Summer Reading Invitation

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Jerusalem, Israel
8 June 2010

Dear friends of SPME,

Welcome to the Beta version of our new book review section.

It is our objective to bring our readers’ attention recently published academic work that will improve our understanding of the Middle East situation from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Since we launched the book review section we have found that there is a need both for new book reviews, written exclusively for SPME, as well as outstanding reviews which appeared elsewhere. We have thus divided this section as follows:

SPME Exclusive Book Reviews (Section 1), and;

Book Reviews which have appeared elsewhere (Section 2).

I welcome your feedback and suggestions. If you know of a new book which deserves to be reviewed, please let me know. If you read an interesting review and would like to share it with our readers, please tell me. My e-mail is: [email protected].

If you would like to write a review a recently published book, please tell me. We now have the means to place review copies in the hands our reviewers and to deal with the practical side of things.

It is our hope that you will find the new format useful and helpful.

Please be in touch,
Joel Fishman, Ph. D.
Book Review Editor

What we need: Guidelines for SPME Reviewers

Dear Reviewer,

There is a generally accepted form for book reviews, and I suggest that you organize your essays to fit this form.

When one writes a review, it is necessary to keep a bit of distance from the subject, and while it is possible to say everything that one wishes, it is preferable to do so in moderate and balanced language.

In fact, most book reviews are based on the principle of balance, except for the exceptions.

The reviewer should first describe what the book is about and explain the author’s method and point of view. He or she then states the book’s good points and weak points. If the book is good, and if we are in agreement, we say why. If we are critical, we do the opposite. In other words, we tell what the book is all about. We should give our opinion but always try to give the reader enough space to form his or her own opinion. We must also try to avoid going ad hominem.

If the book is poor, we say, as a rule, that it has shortcomings, rather than the author stinks, except in cases when the author is in gross bad faith or is unprofessional. Then, plain language may be necessary.

This is why we depend on our reviewers for their maturity and good judgment.


The objective of SPME is to publish compact and succinct reviews which will give the reader a clear indication of a book’s merit and its place in the field. In order to make our reviews more useful to our readers, may we suggest some issues for our reviewers’ attention.

1. Who is the author?

2. What is the subject matter of the book, its main findings, and conclusions?

3. Is the contribution of this book descriptive or analytical — or both?

4. Does the author support his or her interpretation with sound reasoning and evidence?

5. Does the author come forward with new ideas?

6. Does the book offer a new interpretation, which could influence the development of the field?

7. Does the author use new sources?

8. How does this title fit in with the existing literature?

9. Has the scholarship of others been properly acknowledged and attributed?

10. Has the author omitted important information?

11. Is the author intellectually honest?

12. What is the quality of the scholarship?

13. Summing up: the reviewer’s clearly stated evaluation.

14. Excessive praise of authors and a lengthy enumeration of an author’s accomplishments is not acceptable, all the more so if the reviewer is on terms with the author.

Thank you for your consideration.

For Your Information – A Practical, Simple “How to” Guide:

Writing a History Book Review

By Grace Fleming,

There is a format used by many teachers and college professors when it comes to reviewing history texts. It isn’t found in any style guide, but it does contain aspects of the Turabian style of writing.

Although it might seem a little strange to you, many history teachers like to see a full citation for the book you’re reviewing (Turabian style) at the head of the paper, right below the title. While it might seem odd to start with a citation, this format mirrors the appearance of book reviews that are published in scholarly journals.

Below the title and citation, write the body of the book review in essay form without subtitles.

As you write your book review, remember that your goal is to analyze the text by discussing the strengths and weaknesses-as opposed to summarizing the content. You should also note that it’s best to be as balanced as possible in your analysis. Include both strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, if you think the book was either dreadfully written or ingenious, you should say so!

Here are some other important elements to include in your analysis:

1. Date/range of the book. Define the time period that the book covers. Explain if the book progresses chronologically or if it addresses events by topic. If the book addresses one particular subject, explain how that event fits into a broader time scale (like the Reconstruction era).

2. Point of view. Can you glean from the text if the author has a strong opinion about an event? Is the author objective, or does he express a liberal or conservative viewpoint?

3. Sources. Does the author use secondary sources or primary sources, or both? Review the bibliography of the text to see if there is a pattern or any interesting observation about the sources the writer uses. Are the sources all new or all old? That fact could provide interesting insight into the validity of a thesis.

4. Organization. Discuss whether the book makes sense the way it is written or if it could have been better organized. Authors put a lot of time into organizing a book and sometimes they just don’t get it right!

5. Author information. What do you know about the author? What other books has he/she written? Does the author teach at a university? What training or experience has contributed to the author’s command of the topic?

The last paragraph of your review should contain a summary of your review and a clear statement that conveys your overall opinion. It is common to make a statement such as:

  • This book delivered on its promise because…
  • This book was a disappointment because…
  • This book contributed significantly to the argument that…
  • The book [title] provides the reader with deep insight into…

The book review is an opportunity to give your true opinion about a book. Just remember to back up a strong statement like those above with evidence from the text.

Summer Reading Invitation

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Joel Fishman

Biographical Statement:

Joel Fishman was born in Winston-Salem, N. C. and has lived in Israel since 1972. He grew up in Brookline, MA, received his B.A. from Tufts University, and his Ph. D. in modern European history from Columbia University. From 1968-1970, he was a Fulbright scholar at the Institute for History of the State University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. His dissertation was published under the title, Diplomacy and Revolution; the London Conference of 1830 and the Belgian Revolt. He is married and has three children and four grandchildren.

Like many of his generation, the unsettled conditions of the seventies interrupted his academic career. By the time he completed his doctorate in 1972, the job market had evaporated. During the following years, Fishman researched and published several pioneering articles on the postwar reconstruction of the Dutch Jewish community and from 1975-1978 carried out post-doctoral work at the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation in Amsterdam.

After returning to Israel in 1978, Fishman found that he was “overqualified” for nearly all manner of salaried work, so from 1980 to 2000, he worked as a photographer until the Second Armed Uprising ruined business conditions. Fortunately, an opportunity arose to join the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, so Fishman made the transition into a new field, contemporary history, or, better stated, the history of the present. His research applies the historical method in order to explain contemporary events. One of his pioneering accomplishments was the publication of the policy paper, “Ten Years since Oslo: The PLO’s ‘People’s War’ Strategy and Israel’s Inadequate Response,”[1] which analysed the strategy of the other side, many aspects of which were borrowed from the North Vietnamese, and the failure of Israel’s military and leadership elite to understand and adapt to the new situation. His findings appear in a series of articles, which are posted on the web. A selection of his articles has also appeared in book form, in French, under the title, La Guerre d’Oslo (Prof. Efraim Karsh was the coauthor).[2] Since 2004, Fishman has been a Fellow of the JCPA.

Independently, Fishman served as Chairman of the Center for Research on Dutch Jewry at the Hebrew University (2006-2009). There, he introduced sound fiscal practice and oversaw the construction of a new library.

Currently he is Book Review Editor of the Jewish Political Studies Review at the JCPA and is carrying out research on political warfare, particularly media warfare and propaganda.

Statement about SPME:

The members of SPME comprise a community of leading scholars with whom I have been able to share ideas and to learn. In their company, I have observed the combined virtues of courage moderated by maturity and caution. I find this outlook congenial.

Most scholars of my generation who grew up in postwar America enjoyed a period of opportunity and relative grace. Now, there are signs that this era may be ending, and we are entering “interesting times.” In this uncertain environment, SPME will have an increasingly important job to do, telling the truth, fighting for freedom of thought and protecting civil discourse, in America and abroad.

[1] Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem Viewpoints No. 503, 1 September 2003. .

[2] La Guerre d'Oslo. Paris: Editions de Passy, 2005.

Read all stories by Joel Fishman

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