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Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  277 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Award-winning writer Matti Friedman’s tale of Israel’s first spies has all the tropes of an espionage novel, including duplicity, betrayal, disguise, clandestine meetings, the bluff, and the double bluff--but it’s all true.

The four spies at the center of this story were part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, conceived during World War II by British spies and Jewi
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 5th 2019 by Algonquin Books
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3.81  · 
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 ·  277 ratings  ·  57 reviews

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Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

A history about Israel's first spies, who infiltrated the Arabs before the war that started the day Israel was founded, and then formed the legendary Mossad.

Gripping reading.
Feb 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019, arc, nonfiction
If you're spying for the CIA, you have Langley and the United States of America. You might not see them from your street corner or hotel room, but you know they exist, and their power is a comfort. These men had no such thing. They had no country – in early 1948, Israel was a wish, not a fact. If they disappeared, they'd be gone. No one might find them. No one might even look. The future was blank. And still they set out into those treacherous times, alone.

In 2011, journalist and author Matti
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
An engaging history of four young Mizrahi Jews and their undercover work for the pre-Israeli intelligence unit, the Arab Section. Using recently declassified documents, interviews with the few survivors, and numerous happy snapshots the men took (they were not the most professional of spies), Friedman paints a compelling picture of young, brave men, outcasts and idealists, and their struggles with their assignments, their identities, and each other, all building to the massive changes to the Mid ...more
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The story told by Matti Friedman of the young Jewish State is one that is not often told. I was riveted by the untold tales of the young Jews of Arabic origin and their relationship to the emerging country of Israel. Friedman ties together the lives of these young men as they went deeply undercover utilizing their unique cultural and language skills, inherent to people who were born and raised in Syria and other Arabic countries.

Most importantly for the reader, Friedman shows us how their contr
Ron Wroblewski
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was an interesting book. The book was written about the lives of 4 Israeli spies. Bur I would say that half or more than half of the book concerned the birth of the nation of Israeli 1948-49. And this was one of the problems of the book. A story would start about the exploits of one or more of the spies then it would discuss the political situation, then revert back to the story of the spies. I wish that the full story would be told continuously and either before or after cover the background ...more
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it

---Full disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ---

So, here's the thing. I don't do spy stories, thrillers, or most political tales, nor do I gave a crap about Zionism. When this arrived I was somewhat trepidatious about what I had let myself in for by signing up for this book. I am happy to report that it all turned out well....quite well, in fact.

This book is really more about a handful of characters who happened to occupy a certain spot on the planet, at a very unique t

Jan 24, 2019 added it
Shelves: dnf-100
Title : Spies of No Country

By : Matti Friedman

Genre: Nonfiction

Pages : 245

Algonquin Books

March 5th 2019

This was sent to me unsolicited by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion, which this will be ,

Book synopsis

Four Arab Jews emigrate to Israel in 1948, at the birth of the new nation. Recruited almost immediately to spy for Israel, they are sent back to Lebanon and elsewhere to pose as Arabs (which they actually are) and collect intelligence. They operate out of a kiosk in Beirut. It
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Mar 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019, non-fiction
"Spies of No Country" is the story of four Jewish men who could pass as Arab and were able to move through the world assuming Arab identities. This book covers two different chapters: one when these men were spying back before Israel existed as a state and then after Israel became a state and they continued their spying in Beirut. This was a fascinating book that gives you just a taste of everything that these men went through.

