A gripping day-by-day account of the 1978 Camp David conference, when President Jimmy Carter persuaded Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to sign the first peace treaty in the modern Middle East, one which endures to this day.
With his hallmark insight into the forces at play in the Middle East and his acclaimed journalistic skill, Lawrence Wright takes us through each of the 13 days of the Camp David conference, illuminating the issues that have made the problems of the region so intractable, as well as exploring the scriptural narratives that continue to frame the conflict. In addition to his in-depth accounts of the lives of the three leaders, Wright draws vivid portraits of other fiery personalities who were present at Camp David - including Moshe Dayan, Osama el-Baz, and Zbigniew Brzezinski - as they work furiously behind the scenes. Wright also explores the significant role played by Rosalynn Carter.
What emerges is a riveting view of the making of this unexpected and so far unprecedented peace. Wright exhibits the full extent of Carter's persistence in pushing an agreement forward, the extraordinary way in which the participants at the conference - many of them lifelong enemies - attained it, and the profound difficulties inherent in the process and its outcome, not the least of which has been the still unsettled struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
In Thirteen Days in September, Wright gives us a resonant work of history and reportage that provides both a timely revisiting of this important diplomatic triumph and an inside look at how peace is made.
©2014 Lawrence Wright (P)2014 Random House Audio
"Wright (Going Clear), Pulitzer Prize winner and staff writer for the New Yorker, offers a thorough study of the Camp David Accords of 1978 in this meticulously researched affair, which goes beyond the core events to address a multitude of historical factors. On the surface, this is about U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the 13 days the men and their respective staffs spent trying to hammer out a peace treaty. Wright takes the conference day by day, detailing the clashes and compromises that marked the final results. He also delves into biblical events and the numerous conflicts following Israel’s creation in 1948. As Wright puts it, “This book is an account of how these three flawed men, strengthened but also encumbered by their faiths, managed to forge a partial and incomplete peace, an achievement that nonetheless stands as one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the twentieth century.” Alternating between biographical studies of the people involved, sociopolitical histories of the countries and faiths represented, and an almost nail-bitingly tense unfolding of the conference itself, Wright delivers an authoritative, fascinating, and relatively unbiased exploration of a pivotal period and a complicated subject." (Publishers Weekly)
"A day-by-day account of the tense negotiations, artfully mixing in modern and ancient history, biblical allusions, portraits of the principals - Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat - and thumbnail sketches of key participants: Americans Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Israelis Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman, and Egyptians Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel and Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The author examines all the forces that shaped these historic talks: the isolation imposed by the presidential retreat high in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains; the divisions within the Egyptian and Israeli delegations; the almost unprecedented nature of detailed negotiations conducted not by subordinates but by the heads of state; the hazardous political stakes for each leader and the powerful role played by their deeply held religious beliefs; the critical part played by President Jimmy Carter, who moved adroitly from facilitator to catalyst to secure an agreement. Throughout, telling detail abounds: Rosalynn Carter spontaneously suggesting to her husband that the intransigents should come to the beautiful and peaceful Camp David to revive stalled talks; Begin startling his hosts on a brief outing to the Gettysburg battlefield by reciting Lincoln’s entire address from memory; Carter dramatically accusing Sadat of betrayal and, at one point, thinking to himself that Begin was a “psycho”; Israel’s fiercest warrior, Dayan, by then going blind, bloodying his nose by walking into a tree; Begin bursting into tears as Carter presents him with conference photos inscribed to each of the prime minister’s grandchildren. A unique moment in history superbly captured. Yet another triumph for Wright." (Kirkus Review)
I quite enjoyed this look behind the scenes of the negotiations that led to the Egypt/Israel peace treaty. Wright has a reputation as a fastidious researcher and chronicler of modern middle eastern geopolitics and he doesn't disappoint here. As they say, the devil is in the details and this couldn't be more true not only of the level of detail provided here but also in the fitful negotiations which resulted in the Camp David accord. Wright interweaves his moment by moment account of the thirteen days of negotiations with backgrounder material on the history of the Arab/Israeli conflict as well as the personalities of Sadat, Begin, Carter, Dayan, Weizmann and others and how the interplay of these played a crucial role in not only achieving the accords but just as interesting for the reader, almost derailing them. Of particular note here is the illuminating role (the much maligned, but recently seen in the literary world in a kinder historical light) Jimmy Carter played not only in facilitating the talks but on numerous occasions, saving them when all appeared lost. The end result is is a gripping (I won't say thrilling; that really isn't Wright's style), almost claustrophobic insiders view of the talks as well as a treatise on the art of negotiation, facilitation, and peace making. Anyone despairing of middle eastern politics today would do well to read this book to understand how seemingly intractable differences can be overcome/set aside in the broader pursuit of peace and the role that peacemakers must play in order to achieve it.
