I was recently gifted a copy of The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East, by Abraham Rabinovich, an exceptional and gripping book. I actually started it as a side-book, but it quickly became the center of my reading attention. Reading it soon after the events of October 7th was especially painful.
Most of the 550 plus pages detail the events of the war, beginning with how the Israelis were caught unprepared, and then through the battles on each front in the Golan and Sinai. Tracing each battle, often with attention to the experiences of front line soldiers and those closest to the action, was riveting and personalized. As there were few maps, it was sometimes hard to follow the details of the battles, but somehow that didn’t get in the way of my reading and a decent understanding of events.
There were a few elements beyond the details of the battles themselves that made the book powerful. First was the political overlay that Rabinovich gives, particularly on the Egyptian side. Even though they lost the war, Sadat was very clear that his hope was to change the power dynamic between Egypt and Israel. This was only partially about regaining land they lost in 1967, but more about increasing Egyptian morale so they could feel able to come to a more functional relationship with Israel in a more strategic way. In the end, of course, it led to the first Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Another example was how King Hussein in Jordan threaded a needle between keeping on the side of the Arab world, and not entangling himself in a war with Israel. Kissinger’s background machinations paint him as both a political genius, and Machiavellian figure of American interests.
Also fascinating were the close tracking of key personalities like Ariel Sharon, a leader of the Sinai campaign; David Elazar, chief of staff, and his calm leadership in the face of early losses; the seeming absence of Golda Meir from most of the story; and the extraordinary bravery – I mean, unimaginable bravery – of officers and regular soldiers alike. So many of the stories were about the trials of leadership under enormous pressure and without a lot of clarity on the battlefield, and the responsibility soldiers, from top to bottom, took when times were most tough.
The book is most deeply a story about holding one’s assumptions too tightly, and how to adjust in the face of their shattering.
If this is a genre you like, I can’t recommend this book enough.
Just Because I Liked It:
- Paul Assaiante coached the Yale squash team to 17 national championships. When you hear his style and approach on Shane Parrish’s The Knowledge Project podcast, you’ll understand why. You may also be a better parent!
- The Rabbi Sacks, zt’l, Legacy Project, in partnership with the Tikvah Foundation has put together a learning series for parents and kids. Take a look here.
- I continue to try to make sense of the collapse of the far left’s moral core, which has become obvious since October 7. I found this article in Quillette thoughtful and fascinating.