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Crossing Mandelbaum Gate

Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978

About The Book

*From the Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of American Prometheus—the inspiration for the Academy Award-winning film Oppenheimer*

Now with a new introduction, Kai Bird’s fascinating memoir of his early years spent in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon provides an original and illuminating perspective into the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In 1956, four-year-old Kai Bird, son of a charming American diplomat, moved to Jerusalem with his family. Kai could hear church bells and the Muslim call to prayer and watch as donkeys and camels competed with cars for space on the narrow streets. Each day on his way to school, Kai was driven through Mandelbaum Gate, where armed soldiers guarded the line separating Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem from Arab-controlled East.

Bird would spend much of his life crossing such lines—as a child in Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and later, as a young man in Lebanon. In Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, a narrative that “rips along like a spy novel” (The New York Times Book Review), Bird’s retelling of “events such as Suez in 1956, the Six Day War of 1967, and Black September in 1970 are as clear and fresh as yesterday” (The Spectator, UK). Bird vividly portrays emblematic figures like George Antonius, author of The Arab Awakening; Jordan’s King Hussein; the Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled; Salem bin Laden; Saudi King Faisal; President Nasser of Egypt; and Hillel Kook, the forgotten rescuer of more than 100,000 Jews during World War II.

Bird, his parents sympathetic to Palestinian self-determination and his wife the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, has written a “kaleidoscopic and captivating” (Publishers Weekly) personal history of a troubled region and an indispensable addition to the literature on the modern Middle East.

About The Author

Kai Bird is the coauthor with Martin J. Sherwin of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which was the inspiration for the film Oppenheimer, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. His other books include The Chairman: John J. McCloy, the Making of the American Establishment, The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy & William Bundy, Brothers in Arms, and The Outlier. Bird is the winner of the 2024 BIO Award for his contributions to the art and craft of biography. His many other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the German Marshall Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation. A contributing editor of The Nation, he lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, with his wife and son.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (April 20, 2010)
  • Length: 448 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439171608

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Raves and Reviews

“Engaging and insightful… Crossing Mandelbaum Gate is a compelling corrective that can force even reluctant readers to look at the Middle East anew…. A powerful and unflinching book.”—James Gibney, The American Scholar

“Acute and engaging… Bird puts me somewhat in mind of Edward Said’s memoir, Out of Place…. Bird devotes the last third of his text to a reconstruction of his Austrian Jewish wife’s family history during and after the Shoah. His intention here is as admirable as it is plain, and these pages contain some stirring and even uplifting material about human survival. But this serves only to make his genuine evenhandedness more poignant.”—Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic

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