Spies are always interesting to me, especially when they are able to
 Charlie - A Reading Machine
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was really interested in getting into this because of the almost legendary reputation of the Israeli spy system. On an entertainment level I've read a ton of books where the Mossad seems to know everything or seen in movies like WWZ where they begin building an anti zombie wall years because of everyone else because of their Tenth man policy. What I didn't realise it that not all of this is fiction. In 1973-1974, Israel Military Intelligence established a Control Unit that was expected to play ...more
Mal Warwick
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
When Americans think of Israeli history, we fasten on a handful of names: Chaim Weizmann. David ben Gurion. Golda Meir. We think of kibbutzim, the Israeli Defense Force, the country's great universities, and its legal system. All these people, and many others whose names are prominent in the country's history, are of European origin. And every institution they created was a product of European thought and tradition. That simply reflects the fact that "in the 1940s, nine of every ten Jews in Pale ...more
Michael Rieman
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Matti Friedman brings his considerable skills as a journalist to this story of four young Jewish men of Middle Eastern backgrounds who left their former countries to live in the land we now know as Israel, only to be recruited to take up residence in Lebanon or Syria to gather information which might prove helpful for the Jewish State, before and for some time after the war which established Israel. We meet them in Haifa during the waning months of the British Mandate, when militias were being f ...more
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, own
Appropriately, Friedman begins his book: “…time spent with old spies is never time wasted.” Interviewing members of a unique branch of the Palmuch during Israel’s War of Independence, Friedman focuses on four spies in particular. They are part of the Arab Section, and elite team of Mizrahi Jews who could pose as Arabs behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence and coordinating sabotage (more of the former than the latter). “The Arab Section was an outlier in the Palmach, a curious feature.”

Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In the spring of 1948 Israel and the Arab world are engaged in war. The British have recently pulled out. The Arab countries are aligning against the emerging state of Israel. European survivors are coming into the land of Israel. They are survivors hoping to build a Jewish homeland, in spite of the threats around them. It is a perilous time. What is needed is information. What is happening in the adjacent Arab nations? What is the political threat? Which leaders are the people rallying around? ...more
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Spies of No Country makes good on the title, while diving into the political and ideological issues at the heart of the creation of the State of Israel. The style of Friedman’s work displays his training as a journalist, with narrative prose augmented by personal interviews. The result is a compelling assortment of portraits and anecdotes.

The premise of Spies of No Country is a description of what it meant to be a spy for the Land of Israel while Palestine was still a British protectorate. With
Seth Isenberg
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish, history, war
*I was given a free advance copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This book was a quick and easy read, but tells an important and oft overlooked throughline of Israel's War of Independence and beyond.

By explicitly skipping the meta-story of the war and focusing on four brave mostly untrained spies, Friedman dives into the lives of Jews raised in Arab cultures, as millions of Jews did at the time. These Jews are not the Israeli pioneers most people think of, and they managed to
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Matti Friedman, author of the Aleppo Codex, has done it again. Another brillantly written book that reads like a spy novel. Much is witten about European Jews who immigrated to Israel in the 40's but very little is know about Jews who came from Arab lands and their contribution to the founding of the State of Israel. We learn about the original Israeli spy network and its founding with the British becasue of the alliance the Arab countries had with the Nazis.
Friedman uses actual documentation f
Brisni (בריטני)
Quite possibly one of the most important books I've read regarding the origin of the nation of Israel to date. Vividly depicts a unique historical perspective and connects it to the present in a very mindful and observant way. Nonfiction that has the pace and prose of fiction. So glad I picked this up. Will re-read.

Absolutely excellent.
Mar 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Arab section of Israeli intel services before they formally existed. Built entirely from the ground up. Some went on to highly successful careers while others were arrested almost immediately after crossing the border into some Arab state. Quick read.
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I won this book on Goodreads..
A story of the brave young middle eastern Jews at the very beginning of Israel.
Worth reading!
Casey Wheeler
This book is about four spies for the Isreali movement prior to the formation of the country after the war of 1948. It is not about the war, but about the four individuals - Gamiel Cohen, Isaac Shoshan, Havakuk Cohen and Yakuba Cohen and the role they played before there was an official spy network. It is a very short book and a quick read. I had high hopes for the book (based on reviews of the author on previous books), but it was disappointing. The author's writing style just did not resonate ...more
Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Spies of No Country" is set during the twenty months between January 1948 and August 1949. No sooner was the state of Israel founded than its Jewish inhabitants faced annihilation by her neighbors. Matti Friedman focuses on a small band of Arabic-speaking Jews who risked their lives by going undercover in Haifa and Beirut in order to spy on Israel's enemies. Friedman focuses on Syrian-born Gamliel Cohen and Isaac Shoshan; Havakuk Cohen from Yemen; and Yakuba Cohen, who was born in Jerusalem whe ...more
Laura Hill
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Algonquin Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The book will be published on March 5, 2019.

