Dan Senor and Saul Singer, the authors of the new, best-selling Start-Up Nation, have done the impossible: They've written a book that doesn't examine Israel through the prism of its conflict with the Arabs. Instead, they've produced a fascinating and illuminating look at the reasons Israel has become one of the world's prime incubators of technological innovation. This is a story about Israel, of course, but it's a story with universal implications. "Start-Up Nation" is, among other things, an indispensable business book. I wish I had thought to write it. I spoke with Dan Senor by phone last week, and here is an edited version of our discussion.
Jeffrey Goldberg: This book is a reminder that Israel, despite its many problems -- many of them inflicted from the outside, some self-inflicted -- is a remarkable success story, and I'm wondering what sparked your curiosity about Israel's technological achievements.
Dan Senor: Originally the idea was not to do a book -- when I was in my second year of Harvard Business School in 2001, I took a group of thirty students to Israel, three of them were Jewish, twenty-seven were not, and had no connection to Israel. The idea was to look at the economic opportunities in Israel and also study the history and the politics. It was at a pretty depressing time -- there was a good entrepreneurial economy story there, but it was during the Second Intifada. And I took all these students - to their credit, none of them pulled out even though literally the day we were leaving things were blowing up -- and my classmates were all saying to me, "I get it. There's huge economic opportunity here for people who are willing to invest here and do business here." But even more than that, I was struck by the question of how they pulled it off. It's a very young country, very difficult environment, there are no natural resources, no access to regional capital or regional markets. If you were to paint a picture of the circumstances under which you're not going to have a successful economic developing country, it would be Israel.