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The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD

The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD

3.2 10
by Simon Schama

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In this magnificently illustrated cultural history—the tie-in to the pbs and bbc series The Story of the Jews—simon schama details the story of the jewish people, tracing their experience across three millennia, from their beginnings as an ancient tribal people to the opening of the new world in 1492

It is a story like no other: an epic


In this magnificently illustrated cultural history—the tie-in to the pbs and bbc series The Story of the Jews—simon schama details the story of the jewish people, tracing their experience across three millennia, from their beginnings as an ancient tribal people to the opening of the new world in 1492

It is a story like no other: an epic of endurance in the face of destruction, of creativity in the face of oppression, joy amidst grief, the affirmation of life despite the steepest of odds.

It spans the millennia and the continents—from India to Andalusia and from the bazaars of Cairo to the streets of Oxford. It takes you to unimagined places: to a Jewish kingdom in the mountains of southern Arabia; a Syrian synagogue glowing with radiant wall paintings; the palm groves of the Jewish dead in the Roman catacombs. And its voices ring loud and clear, from the severities and ecstasies of the Bible writers to the love poems of wine bibbers in a garden in Muslim Spain.

In The Story of the Jews, the Talmud burns in the streets of Paris, massed gibbets hang over the streets of medieval London, a Majorcan illuminator redraws the world; candles are lit, chants are sung, mules are packed, ships loaded with gems and spices founder at sea.

And a great story unfolds. Not—as often imagined—of a culture apart, but of a Jewish world immersed in and imprinted by the peoples among whom they have dwelled, from the Egyptians to the Greeks, from the Arabs to the Christians.

Which makes the story of the Jews everyone's story, too.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Judith Shulevitz
Although…destined to become part of a two-volume set big enough to prop anything open, there's nothing thudding about it…Schama wisely avoids the grand narrative arc and homes in instead on the artifacts—the papyrus fragment, the synagogue mosaic, the illuminated atlas of the world—that yield telling vignettes…In the four decades since Schama first tried his hand at Jewish history, its study has burst out of seminaries and tiny, marginalized departments and become an extraordinarily fertile collective endeavor, in part because there were so many religiously tinged or frankly anti-Semitic misconceptions about Jews on hand for debunking. You'd think that the task of synthesizing the available information would be harder today than it was back then. But Schama has pulled it off with opinionated flair and literary grace…
The New York Times - Dwight Garner
…offers deep pleasures…Mr. Schama's The Story of the Jews, is exemplary popular history. It's engaged, literate, alert to recent scholarship and, at moments, winningly personal.
Publishers Weekly
★ 01/13/2014
Award-winning Columbia Univ. historian Schama, NBCC Award winner for Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution, brings to bear his gift for synthesizing mountains of information into a well-crafted, accessible narrative in this impressive volume that spans nearly 2,500 years and serves as a companion volume to a PBS series. His aim is to incorporate the telling details that make the past, and its people, live and breathe for a modern audience—“the prosaic along with the poetic: a doodle on a child’s Hebrew exercise page from medieval Cairo; battling cats and mice on a sumptuously illustrated Bible from Spain... the aggravation of an NCO sweating it out on a hilltop fort while the Babylonians are closing in.” He opens with a Jewish soldier on Elephantine in 475 B.C.E., known from a letter sent by his father, discovered again after two-and a-half millennia, and continues through the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal. Throughout, Schama offers cogent arguments for the credibility of numerous sources, including the controversial Josephus, and supports the notion advanced by Rabbi Gershon Cohen that assimilation had its benefits, by stimulating growth and creativity for the Jews. Maps & Illus. Agents: Michael Sissons & Caroline Michel; Peters, Fraser & Dunlop (U.K.) (Mar.)
Booklist (starred review)
“Schama has written an unconventional but masterful and deeply felt history of his people…”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Schama is a historian of prodigious and varied gifts. He can take a specific subject and drill deep; he can take a wide-angled view of many countries over long periods of time. He does both in this excellent first volume… Revealing and moving.”
Seattle Times
“Reading Schama is like sitting across from the world’s most dazzling dinner party guest…”
New York Review of Books
“The story that Schama tells is wide-ranging, well documented, delightful, amusing, personal, and inspring…”
New York Times
“Mr. Schama’s The Story of the Jews is exemplary popular history. It’s engaged, literate, alert to recent scholarship and, at moments, winningly personal.”
Haaretz (English edition)
“In his brilliant new history of the Jews, the unconventional scholar somehow manages to be simultaneously sentimental and subversive, consensual and contrarian - and we readers are the beneficiaries.”
Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Schama’s history flashes by with entertaining velocity…”
Chicago Tribune
“An energetic cascade of prose and erudition, rife with pointillist detail and witty colloquialisms…”
New York Times Book Review
“Schama writes history from below, and from the middle and other unexpected angles, resurrecting the unrecorded and long-forgotten, and analyzing the social and cultural forces that shaped his subjects’ lives… [he] has pulled it off with opinionated flair and literary grace.”
Los Angeles Times
“Stirring and fascinating”
Library Journal
Schama (art history & history, Columbia Univ.; The American Future: A History) presented a five-part BBC series of the same title last year, with this book published in the UK to be "organically interconnected" with the series. It is the first of a projected two volumes. (PBS will air the series beginning in late March.) Schama turns his attention to a topic that resonates with his own heritage, at once celebrating a rich and distinct religious history while also embracing the idea that Jews often lived side by side with other cultures and were to some extent integrated into them. He argues that "it was possible to be Jewish and Egyptian, just as later it would be possible to be Jewish and Dutch or Jewish and American." Schama's emphasis on acculturation is highlighted in his discussions of Jewish art, society, and even their religious practices having been influenced by cultures around them. Equally, he offers cases in which Jews were persecuted by neighbors as in Blois, France (1171 CE), and in forced conversions and mob rampages in Toledo, Spain, during the 1300s. The book ends with Spain's expulsion of the Jews in 1492. While Schama more than makes his case about cultural influences and immersion, the occasional pauses as he focuses intensely on the minutiae of a particular topic make his tempo uneven, a pattern that is made more challenging by his jumps back and forth in time. VERDICT Perhaps too cumbersome to absorb for a neophyte of Jewish history, the book (BBC/PBS series and illustrations not seen) is recommended for serious readers who would like a new interpretation of a well-covered subject.—Crystal Goldman, San Jose State Univ. Lib., CA
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-01-20
Witty, nimble and completely in his element, Schama (History and Art History/Columbia Univ.; Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Politics, Ice Cream, Churchill, and My Mother, 2011, etc.), in a book tie-in to a PBS and BBC series, fashions a long-planned "labor of love" that nicely dovetails the biblical account with the archaeological record. Indeed, as this densely written effort accompanies the visual story, the author fixes on a tangible element (such as papyrus, shard or document) in each chapter as a point of departure in advancing the early history of the Jews. For example, a missive in papyrus by a father to his missionary son from an island in the Upper Nile circa 475 B.C. illustrates the thriving expat Jewish community in Egypt, despite the dire "perdition" narrative about Egypt being written at the same time by the first Hebrew sages in Judea and Babylon. The remains of early synagogues in Hellenized Cyrenaica and elsewhere, built in a classical Greek temple style, with graphic mosaics, reveal how the Jews were intimately situated in their crossover surroundings. The inscriptions and excavations at Zafar (in present-day Yemen) attest to the Judaic conversion of the Kingdom of Himyar in the late fourth century, evidence that "the Jews were far from a tenuous, alien presence amid the ethnically Arab world of the Hijaz and the Himyar." In the long litany of persecution and suppression, climaxing but scarcely ceasing with the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70, the Jews had to scatter, taking their words with them, and the Torah was later enriched by the "picayune" codifications of the Mishnah and Talmud, all as a way "to rebuild Jerusalem in the imagination and memory." Schama is relentless in faulting the break between Christianity and Judaism as the spur to the subsequent phobia against the "pariah tribe." A multifaceted story artfully woven by an expert historian.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Story of the Jews , #1
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9 MB