Jimmy Carter is underrated as a president. He was the first to make an issue of human rights around the world. He was honest, well-intentioned and caring of the needy. He brought his vision of a just world to the Camp David peace talks, where he cajoled two strong-willed, suspicious leaders to overcome their personal antipathies and those of their people to reach a peace accord that has lasted, with some cracks, for many years.
Lawrence Wright provides a detailed, day-by-day account of the tense moments and the personal conflicts that nevertheless resulted in the peace accord. His account seems balanced and insightful. Minor players like the countries' foreign ministers and the wives are well-drawn--Roslyn Carter especially is a sympathetic figure, her husband's best friend and confidant, an instigator of the talks who struggles to keep her poker face through the temper tantrums, the deadlocks and the ultimate triumphs of the talks.
Overall, this was an important story, well told. And it is a lesson in negotiations, with a keen understanding of the posturing, the changing strategies, the consultations, the use of supporting players and the creative techniques that finally lead to peace.
The narration was strong. Mark Bramhall did a good job differentiating the players and their accents without ever slipping into caricature.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
With the world in such a mess today it is refreshing to read of a time that the impossible managed to happen. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter saw an opportunity to fulfill his religious destiny by bringing peace to the Holy Land. Rosalynn Carter was the one to suggested using Camp David as an ideal location for a summit. The talks started on September 5 1978.
Carter had his hands full. Israeli Prime Minister Meacham Begin never loosened his tier, nor did his mind stray from the horror of the Holocaust. He was an avid Zionist. Sadat secluded himself from everyone including his own advisors. Carter under estimated the complexity of the situation. Carter believed they could reach an agreement in three days. It took thirteen days instead. Both parties threaten to walk out daily. Carter ran back and forth between them working on a compromise. Carter forgot all his duties and concentrated all his efforts for the thirteen days on brokering an agreement. Wright concludes that it was Carter’s leadership that was the key to the success of the Accords. As a party to the negotiations Carter allowed each side to make concessions to the United States that they couldn’t make to each other. Both Begin and Sadat took extraordinary risks that achieved the peach that last today. Wright reminds us that Carter’s Camp David Accords was an act of surpassing political courage. He won the treaty but lost the presidency.
On the negative side the author’s favoritism toward Carter and Sadat comes through the story clearly. Wright makes some unnecessary remarks about Begin; I feel was inappropriate under the circumstances.
The author has done an excellent job meticulously piecing together from presidential records, diaries, interviews and books on the subject to create this most interesting book. Wright is a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Begin and Sadat received the Nobel Prize for Peace for reaching the Camp David Accords. This peace has now lasted for the past 36 years. Mark Bramhall did an excellent job narrating the book. If you are interested in history of the Middle East this is a must read book.
The author clearly had an objective to paint Israel and Begin with a negative brush.
He omits the violent history on the Arab side including the massacre of Jews in Hebron and the Egyptian mass killings of Palestinians in Gaza, and twists any possible example to paint Begin as an extremist instead of the statesman that he is.
This book is so revealing about the Carter administration & the post WW2 history of the middle east. I remember vaguely this whole event, the Carter peace initiative, but Wright successfully brings the event, the key characters (not just the principals) & the contextual background to life. The book mixes biography of the key players with the main event. Sometimes this feels a little bumpy - it might play more so this way in the audio version, since listener cannot see chapter headings or other transitions that would appear in the physical book. The narrator is excellent.
Very biased! Very pro Arab and anti Israeli. President Carter showed strengths and weaknesses. His anger explains his views on the Middle East today. Holding a grudge I think.
The content is exceptional, illuminating an important diplomatic breakthrough that highlighted the under-appreciated Carter presidency. The background material and quotes from participants provide a visceral appreciation of the negotiation process. Even those well familiar with the Camp David story will benefit from Wright's book. The narration served the topic well except for voice characterizations and Arabic pronunciation. The voice the reader used for Pres. Carter is particularly grating and the Arabs all sound Eastern European. With the exception of Sadat nearly every Arab name is mangled in some way. A few minutes with an Egyptian could have rectified at least the pronunciation errors.
The camp David accords are extraordinary in their mere existence, the story of how they came to be is even more so. While the authors attempts to anchor the conflict in religion is a bit irritating at times it still does not diminish the events or the personalities involved.
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