Naama Barak
March 26, Updated March 31

Israel is one complex, complicated and fascinating place – and one definitely worth visiting, war permitting, of course. 

Should you be planning a visit here, whether now or a bit further down the line, we recommend you check out these top reads before you hop on the plane to get the lowdown on where to go, what to do, and what you can expect.

We hope you enjoy them, and your visit. Welcome to Israel!

1. Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses 

As the title of this book indicates, author Bruce Feiler quite literally walked the Bible, journeying from Mount Ararat in Turkey (where the biblical Noah’s Ark landed) all the way to Mount Nebo in Jordan (where Moses looked onto the Land of Israel), encompassing the many biblical sites in modern-day Israel and the area. The engaging book covers archeology, history, faith and politics, all wrapped up in a sense of adventure.

2. The Genius of Israel

In their new book, Dan Senor and Saul Singer, the duo that presented the world with Start-Up Nation, focus on what they now believe is actually Israel’s greatest innovation: Israeli society. They explore how values like solidarity and service shape Israelis and provide them with optimism, longevity and happiness, which translate into success in various fields. Their work is based on time spent with diverse Israelis from many walks of life, and in these difficult times can perhaps provide comfort in its applause for the Israeli spirit.  

3. Israel: A Traveler’s Literary Companion

A literary companion to Israel is a fabulous idea, especially when those penning the literature are Israel’s finest writers, such as David Grossman, A. B. Yehoshua, Orly Castel-Bloom and Etgar Keret. The authors explore different aspects of Israeli society and history in a collection of 16 short stories, and while this book is far from new, it still makes for captivating reading on the people who inhibit the land.

4. Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered

In her book, journalist Sarah Tuttle-Singer describes her firsthand experience of life in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City with the people who call this most tempestuous place a home. A great inside look into the everyday lives of the people living in the most famous city in the world, as well as the big ideas that encompass it.  

10 books to read before you visit Israel

5. Angels & Tahini: 18 lessons from Hiking the Israel Trail

The Israel Trail is Israel’s most famous, and longest, hike, covering the whole country. When life coach and psychotherapist Tzippi Moss backpacked the trail with her family, she discovered that the challenges she encountered, the people that she met and the views she admired all left her with life lessons. These resonate throughout the book, which is a great companion to people’s personal journeys, wherever they are.

6. Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Jerusalem is not only one of the most complicated cities in the world, but also an incredibly delicious one. In a love letter to their hometown – Yotam Ottolenghi is from its western, mostly Jewish part, and Sami Tamimi from the eastern, mostly Palestinian, side – the two chefs explore the cultures, peoples and tastes of the city with a collection of recipes. Like in all their other books, they provide detailed, step-by-step instructions on creating the flavors of their city and join in celebrating its different faiths, traditions and contemporary inhabitants.

10 books to read before you visit Israel

7. My Wild Garden

Meir Shalev, one of Israel’s best-loved authors, died last year, leaving in his wake a long list of wonderful literature. My Wild Garden stands out among his novels since it is made up of musings and anecdotes of his gardening attempts in his private garden in northern Israel. Alongside the horticultural theme is a beautiful love letter to his surroundings, life and heritage, encompassing the many little details that make up life in Israel. 

8. In and Around Jerusalem for Everyone: The Best Walks, Hikes and Outdoor Swimming

10 books to read before you visit Israel

Dr. Arnold Slyper loves hiking, and upon his retirement as a pediatric endocrinologist decided to try and help English-speakers in Israel access information about great walks and hikes in and around Jerusalem. He began by putting together a website, then turning it into this book, and even ended up leading hikes himself in the area. Whether or not you actually plan to hike the area, the book is a great resource on the history of the featured sites.

9. Good Night Israel

If you’re heading to Israel with toddlers or returning from a trip here with them, Good Night Israel, part of the Good Night Our World series, is a great book. The board book explores the many sites of Israel in beautiful illustrations and simple language to help your kids prepare for their travels or reminisce about their wonderful vacation. 

10. To the End of the Land

10 books to read before you visit Israel

David Grossman’s book about journeys, families, love and loss tells the harrowing story of a woman who goes hiking to avoid being home in case the army comes to inform her of her soldier son’s death. Her logic is – if she’s not home to hear the news, it won’t happen. Grossman wrote this bestseller during his son’s military service, and completed it after he was killed in war. Read this to better understand the anxiety and fear — as well as the lifeforce and love — present in the life of so many Israelis. 

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