Mead leads us with an even tone and expert hand through centuries of history, and through disparate topics including Puritan theology, the politics at the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the personality of Billy Graham ... In the guise of a book about Israel and America, in other words, Mead has actually written an ambitious and idiosyncratic history of large swaths of Western politics and thought. Implicitly, and perhaps even more important, the book makes a case that complicated and sensitive topics can still be covered with balance, sympathy, and even occasional humor ... Most striking, for this reader, was the reminder of the depth of Zionist enthusiasm in non-Jewish America, where the idea of a literal Jewish return to the Land of Israel was popular among Christians long before it caught on among Jews ... impressive and timely.
Mead sets the record straight by presenting a long and nuanced alternative history of U.S.-Israel relations ... less a history of U.S.-Israel policy than a sweeping and masterfully told history of U.S. foreign policy in general, as seen through the lens of the U.S.-Israel relationship ... Given the book’s hefty size, it’s only fair to ask whether these asides feel extraneous. Few do. Mead is so fluent on such a broad range of topics — from history to religion to policy to politics — that I learned something new from each of his detours. And he’s such a good craftsman — the prose is among the best I’ve encountered in 25 years of reviewing foreign-policy books — that when he does occasionally stray beyond the strictly necessary, it’s hard to object. Does the book really need an account of President Benjamin Harrison’s struggles to quit smoking? Probably not. But reason not the need; the inclusion of such colorful details only makes the book more vivid and enriching ... Despite all the information that The Arc of a Covenant packs in, moreover, it never loses sight of a key argument, which is an extended attack on the 'rancid urban legend' known as the Israel Lobby theory ... Despite its polemical power, Mead manages to keep the book’s tone high-minded and generous; when discussing his, or Israel’s, adversaries, he always strives to give everyone the benefit of the doubt ... Well, almost always. No book is perfect, and The Arc of a Covenant is no exception. For some reason, Mead’s generosity of spirit fails him when he gets to the Obama administration, which he scornfully describes as naïve and inept — criticisms he largely spares both George W. Bush and (most mysteriously) Donald Trump, despite both presidents’ equal or greater failures. Another quibble: The book would benefit from clearer sourcing, especially when making controversial claims ... Finally, at the book’s end I found myself wishing, if not for policy recommendations, then at least for predictions about where Mead thinks the U.S.-Israel relationship is headed. He’s so good at laying out the real but often-overlooked forces that shape this alliance, while puncturing the mythological ones, that I’d love to get his take on its future prospects — especially at this moment, when global politics and U.S. foreign policy are being scrambled in so many baffling ways ... But I suppose that will have to wait for Mead’s next book. The good news is that, judging from the quality of this one, it’s bound to be brilliant too.
... magisteria ... Any careful reader will come away from this book armed with facts, history and context, and with a clarity absent from most discussions of the subject...this volume is more than timely — it is necessary ... Right up to today, Mead’s keen eye discerns strategies and patterns that may have gone unnoticed ... Mead’s assessment of the complicated entanglement of Jews, Israel and the United States testifies powerfully to the historian Marcus’s admonition about the imperative to understand the past to ensure the future. I suspect that Mead wrote this book to guide us there. The Arc of a Covenant, drawing from the past to speak to today, merits a wide audience.