Popular historian Montefiore (Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar) presents a panoramic narrative of Jerusalem, organized chronologically and delivered with magisterial flair. Spanning eras from King David to modern Israel with rich anecdotes and vivid detail, this exceptional volume portrays the personalities and worldviews of the dynasties and families that shaped the city throughout its 3,000-year history. Montefiore explains how religious and political influences created the city’s character, while fostering its stature as a center of the Western religious world. He effectively demonstrates how political necessity stimulated and inspired religious devotion and how the portrayal of Jerusalem as a holy city sacred to three religions is relatively recent. Chapters are organized by epochs: Judaism, paganism, Christianity, Islam, Crusade, Mamluk, empire, and Zionism, with the body of the book ending with the Six-Day War. A balanced epilogue considers Jerusalem in the context of recent events. Drawing upon archival materials, archeological findings, recent scholarship, and his own family’s papers (he is descended from the 19th-century Jewish leader Moses Montefiore), Montefiore delivers Jerusalem’s unfolding story as epic panorama and nuanced documentary history, suitable for general and scholarly audiences. Photos and maps. (Oct.)
Few historians have demonstrated the vision, mastery, and boldness necessary to publish on a subject so vast and in such detail as Montefiore (Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar). Since Jerusalem's origins as a settlement more than 5000 years ago, its history, in the author's citation of 19th-century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, is "the history of the world." Montefiore explains the city's significance to the three Abrahamic faiths, the idiosyncrasies of its builders and conquerors, and the persistent perception there of a "divine presence." Montefiore starts with King David (he takes the Old Testament as the historical source), gets to the "quixotic and risky but pious" Crusades about halfway through the book, and goes on to note such "pilgrims" as Rasputin and Mark Twain. He confronts challenging questions, including the destruction of the Temple at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. and by Titus in 70 C.E. and the remarkable "Dome of the Rock," and he moves onward to the creation of modern Israel. VERDICT A marvelous panorama for all readers with an interest in religious studies or world history. [See Prepub Alert, 4/4/11.]—Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ.-Erie
The sanguinary story of thousands of years of conflict in the home city of religions.
Perhaps it's impossible to write disinterested history, but Montefiore (Young Stalin, 2007, etc.) endeavors to do so—and largely succeeds. The author sees Jerusalem not just as the setting for some of history's most savage violence—some of the butchery makes Titus Andronicus look like a Sesame Street segment—but a microcosm of our world. Our inability to achieve sustained peace there is emblematic of our failures around the globe. Montefiore begins in 70 CE with the assault of the Roman leader Titus (not Andronicus) on Jerusalem, an attack featuring thousands of crucifixions of Jews—not to mention eviscerations to extract from the bowels of the victims the valuables they'd swallowed. The author then retreats to the age of the biblical David, and away we go, sprinting through millennia, pausing only for necessary explanations of politics, religion, warfare and various intrigues. The story is horribly complex, and Montefiore struggles mightily to make everything clear as well as compelling, but the vast forest of names, places, events sometimes thoroughly conceals some small treasure at its heart. Still, the history is here: Nebuchadnezzar, the Herods, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Pilate, Caligula, Paul, Titus, Justinian, the Arabs and the Muslims, the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Suleiman, Ottomans, Napoleon, Disraeli, Lawrence of Arabia, Zionism. There are even some guest appearances by Thackeray, Twain and Melville. Suddenly, we are in the 20th century, and only the names and the killing technology have changed. The author ends with the 1967 Six-Day War and with some speculations about the future.
An essential text, bathed in blood, lit with faint hope.
In Jerusalem: The Biography, Simon Sebag Montefiore unleashes so many kings, killers, prophets, pretenders, caliphs and crusaders, all surfing an ocean of blood, that the reader may begin to long for redemption, not from the book, which is impossible to put down, but from history itself…Montefiore…has a fine eye for the telling detail, and also a powerful feel for a good storyso much so that his vastly enjoyable chronicle at times has a quasi-mythic aspect.
