a joy to read, helping a non-expert (me) get a sense not only of the ebb and flow of dynastic politics, but also on the pharaohs’ foreign policies and the social and political system that made Egypt’s strength possible. Wilkinson makes a particular point of emphasizing the dark side of ancient Egypt, ranging from human sacrifice to the near-constant abuse of Egypt’s poor peasants.

On the fiction side, I recently finished David Grossman’s compelling, but depressing, To the End of the Land. Grossman’s novel, whose action rotates between Israel’s 1973 war and the less-dramatic but longer-lived campaigns of the Second Intifada, describes how war can even ravage the lives of those who survive it. The high-quality translation by Jessica Cohen renders the story vividly, capturing a beautiful style as well as Grossman’s compelling narrative.

Reading Grossman reminded me of a key difference between Americans and Israelis that I remember from when I was in Israel with my family. Israel has an army partly made up of conscripts, while the U.S. system, of course, is an all-volunteer force. The worries that the heroine, Ora, suffers on behalf of her lovers and sons in the military and the moral choices they face are all the more painful because she is not, by Israeli standards, at all unusual. In the United States, a small portion of society carries a disproportionate burden. The rest of us live our lives, and even debate our country’s wars, without sharing the risk and suffering of this small community.
Learn more about Byman's A High Price at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: A High Price.

--Marshal Zeringue