The Story Behind The Story,
This review is from: Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Paperback)
In Six Days of War, Michael B Oren, historian and Israeli ambassador to the US, set out to write the most thorough account of the 1967 six day war between Israel and the Arabs, seeing as what happened following the battle has had as much drama and importance as the war itself.
In the foreword, Oren states that other accounts he had read about the '67 war focused mostly on the military battle, and not the diplomacy and the reasons behind the actions. In this, Oren sought to redress the balance and doesn't fail in writing an engrossing and enlightening account of the Middle East at the time. Doing this enables Oren to remain on familiar ground (diplomacy/history), in which Oren thrives, and this energy comes through in the writing.
With so many players (not only states but various players and schemers within the individual states) requires some careful planning and thought, but one of Oren's strong points as a writer is his narrative-creating ability and as such the story starts small and fans out gradually so even someone new to the subject would be better able to get their teeth into the subject.
The book starts out with Egypt and its leader at the time, Gamal Abdl Nasser. Oren works his way through Nasser's and Egypt's wants and considerations, not only with regards to internal power struggles but internationally as well, regarding the complex relations the Arab states have with one another (power struggles and distrust while needing to cooperate for shared interests). And only later does Israel enter the scene.
Six Days of War is at one and the same time academic, but entirely readable to the layman, lending much new information about, especially for those who seem to think the whole region revolves around Israel.
If I did have my criticism it would be that while Oren's work is entirely academic, the trade-off is that he doesn't take sides. Obviously, one can understand how difficult a task that is to accomplish when trying to please two sides to a conflict (which, by all accounts this is something Oren achieved), but the trade-off is that the battle (in particular) lacks drama. There are no good guys or bad guys. For example, in the battle for Ammunition Hill, Israeli commandos simply leapt one after the other into the line of fire and to their deaths, as if before a `firing squad', until somehow, the hill was captured.
This agonising and bewildering feat that some are willing to make is only given a brief mention. One could easily miss it while reading through. This isn't to imply Oren should be more pro-Israel, one can be for one side or the other, but the point is Oren's neutral approach sacrifices some drama.
The other gripe is somewhat more important. And that is the lack of attention paid to the Soviet's role in provoking the war. This is something covered more thoroughly in the interesting (but far less readable) Foxbats Over Dimona.
Overall though, this is a great account of this period in history. Oren's highly skilful narrative fleshes out the story behind the story, and with his academic rigour encompassing a vast array of sources, means that this will become the book by which all other accounts of this war will be judged, for quite a long time to come.