This is the story of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence told from the perspective of four spies from Israel’s “Arab Section” — a precursor of what would eventually become Mossad. Although the book includes a lot of background about the Middle East and the War itself, it is primarily a personal account of the exper
Steven Langdon
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Israel has become noted for its effective intelligence service. As this interesting book shows, however, its beginnings were much more haphazard and frantic, as the newly declared state tried in 1947 and 1948 to overcome the hostility of Arab populations within the new country and in its neighbouring states.

This book recounts the way that young Jews who had grown up in Arab communities were recruited to act as spies in the "Arab Section," a small group that penetrated Lebanon, Jordan and Syria t
Feb 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Friedman's meticulous research and passion for the subject are obvious throughout this book. As he tells the story of Israel's first spies, sent out before Israel was even officially a country, the reader learns about one of the fascinating episodes in Jewish history.

Despite having never heard this story before and being a fan of historical nonfiction, this book just didn't grab me. I found myself interested enough each time I picked it up, but not interested enough to pick it up that often. I
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
This was gifted to me in return for this review. It is an interesting glimpse into the lives of a handful of Jewish spies (they do not like being called spies) prior to and immediately after the creation of Israel. The focus seemed to be on the difficulties of passing yourself off as an Arab Muslim in a hostile state for an extended period of time. The implication is that this is now next to impossible as the Arab Jews no longer know the little details about what it is like to live in neighborin ...more
Feb 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-mt-bookpile
The author is writing an adult nonfiction book but it reads more like YA narrative nonfiction. That's not a bad thing, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was an adult book. What did annoy me more was the author's inserting himself into the story far too frequently, and some of the explanations of names could have been done in an author's note. This is also a very slim volume that attempts to both highlight the people involved in the Arab Section of the Palmach and what was going on pol ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways
Received this as a ARC from the Goodreads Giveaways.
It was an interesting book describing the lives and events of 4 men who were considered spies for Israel. They started just before the British pulled out of Palestine and Israel was not yet an official country. They were from other countries in the region and were Jewish but could pass as Arab so they were sent into the Arab regions to gain intelligence to help Israel in its war for independence.
The author interviewed one of the men when he was
I received this book as an ARC from Algonquin Books’ Goodreads Giveaway. I found the subject to be interesting and I learned a lot but I had some issues with the book’s organization. I didn’t feel like it had a good flow. Two things I found very helpful and kept referring back to were the Jan 1948 map of the Middle East, since I’m not familiar with the region, and the pictures of the four spies highlighted in the book.

Throughout the book I kept thinking about 1) the challenges (physical and per
Lynn Horton
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
As I read this book, I kept thinking that it would make great fiction. It's important to distinguish that this is a factual account, so the writing is very dry. It reads like a textbook, but that was okay with me since I was reading it to learn.

The Middle East—its history, tribal groups, and the divvying up of lands—fascinates me, so I enjoyed Spies of No Country. A series of interviews with Palmuch members form the foundation for the story. The author does a good job of weaving the birth of Isr
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Jewish Book Club: Spies of No Country, by Matti Friedman; 4 Stars 2 12 Apr 29, 2019 05:59PM  

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Matti Friedman is an Israeli Canadian journalist and author.

Friedman was born in Canada and grew up in Toronto. In 1995, he made aliyah to Israel and now he lives in Jerusalem.

Between 2006 and the end of 2011, Friedman was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press (AP) news agency. During his journalistic career, he also worked as a reporter in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon,