Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Israel is Real: An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History” as Want to Read:
Israel is Real: An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Israel is Real: An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  256 ratings  ·  38 reviews
“It’s a great irony that Israel was more secure as an idea than it’s ever been as a nation with an army.”


In AD 70, when the Second Temple was destroyed, a handful of visionaries saved Judaism by reinventing it—by taking what had been a national religion, identified with a particular place, and turning it into an idea. Jews no longer needed Jerusalem to be Jews. Whenever a
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published July 21st 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Israel is Real, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Israel is Real

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  256 ratings  ·  38 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Israel is Real: An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I've spent a lot of time reading about the Middle East. It has haunted me for years. This is, by far, the best book I've read explaining the history and background of the case made by the nation of Israel. It is simple and succinct. It never reads like a textbook. As an ancient history major and as a student of the Old Testament (as far as it is translated correctly, of course), I found Cohen offering new light on oft-discussed ancient incidences. I learned a lot from his descriptions of history ...more
Rupin Chaudhry
Feb 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Its witty, satirical, humorous, scandalous, tragic and euphoric account of an idea called Israel. The author captures the Jewish history from the ancient times of Romans and Pharaohs to the present day world.
The story doesn't culminate into any ending because Israel is still evolving and it is still unstable but the concept of "promised land" leads to some degree of fruition wherein a Jew, in any part of the world, has a country he can call home. This country is his and like all other countries
Feb 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
I don’t necessarily agree with all of Cohen’s ideas and theses, but the book is fantastic. Its a great read, and Cohen does an incredible job tying a plethora of history into a relevant and fascinating work. It could have been very boring, but Cohen's adlibs, dry humor, and thought provoking comments throughout the book kept me highly engaged in my reading. I had a tough time putting the book down. An 8.5 on a scale of 10. ...more
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
As a person who did not have much retained knowledge in biblical history, Israel, or Jewish history, I found this book to be a great comprehensive overview. I really appreciated the author's perspective and he made it clear when he was expressing his viewpoint which may not necessarily be reflective of other populations. I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about Jewish & Israeli history and attempting to understand present day Israel. ...more
Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
While there are many more complete and precise books on the history of Israel, I doubt any of them is so much fun to read. I would imagine the breezy (and sometimes glib) prose and the metaphors relating people and places to movie characters and sets grates on the purists, but for those who want to know how things got the way they are, it gives a good outline. The general reader should come away understanding of main events in the history of Israel.

The book is written from a Jewish perspective b
Alvaro H.
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is my second read by author Rich Cohen (after the mezmerizing "The Fish that Ate the Whale") and it did not disappoint. Cohen manages to regail us with the history (story?) of the jewish people and Zionism with clinical insight and brilliant wit.  He has a gift for finding the rhyming poetry and the timeless archetypes in political and territorial turmoil that spans many centuries and a wide array of players.  "Israel Is Real" is a great primer for those who have a cursory and muddled under ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kathy by: Nancy Pearl
Shelves: far-away-places
This book reads like a chat with the author, albeit a really long involved chat. It begins with the destruction of the second temple and takes us through the history of Israel up to the present. Cohen has a way of putting archaic concepts into terms that I can understand. I particularly appreciated when he compared medieval stories of the Khazars (a colony of warrior Jews) to his boyhood book of Great Jewish Sports Heros.

Israel has a long and often bitter past, but Cohen is a gentle guide on an
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
In preparation for a trip to Israel, I realized I needed to learn more about the country and its history. Based on Goodreads reviews, I read "Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn" by Daniel Gordis and based on a personal reference, I also read "Israel is Real" by Rich Cohen. I'm rating these two books the same (4 stars) but they have pretty different styles.

"Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn" is an awesome chronicle of the history of Israel, more factual than "Israel is Real"
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: israel
This is a very weird book. It's not quite history as it is a highlighting of certain interpretations of Jewish history. Zionism, according to Cohen, is rooted in ancient Israel and is best portrayed by the Zealots - a group of religiously fanatic warrior Jews who went the way of the dodo along with the Second Temple. The other type of Jew, the Yavne Jew, is one that survives the Romans through submission and abstracting his religion. Cohen seems to paint Jewish history as a struggle between thes ...more
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lent to me by a friend, I found this an invaluable read. A secular Jew outlines the mystery, the history and the eternality of the nation. He describes the miracle of the 6 day war where "even atheists felt the press of God". He marches through the centuries, outlining the mission of the Jews, the failed messiahs, the issue of Jewish self-esteem, the political rise of Zionism, and provides the best description of anti-semitism I've ever understood, admitting that Jews themselves are guilty: "som ...more
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was so fascinating I didn’t want it to end. Cohen is a writer for Rolling Stone and has a very smooth, conversational style of writing with lots of anecdotes to keep the narrative from getting too dry. The book discusses the nation of Israel in real or imagined forms from
ancient times until now, covering good and bad points. The style makes it easier to retain what is learned about this place that has been so foundational to the development of western civilization.
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book definitely gives insights about Jewish past and present. Although not in detail but rather succinctly. However, it's really amazing how a nation which came into existence by 1949 fought its forthcoming battles with such splendor furor.
Definitely, it had tremendous financial backing alongside favorable political stance of being the victims of the holocaust. But would jew stop it ?

Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is sad, funny, frustrating, sarcastic, angering and a lot of other things. I felt many emotions reading this book, but came away mostly with a sadness for a situation that utterly illustrates the complexities & contradictions of the human condition. Oh, the pain we love to inflict upon one another...
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Impartial. Fast paced. And SUPER witty. Can't remember the last time non fic was THIS enjoyably captivating ...more
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thought-provoking and memorable overview of the history of Jerusalem. However, the book is not a complete historical description.
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I’ve read in a very long time.
Fakhri Mokrani
Jun 09, 2020 rated it did not like it
Mere propaganda. Nothing is interesting nor new in the book.
Chetna Chakravarthy
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous perspective on the making of country, on evolution of an identify and a race/religion dictating politics.
Sep 26, 2012 rated it liked it
I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t think I really understand Israel, even after reading this book. I did, however, walk away from this thinking about the insanity that is history, religion, and politics. There is no doubt about it: the Hebrews/Jews have a pretty damn depressing history.

What I liked about this book is that it wasn’t a propaganda filled Zionist love-fest. What it accomplishes, is providing a rich story around the key figures and events that brought Israel to where it is now.
Jun 29, 2010 rated it did not like it
Based on a review I'd read, I expected this to be a solid history book, even-handed yet with a highly individual voice. I did find it interesting at first, but after close to 100 pages Cohen still seemed to be focussing on individuals-- not so much on Israel as a whole. Contrary to the title, he continually presented his thesis that Israel is NOT real, but a set of shared illusions. Deeply felt-- but illusory.
As others have noted, the author's style is occasionally self-indulgent, with asides an
Andy Oram
Sep 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, history
This book is a very personal statement, which makes it endearing--even gripping--but ultimately limits its value as either a history of the Jews or a political assessment. I enjoyed his history quite a bit, but I know many better history books exist. I think Cohen is too concerned with finding metaphors and signs, so he has to circle around certain themes over and over, more than I find helpful. But I appreciate that he sees nuance in everything, and is trying less to persuade the reader of a pa ...more
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
I loved this book! Rich Cohen is an excellent author, and in fact, the only reason why I searched this book out was because he wrote it. I loved his two previous books, The Avengers and Tough Jews. His style is very funny and smart. I laughed out loud on a few occasions. The book is an interesting history of Israel and its place in Judaism. But I would not recommend this book if you are very right-wing towards Israel because he does have his critiques.
Sep 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
I guess you could call this a history book, since it is a loosely chronological account full of actual history, but it doesn't quite fit that mold. It's hard for me to describe, but I will say it raised a lot of interesting questions and taught me a lot about Jewish history. Cohen manages to take a very unwieldy topic and do about as good a job as one can do condensing it into so few pages. If you're trying to make some sense of Israel, this is a good place to start. ...more
Debra Hennessey
Jan 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: judaism
I like the author's style--he's like a history teacher you wish you had. The modern history left me breathless a few times--the six day war chapter especially. It's hard to believe sometimes that all this history really happened in this tiny country. Here's a quote that sums up the book: "It's the great misfortune of Jerusalem to be both wholly imaginary and wholly real." ...more
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: israel
History of the Jews/Israel from the beginning up until Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Extremely interesting look at the historical narrative of the Jewish people, if you can look past the humanizing of Ariel Sharon and other places in which Cohen forgives the brutal actions of the modern state based on historical suffering. ...more
Sep 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this. It finally answered so many questions I've had about the history of Israel, Judaism, Zionism, etc. And it did so in a relatively light, always readable, very smart, occasionally humorous way. ...more
Nura Yusof
Sep 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Accessible read on the history of Jewish people and the making of the state of Israel. He seems apologetic. It felt like "Don't blame us coz' we've got this preoccupation with past wrongs". But we need to hear both sides of the argument. ...more
Jun 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: didnt-finish
Good concept - I liked the history in the book, but I just couldn't make it through the long meandering philosophical parts. ...more
Marla Griffith
Feb 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
Very interesting history of the conflict. Americans should read this.
Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
A really interesting book that tells the history of Israel, how Judaism morphed after the destruction of the second temple and how it changed again after the creation of Israel.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn
  • The Spy
  • Ben's Bakery and the Hanukkah Miracle
  • The Lawrence Browne Affair (The Turner Series, #2)
  • Santa Daddy
  • We Stand Divided: Competing Visions of Jewishness and the Rift Between American Jews and Israel
  • Night Boat to Tangier
  • Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, The Little Book of Lykke, Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living
  • Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss
  • Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored
  • The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels
  • Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival
  • The Sporting Club
  • Silverland
  • The Wicked Pavilion
  • Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea
  • I Always Loved You
  • Year of the Monkey
See similar books…
RICH COHEN is the author of Sweet and Low (FSG, 2006), Tough Jews, The Avengers, The Record Men, and the memoir Lake Effect. His work has appeared in many major publications, and he is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. He lives with his family in Connecticut.

For more information, please see

News & Interviews

  Die-hard mystery fans are always on the hunt for their next supremely satisfying whodunit. To help you stock that Want to Read shelf, we asked...
67 likes · 25 comments