Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Jerusalem: The Biography

Jerusalem: The Biography

4.2 37
by Simon Sebag Montefiore

See All Formats & Editions

Jerusalem is the epic history of three thousand years of faith, fanaticism, bloodshed, and coexistence, from King David to the 21st century, from the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
How did this small, remote town become the Holy City, the “center of the world” and now the key to peace in


Jerusalem is the epic history of three thousand years of faith, fanaticism, bloodshed, and coexistence, from King David to the 21st century, from the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
How did this small, remote town become the Holy City, the “center of the world” and now the key to peace in the Middle East? In a gripping narrative, Simon Sebag Montefiore reveals this ever-changing city in its many incarnations, bringing every epoch and character blazingly to life. Jerusalem’s biography is told through the wars, love affairs, and revelations of the men and women who created, destroyed, chronicled and believed in Jerusalem. As well as the many ordinary Jerusalemites who have left their mark on the city, its cast varies from Solomon, Saladin and Suleiman the Magnificent to Cleopatra, Caligula and Churchill; from Abraham to Jesus and Muhammad; from the ancient world of Jezebel, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod and Nero to the modern times of the Kaiser, Disraeli, Mark Twain, Lincoln, Rasputin, Lawrence of Arabia and Moshe Dayan.
In this masterful narrative, Simon Sebag Montefiore brings the holy city to life and draws on the latest scholarship, his own family history, and a lifetime of study to show that the story of Jerusalem is truly the story of the world.  

A New York Times Notable Book 

Jewish Book Council Book of the Year

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

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."
The Economist

"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."
Financial Times 

"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."
Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Magnificent. . . . A spectacular book for general readers. . . . This is a book about the ages, for the ages."
Wichita Eagle
"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."
Library Journal
“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.”
Booklist (starred)
“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.”

Jonathan Rosen
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 story—so much so that his vastly enjoyable chronicle at times has a quasi-mythic aspect.
—The New York Times Book Review
Jackson Diehl
…sweeping and absorbing…a master of colorful and telling details and anecdotes…Montefiore's account is admirably dispassionate and balanced…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews

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.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.16(w) x 9.08(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


The Biography
By Simon Sebag Montefiore


Copyright © 2012 Simon Sebag Montefiore
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307280503

Excerpted from the Preface

The history of Jerusalem is the history of the world, but it is also the chronicle of an often penurious provincial town amid the Judaean hills. Jerusalem was once regarded as the centre of the world and today that is more true than ever: the city is the focus of the struggle between the Abrahamic religions, the shrine for increasingly popular Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism, the strategic battlefield of clashing civilizations, the front line between atheism and faith, the cynosure of secular fascination, the object of giddy conspiracism and internet mythmaking, and the illuminated stage for the cameras of the world in the age of twenty-four-hour news. religious, political and media interest feed on each other to make Jerusalem more intensely scrutinized today than ever before.
Jerusalem is the Holy City, yet it has always been a den of superstition, charlatanism and bigotry; the desire and prize of empires, yet of no strategic value; the cosmopolitan home of many sects, each of which believes the city belongs to them alone; a city of many names—yet each tradition is so sectarian it excludes any other. This is a place of such delicacy that it is described in Jewish sacred literature in the feminine— always a sensual, living woman, always a beauty, but sometimes a shameless harlot, sometimes a wounded princess whose lovers have forsaken her. Jerusalem is the house of the one God, the capital of two peoples, the temple of three religions and she is the only city to exist twice—in heaven and on earth: the peerless grace of the terrestrial is as nothing to the glories of the celestial. The very fact that Jerusalem is both terrestrial and celestial means that the city can exist anywhere: new Jerusalems have been founded all over the world and everyone has their own vision of Jerusalem. Prophets and patriarchs, Abraham, David, Jesus and Muhammad are said to have trodden these stones. The Abrahamic religions were born there and the world will also end there on the Day of Judgement. Jerusalem, sacred to the Peoples of the Book, is the city of the Book: the Bible is, in many ways, Jerusalem’s own chronicle and its readers, from the Jews and early Christians via the Muslim conquerors and the Crusaders to today’s American evangelists, have repeatedly altered her history to fulfil biblical prophecy.

