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.
"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)
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Gripping moment by moment account
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.
Lessons in Negotiation