The purpose of this book is to sketch the persona of David Ben-Gurion and interpret some of his feats in a way that departs from the conventional wisdom. This is because the conventional wisdom, for better or worse, is strongly evident in the descriptions of his actions, from the beginning of his career until its apex in the 1930s through the 1960s. My intention, in contrast, is to offer a historical explanation for these actions and probe the man's inner world both before and after this period and, by so doing, to portray a man who combined intellectualism and leadership in a singular way. These two terms require clarification: Even though no one disputes that Ben-Gurion was a leader, the hybrid coinage of “leader-intellectual” is a concept that contemporary readers might dismiss with hardly a thought on the grounds that such trappings do not suit Ben-Gurion, that their depth does not fit his coarse demeanor. If anyone deserves this sobriquet, they would say, it is Ben-Gurion's colleague Berl Katznelson, regarded as the spiritual leader of the mainstream Zionist Labor Movement.
One is tempted to compare and contrast these two figures, yet my aim is to analyze and explain – rather than merely describe – Ben-Gurion's practical pursuits and intellectual interests, particularly those that in my opinion have not been interpreted in the correct light; to set him in his proper place within the Israeli and Jewish history in which he acted; and to define these periods of time and the man who tried to shape them, foiled though he was by historical changes that took place because of his own deeds, as well as the historical processes that transcended any individual's capacity to mold, such as the Holocaust.