Meet the Author

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University in New York. His award-winning books include Scribble, Scribble, Scribble; The American Future: A History; National Book Critics Circle Award winner Rough Crossings; The Power of Art; The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution; Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations); Landscape and Memory; Rembrandt's Eyes; and the History of Britain trilogy. He has written and presented forty television documentary films for the BBC, PBS, and The History Channel, including the Emmy-winning Power of Art, on subjects that range from John Donne to Tolstoy.

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The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
55T-Bird More than 1 year ago
I came across this book because I was looking for an overview of Jewish history. I have read previous works by Shama and I respect him as a historian and author so I assumed this would be a good read. But for anyone who is looking for a basic chronological history of the Jewish people, this is not it. At first I found Shama’s seemingly disjointed storytelling style to be confusing and sometimes frustrating– essentially, I felt like I was reading a continuous prologue and never getting to the real story. It took me several chapters (over 100 pages) to finally realize that Shama was detailing Jewish history, but not so much in a strict chronological recitation of facts as I expected. Instead he tells the history through the writings and artistry that were preserved over the generations. At times it becomes a story of singular characters and how their individual story fits into the overall history of the Jewish people.  Although I felt a little ashamed for not understanding Shama’s storytelling style sooner, once I did understand it, my frustration level with the book decreased and I was able to enjoy the story as Shama told it. There are so many fascinating and enlightening aspects of Jewish history as portrayed in this book. The Story of the Jews takes one on a journey through thousands of years, thousands of miles across the Middle East and into Europe, and through so many cultures where the Jewish people left their mark while either assimilating or segregating as needed. The story swings between periods when the Jews thrived and prospered amidst their non-Jewish neighbors, and periods when they had to fight for their survival pinched between the persecution inflicted by Christians on one side and the Arabs on the other. For me, knowing this history has provided insight into the modern-day Jewish culture, not only in the present-day nation of Israel, but throughout the world as Jewish people have dispersed from their beginnings in the ancient world.  Very interesting and very insightful and recommended for the history aficionado.  Only one complaint: the few sections on Jewish poets was tedious reading in my opinion and could have been summarized instead of including so much detail– but that is only personal opinion. I am enthusiastically awaiting  the second volume of The Story of the Jews!
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How to lose a customer who wants to buy a book in the bookstore? It is easy! Just do not have the book in the store when it is published at the same time it is available to be purchase o line. That is what happened to me when I tried to buy a copy of The Story of the Jews.