Many recent prime ministers of Israel have been prolific self-chroniclers, but Ariel Sharon is an intensely private figure; even his autobiography, Warrior, focused principally, as its title suggests, on his career in the Israeli Defense Forces and the policy questions and controversies that revolved around it. Now, Anita Miller and Jordan Miller, together with journalist Sigalit Zetouni, have shed considerable light on the unique chronology of Sharon's life in their study, Sharon: Israel's Warrior-Politician (Academy Chicago, $32.50). Especially revealing are the chapters on Sharon's early life as a child of Russian settlers, who farmed land in the war-torn Yishuv (as the pre-Israeli Jewish settlement in Palestine was known). As a young man, Sharon began to study Middle Eastern history, hoping to deepen his grasp of Arab language and culture. But then as now, the region was convulsed by terrorist violence; in the early 1950s, Sharon was called away from his studies to lead IDF sorties against Arab terrorist gangs in Jerusalem. Soon he assembled a crack squad of both IDF veterans and army irregulars, who carried out a string of successful, lightning-fast raids -- effectively presaging his distinguished, maverick role in command of IDF forces in the 1967 Six Day War.

At times the authors, seeking to handle their controversial subject evenhandedly (and, as they put it, "without any distracting psychobabble"), can lay on detail a bit too thick: Fully two-thirds of this 600-page text is taken up with a recitation of events since the 1993 Oslo agreement. But as Western students of the region focus with renewed vigor on the roots of Muslim resentment in the Middle East, the arrival of a comprehensive biography of this extremely influential Israeli leader is timely and welcome.

-- Chris Lehmann