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A Life

Hillel Halkin

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An insightful new biography of the most controversial and perhaps most fervent of all Zionist political figures

Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940) was a man of huge paradoxes and contradictions and has been the most misunderstood of all Zionist politicians--a first-rate novelist, a celebrated Russian journalist, and the founder of the branch of Zionism now headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. This biography, the first in English in nearly two decades, undertakes to answer central questions about Jabotinsky as a writer, a political thinker, and a leader. Hillel Halkin sets aside the stereotypes to which Jabotinsky has been reduced by his would-be followers and detractors alike.
Halkin explains the importance of Odessa, Jabotinsky’s native city, in molding his character and outlook; discusses his novels and short stories, showing the sometimes hidden connections between them and Jabotinsky’s political thought, and studies a political career that ended in tragic failure. Halkin also addresses Jabotinsky’s position, unique among the great figures of Zionist history, as both a territorial maximalist and a principled believer in democracy. The author inquires why Jabotinsky was often accused of fascist tendencies though he abhorred authoritarian and totalitarian politics, and investigates the many opposed aspects of his personality and conduct while asking whether or not they had an ultimate coherence. Few figures in twentieth-century Jewish life were quite so admired and loathed, and Halkin’s splendid, subtle book explores him with empathy and lucidity.


Hillel Halkin is a writer, critic, and translator. He is the author of Letters to an American Jewish Friend and Yehuda Halevi, both of which won the National Jewish Book Award. His most recent book is Melisande! What Are Dreams? He lives in Israel.

“A well-written, passionate survey of Jabotinsky’s life and contributions to political Zionism.”—Jeffrey Veidlinger, Marginalia Blog, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Hillel Halkin has done the impossible: He has gracefully condensed the story of this complex tragic figure into a page-turner that is at once concise and a rattling good read."—FrontPage Magazine

"Mr. Halkin's book presents [Jabotinsky] in all his hardheaded but humane complexity."—Douglas J. Feith, Wall Street Journal

"Given the war, or rather, wars, roiling the Middle East, this is a particularly good time to rethink the legacy of Zionist leader Vladmir Jabotinsky, as Hillel Halkin invites readers to do in his compact and evocative new biography."—Harvey Blume, Arts Fuse
"For many, [this book] will open up a man and his ideas whose influence is still felt today and who had an important role in the ideological struggles that shaped the Zionist movement and the modern Jewish state."—Chicago Jewish Star

"[An] excellent biography . . . Halkin, an award-winning writer, critic, and translator, sets Jabotinsky, who was born in 1880, in the context of his time."—Jacob Heilbrunn, Washington Monthly

"A beautifully written short biography of an exceedingly interesting man: a novelist, translator, poet, playwright, journalist, polemicist, and probably the most remarkable public speaker in modern Jewish life. Halkin’s account of him is credible and vivid."—Avishai Margalit, New York Review of Books

"Concise and highly readable."—Daniel Tauber, Jerusalem Post

"An intellectually deep book which is insightful and historic – and worthwhile reading for anyone interested in Zionist history and the life of a great Jewish hero. Every Jewish library needs a copy of Jabotinsky: A Life By Hillel Halkin."—San Diego Jewish World

"A revelatory exploration of Vladimir Jabotinsky."—Colin Shindler, Jewish Chronicle

"Halkin’s exquisite translation strikingly reveals the personal side of a man so often vilified in the press for his uncompromising political stands. In a similar way, Halkin’s literary criticism offers unparalleled insights into little known aspects of Jabotinsky’s career, and his discussion of the Jabotinsky’s novel, The Five . . . is probably the best analysis of the novel to date."—Louis Gordon,Times of Israel

"Remarkable . . . Deftly traces and provides new insight into Jabotinsky's journey from Odessa childhood to Italian University dandy to renowned journalist to Zionist icon. Reading Halkin's book confirms Jabotinsky’s place as the 20th century’s most prescient Jewish political thinker."—Jewish Week Well-Versed Blog

"This is certainly the one volume to read about the life of Vladimir Jabotinsky and is accessible to a wide audience interested in learning more about one of the foundational personalities of modern Zionism."—Association of Jewish Libraries

"It requires a subtle understanding of both letters and politics to assess Jabotinsky’s moral imagination, literary core, and strategic vision. Fortunately, Hillel Halkin … is equal to the task."—Jeremy Rozansky, Claremont Review of Books

"The author uses Jabotinsky’s literary works to analyze his character. At the outset, Halkin describes for the reader the problems of Eastern European Jewry, while creating a link to Jabotinsky and events that influenced and shaped his views. In so doing, he creates a broad perspective on Jabotinsky’s character and the events in his life. The book is unique in that Halkin enables readers to understand the link between Jabotinsky’s literary writings, his political ideas, and his lifestyle."—Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs
ISBN: 9780300244380
Publication Date: March 26, 2019
256 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
1 b/w illus.
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