When the Bible was translated into Greek then Latin and English, it became the universal book and it made Jerusalem the universal city. Every great king became a David, every special people were the new Israelites and every noble civilization a new Jerusalem, the city that belongs to no one and exists for everyone in their imagination. And this is the city’s tragedy as well as her magic: every dreamer of Jerusalem, every visitor in all ages from Jesus’ Apostles to Saladin’s soldiers, from Victorian pilgrims to today’s tourists and journalists, arrives with a vision of the authentic Jerusalem and then is bitterly disappointed by what they find, an ever-changing city that has thrived and shrunk, been rebuilt and destroyed many times. But since this is Jerusalem, property of all, only their image is the right one; the tainted, synthetic reality must be changed; everyone has the right to impose their “Jerusalem” on Jerusalem—and, with sword and fire, they often have.

Ibn Khaldun, the fourteenth-century historian who is both participant and source for some of the events related in this book, noted that history is so “eagerly sought after. The men in the street aspire to know it. Kings and leaders vie for it.” This is especially true for Jerusalem. It is impossible to write a history of this city without acknowledging that Jerusalem is also a theme, a fulcrum, a spine even, of world history. At a time when the power of Internet mythology means that the hi-tech mouse and the curved sword can both be weapons in the same fundamentalist arsenal, the quest for historical facts is even more important now than it was for Ibn Khaldun.

A history of Jerusalem must be a study of the nature of holiness. The phrase “Holy City” is constantly used to describe the reverence for her shrines, but what it really means is that Jerusalem has become the essential place on earth for communication between God and man.

We must also answer the question: Of all the places in the world, why Jerusalem? The site was remote from the trade routes of the Mediterranean coast; it was short of water, baked in the summer sun, chilled by winter winds, its jagged rocks blistered and inhospitable. But the selection of Jerusalem as the Temple city was partly decisive and personal, partly organic and evolutionary: the sanctity became ever more intense because she had been holy for so long. Holiness requires not just spirituality and faith but also legitimacy and tradition. A radical prophet presenting a new vision must explain the centuries that have gone before and justify his own revelation in the accepted language and geography of holiness—the prophecies of earlier revelations and the sites already long revered. Nothing makes a place holier than the competition of another religion.
Many atheistic visitors are repelled by this holiness, seeing it as infectious superstition in a city suffering a pandemic of righteous bigotry. But that is to deny the profound human need for religion without which it is impossible to understand Jerusalem. Religions must explain the fragile joys and perpetual anxieties that mystify and frighten humanity: we need to sense a greater force than ourselves. We respect death and long to find meaning in it. As the meeting-place of God and man, Jerusalem is where these questions are settled at the Apocalypse—the End of Days, when there will be war, a battle between Christ and anti-Christ, when the Kaaba will come from Mecca to Jerusalem, when there will be judgment, resurrection of the dead and the reign of the Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. All three Abrahamic religions believe in the Apocalypse, but the details vary by faith and sect. Secularists may regard all this as antique gobbledegook, but, on the contrary, such ideas are all too current. In this age of Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalism, the Apocalypse is a dynamic force in the world’s febrile politics.
Death is our constant companion: pilgrims have long come to Jerusalem to die and be buried around the Temple Mount to be ready to rise again in the Apocalypse, and they continue to come. The city is surrounded by and founded upon cemeteries; the wizened body-parts of ancient saints are revered—the desiccated blackened right hand of Mary Magdalene is still displayed in the Greek Orthodox Superior’s Room in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Many shrines, even many private houses, are built around tombs. The darkness of this city of the dead stems not just from a sort of necrophilia, but also from necromancy: the dead here are almost alive, even as they await resurrection. The unending struggle for Jerusalem—massacres, mayhem, wars, terrorism, sieges and catastrophes—have made this place into a battlefield, in Aldous Huxley’s words the “slaughterhouse of the religions,” in Flaubert’s a “charnel-house.” Melville called the city a “skull” besieged by “armies of the dead”; while Edward Said remembered that his father had hated Jerusalem because it “reminded him of death.”


Excerpted from Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore Copyright © 2012 by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE is a historian of Russia and the Middle East. Catherine the Great and Potemkin was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar won the History Book of the Year Prize at the British Book Awards. Young Stalin won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, the Costa Biography Award, and le Grande Prix de la biographie politique. Jerusalem: The Biography was a worldwide best seller. Montefiore’s books are published in more than forty languages. He is the author of the novels Sashenka and One Night in Winter, which won the Paddy Power Political Fiction Book of the Year Award in 2014. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Dr. Montefiore graduated from Cambridge University, where he received his PhD. He lives in London.


Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Jerusalem 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a blood filled page turner! It tells the the history of the holy city in all it's graphic, gory, reality.Prepare to read about historical figures without heavenly gloss about them. It is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is hard to put down, highly recomended!
Ron007 More than 1 year ago
The book is so dense that I have to write the review in stages. Its scope is majestic; the detail almost incredulous, the contents bloody, carnal and with unbelievable horrors, (perhaps with some unwitting) bias and interesting psychological insights. To illustrate: on page 66 he writes ‘Young Jews... somehow... managed to reverse their circumcision... surely a triumph of fashion over comfort’ (bias?). On page 114, ‘(The) Resurrection... is the defining moment of Christian faith... Archaeologists tend to believe that the body (of Christ) was simply removed and buried by friends...’ (bias?). ‘No one knows why (Constantine) embraced Christianity... though, like many brutally confident men, he adored his mother, Helena...’ (psychological)(p.152). Two pages later, ‘Crispus would not have been the first young man to have an affair with his stepmother nor the last to want one.’ (psychological). ‘Theodora died of cancer’ (around 540) (Was cancer understood then?) ‘Zangi... divorced one of his wives and then had her gang-raped by his grooms in the stables...’ (p.233). What has all this to do with Jerusalem? Everything! It is the crucible of all these antics, driven by power-struggle upon power-struggle; conquest upon conquest; construction then destruction; more construction and destruction. As he moves to more modern times (post French Revolution), he slips into errors that irk parts of Britain. ‘France was at war with England’ (p.324). No it wasn’t. England (and indeed, Wales) ceded sovereignty to Great Britain with the Union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707. Their Crowns were united in 1603 when Elizabeth I died without an heir; James VI of Scotland then becoming James I (p.313) of England as well. France was at war with Great Britain (and significantly, also Prussia). It seems churlish to highlight such things (given his sweep of history) but for small countries (Scotland in this case) it remains a correction that is much needed. In turn, I wonder how the Armenians must feel, having been significant players in the shaping of the community of Jerusalem; Armenia now a shadow of its former self (the confiscation of territory, including Mount Ararat by Lenin, as a gift to Turkey for example – but I digress). As more contemporary times enter the story, British names emerge as key players; Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and Balfour, with his famous (some argue, infamous) Declaration for example. It is almost poignant, as a Briton, to read about the British Mandate and the country’s obvious exhaustion to maintain it, which, along with the Suez debacle (with Israeli support), marked the end of Great Britain as a world power. The story ends with Israel’s incredible victory in the 6 Day War. For me, the maps and city plans at the end of the book are fascinating. Yet it’s the density of detail that proves, ultimately, to be so rivetting.
B-2 More than 1 year ago
Absolutely exceptional book. It is just what the name describes: meticulously researched , detailed, compassionate and well thought-through history of Jerusalem on all levels , from the streets to entire planet( somehow the City is affected by anything anywhere in the world and via versa). It is written in clear easy beautiful language ( no history PhD required to enjoy) and in my opinion equal to Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" in its majesty. It is of course impossible to write anything about Jerusalem without ruffing someones political or religious feathers, but the author strives for a balanced, objective story and achived this goal as far as any human can. I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return ( RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). This one is absolutely BK.
dwellNC More than 1 year ago
An engaging history of a troubled city that is the center of the three Abrahamic religions. After reading this it seems that the city belongs to no-one and everyone. Filled with murder and violence conquest and hope, its hard to imaging peace ever coming to the city. Reading Jerusalem will definitely reward you with a good history of the city while at the same time leave you wondering why, for so long, people have been killing each other in the name of their God.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The worst of humanity told in tje context the major city from which it all started, all based on superstition and myth produced by crazy people and leaders. If they had psychiatry and asylums back then history might have been a lot better. The book left me with little hope for mankind if so much sorrow could be produced over a big pile of rocks tjat should be leveled once and for all and forgotten. Religion poisons everything and this great bio of the holy city provides more proof.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
pb123 More than 1 year ago
It's got a lot of interesting information, but it's pretty dense and boring at times. So and so was king, and then he died, and then so and so became king. He fought X, and died, then Y became king....A lot of that, which made me skip some of it. But I did enjoy a lot of it, and it made me want to visit the city, so on the whole it was worth it, just not a page turner.
OldDeadGuys More than 1 year ago
Montefiore does a great job telling the story of this amazing city. Covering such a breadth of time and intrigue in a straightforward and entertaining way. At points it reads as a mystery more than a history. He also does a great job remaining 'above the ray' when it comes to taking sides in the many challenging debates in this entirely complex city that has its very own life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The history is fascinating, as a Catholic I find some of it questionable and this has prompted me to look into other history of the time. I would highly recommend this book to any serious reader interested in the history of this remarkable city.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago