The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East
Sandy Tolan. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006

Over the two and a half decades that I’ve worked on Israeli-Palestinian peace issues I’ve come to believe that perhaps the greatest roadblock to progress is the two distinct and separate narratives maintained by Israelis/Jews and Palestinians/Arabs. The Lemon Tree seeks to bridge this gap, using the life stories of a Palestinian and Israeli family and the house (with a lemon tree in the yard) they each lived in, to recount the history of Jewish-Palestinian conflict.

Although filled with important historical detail, the compelling story of Bashir, Dalia and their families makes for a very emotional and engaging read. While one can always question the perspective with which historical incidents are described, I found the history to be accurate, balanced and well-documented.

If you’re looking to get beyond the hype and propaganda to understand the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, The Lemon Tree is a great place to start.
–Andy Mager


Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science
Atul Gawande,
Picador (Metropolitan Books-Henry Holt &Co), 2002

Written during his surgical training and published in 2002, Complications is fascinating for physicians or anyone else interested in medicine.

Insight is given into the culture that has, for better or worse, shaped your doctor. Real, rather than Hollywood, glimpses are provided into some of the questions doctors are required to deal with on a daily basis.

Gawande’s writing is clear, informative and requires no prior medical knowledge.

Complications does not address the societal issues of financing and distributing health care in our society, but rather deals with the interaction of patient and physician on an individual basis. Quite simply, a good read.

–Lanny Freshman

People of the Book Geraldine Brooks,
Penguin Books, 2008

We are accustomed to finding history contained in books, but do we ever consider that a book may have its own history? Through whose hands has a well-worn book passed?  What surrounds its creation, ownership and survival? 

The main character, Dr. Hanna Heath, an Australian rare book conservator, muses,      “…why had an illuminator working in Spain, for a Jewish client, in the manner of a European Christian, have used an Iranian paintbrush?” Such is one of the mysteries of the Haggadah that is at the center of this story.

After covering the war in Bosnia and the siege of Sarajevo for the Wall Street Journal, Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks was compelled to tell the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah which was once again at peril due to yet another conflict. She weaves fact and fiction over six centuries of the book’s existence recalling for readers the atrocities of the Inquisition, segregation, exile, wars, Nazism, and the Holocaust. There are, as well, unlikely heroes who span the centuries and preserve the Haggadah.

People of the Book is imaginative, suspenseful and a quick read, but it also inspires the reader to reflect upon and research its various topics that may be buried in memory, history lessons, or recent events. We can never be reminded often enough of past mistakes that ignore humankind and peace, placing them both in peril.

–Barbara Woodarek


Here If You Need Me Kate Braestrup,
Little, Brown and Company, 2007

Kate Braestrup’s true story explains how she became one of the first chaplains appointed to the Maine Warden Service. After her husband, a Maine state trooper, was killed in an automobile accident, Kate decided to pursue what had been her husband’s dream and became an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. Through a series of unfolding incidents, she describes her role as a member of search-and-rescue teams, called into service when people are missing somewhere in the Maine wilderness. Surprisingly rich in both humor and pathos.

–Dan Sage


Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes Tamim Ansary,
Public Affairs/Perseus, 2009

It can be casually observed that the Muslim world and the West have come to the same events by different paths, but much of the meaning of that observation escaped us until we read Destiny Disrupted. Tamim Ansary, born and raised in Afghanistan, and educated in the US, has written a book that will almost certainly challenge and expand your view of the Islamic world.

Ansary’s conversational prose takes the reader through a parallel universe from before the foundation of Islam, through the days of the first four Khalifates to the so-called gunpowder empires on through the era of reformers like Abdul Wahhab and Sayyid Jamaluddin. It concludes with the settling of Israel and brings us up to 2001. The emphasis is always on the Islamic narrative, so that while the story includes many characters who are not Muslim and many events that are not religious, there is a set of internally coherent assumptions (not shared by the West) that underlie these events.

Ansary’s view is that “it is…misleading to think of Islam as one item in a class whose other items are Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. Not inaccurate, of course: Islam is a religion, like those others….But Islam might just as validly be considered as one item in a class whose other items include communism, parliamentary democracy, fascism and the like because Islam is a social project like those others, an idea for how politics and the economy ought to be managed, a complete system of civil and criminal law.” Be prepared to undertake a journey of understanding with this truly companionable and enlightening history of the greater Middle East.

–Ian and Donna Tarbania