Not necessarily light beach reads, the following books on American presidents deal with Middle East issues in an extended and intelligent manner. These are not necessarily the best all-around biographies or studies of the individual presidents listed (though some rank right up there), but the strongest in terms of exploring presidential attitudes and policies toward Israel.
Truman, the Jewish Vote and the Creation of Israel by John Snetsinger (Hoover Institute Press, 1974): Superior to anything else written on the struggle for a Jewish state during the first three years of the Truman presidency. Very strong on how the 1948 presidential election influenced U.S. policy.
Conflict and Crisis, The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1945-1948 and Tumultuous Years, The Presidency of Harry Truman, 1949-1953 by Robert J. Donovan (W.W. Norton, 1977 and 1982): This two-volume history of Truman’s years in the White House stands head and shoulders above the many books on the Truman presidency, including David McCullough’s acclaimed 1992 biography.
Eisenhower and the American Crusades by Herbert S. Parmet (Macmillan, 1972): A thorough look at the Eisenhower administration, with considerable attention paid to the Suez Crisis of 1956. Despite its having been written before the release of many classified Eisenhower-era documents, the book has aged well.
Eisenhower and Israel: U.S.-Israel Relations, 1953-1960 by Isaac Alteras (University Press of Florida, 1993): Detailed analysis of the evolution of U.S. policy toward Israel in the 1950s. Alteras argues – convincingly – that while Ike may have been a less than staunch supporter of Israel at the beginning of his presidency, he never questioned America’s commitment to the new state’s survival and by the time he left office in January 1961 the U.S.-Israel relationship was stronger than it had been eight years before.
“Let Us Begin Anew”: An Oral History of the Kennedy Presidency by Gerald S. and Deborah Hart Strober (HarperCollins, 1993): Real inside stuff here; the Strobers interviewed dozens of surviving Kennedy-era officials and opinion-makers who spoke candidly and on the record, many for the first time, on the major issues of the day.
Support Any Friend: Kennedy’s Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance by Warren Bass (Oxford University Press, 2002): Though some have argued that Bass gives Kennedy too much credit for a U.S.-Israel relationship that really began to blossom during the Johnson and Nixon years, any student of U.S. foreign affairs will find this an invaluable read.
Flawed Giant – Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 by Robert Dallek (Oxford University Press, 1998): Second and concluding volume of a well-written, authoritative biography, focusing on Johnson’s vice presidential and presidential years.
Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 and Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990 by Stephen E. Ambrose (Simon & Schuster, 1989, 1991): Parts two and three of a magisterial three-volume biography of Nixon, with plenty on the Nixon administration’s Middle East policies.
Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidency by Gerald S. and Deborah Hart Strober (HarperCollins, 1994): The Strobers do for Nixon’s presidency what they did for Kennedy’s. Essential reading for anyone who wants to know the thoughts and reminiscences of the actual participants.
The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford by John Robert Green (University Press of Kansas, 1995): The definitive history of the Ford administration has yet to appear, but readers wishing a good overview will find one in this slim but informative volume (which includes an examination of the Kissinger-Ford Mideast policy).
The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr. by Burton I. Kaufman (University Press of Kansas, 1993): As with Ford, a comprehensive history of the Carter presidency remains to be written; in the meantime, this concise account touches on all the important points. Contains some interesting details on the Camp David negotiations.
About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.
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