The New York Times Book Review
…sweeping and absorbing…a master of colorful and telling details and anecdotes…Montefiore's account is admirably dispassionate and balanced…
The Washington Post
Jewish Book Council Book of the Year
"Spectacular. [Montefiore] really tells you what the life of the city has been like and why it means so much. You fall in love with the city. It's a treasure. It's a wonderful book."
—Bill Clinton, #1 Holiday Book Pick on the Today show
"Magnificent. . . Montefiore barely misses a trick or a character in taking us through the city's story with compelling, breathless tension."
—Wall Street Journal
"Impossible to put down. . . . Vastly enjoyable."
—New York Times Book Review
"A powerful achievement. . . . At once a scholarly record and an exuberantly written popular tour de force."
—New York Review of Books
"Magisterial. . . . As a writer, Montefiore has an elegant turn of phrase and an unerring ear for the anecdote that will cut to the heart of a story. . . . A joy to read."
"Already a classic. Jerusalem is an extraordinary achievement, written with imagination and energy. . . . Simon Sebag Montefiore tells this modern story with clarity and admirable impartiality. . . . Read this book."
"Montefiore’s towering biography of the city relates in fascinating, horrific and sometimes comical detail the wars to annexe its symbolic sanctity and the daily lives of its inhabitants. This monument of scholarly research is also a compelling story: of human foibles, lust, bravery and chicanery."
—The Times of London
"Densely textured. . . . Montefiore embraces Jerusalem’s paradoxes in his chronological account, which seeks to avoid hindsight and disclaims a political agenda. He succeeds admirably in remaining evenhanded, a particularly notable achievement."
—Los Angeles Times
"A memorable and distinguished history of a city where ‘the truth is much less important than the myth’. . . . Splendidly evoked."
"Magnificent. . . . A spectacular book for general readers. . . . This is a book about the ages, for the ages."
"Sweeping and absorbing. . . . Montefiore is a master of colorful and telling details and anecdotes. . . . His account is admirably dispassionate and balanced."
—Washington Post Book World
"In his stunningly comprehensive history, Simon Sebag Montefiore covers 3,000-plus years of the Earth’s most fiercely contested piece of geography. . . . Not only has Montefiore delivered a piece of superb scholarship, he has done so in an extremely easy-to-read style. The author tells the history of the complex relationships that existed between long-dead peoples in a manner that makes them seem human and understandable. . . . Meticulously researched."
—The Newark Star-Ledger
"Few historians have demonstrated the vision, mastery, and boldness necessary to publish on a subject so vast and in such detail as Montefiore. . . . A marvelous panorama."
“This is an essential book for those who wish to understand a city that remains a nexus of world affairs. . . . Although his Jewish family has strong links to the city, Montefiore scrupulously sustains balance and objectivity. . . . Beautifully written, absorbing.”
“A panoramic narrative of Jerusalem, organized chronologically and delivered with magisterial flair. Spanning eras from King David to modern Israel with rich anecdotes and vivid detail, this exceptional volume portrays the personalities and worldviews of the dynasties and families that shaped the city throughout its 3,000-year history.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“An essential text, bathed in blood, lit with faint hope. . . . The author sees Jerusalem not just as the setting for some of history’s most savage violence but a microcosm of our world. . . . The story is horribly complex, and Montefiore struggles mightily to make everything clear as well as compelling.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Four thousand years of history absolutely romped through—a masterwork.”
—The Evening Standard (UK)
“Immensely readable. . . . Montefiore is that rarest of things: a historian who writes great, weighty tomes that read like the best thrillers. . . . [He] has a visceral understanding of what makes history worth reading. [Montefiore] manages to bring people who have been dead for two millennia alive again and make them breathe, and he has insight into the mind of psychopathic tyrants that makes you wish he were working for the U.S. secretary of state.”