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Simon Sebag Montefiore's 'Jerusalem: The Biography' tells the story of Jerusalem through the ages, starting from its hidden beginnings to its place in present day Palestine and Israel. Montefiore's writing style keeps the reader interested, while the content captivates you. This city has a story that needs to be heard.
Spanning three millennia Montefiore's treats Jerusalem as a Israelite, Jewish, Pagan Christian, Muslim, Crusader, Mamluk, Ottoman and International City. The material is vast, yet Montefiore is able to weave together a gripping account of the many phases and faces of the holy city through time. It is difficult to keep your mind wrapped around all the facts shared in this book.
There is one thing that did hinder me, and for which I do not have a solution. Due to the vastness of Montefiore's subject matter, while using most of the time the newest insights into the founding of the different faiths, like Christianity, Judaism and Islam, he tends to be uncritical towards some of the sources, especially when using the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible to describe the beginnings of this city. At times he seems to be at the forefront of what secular scholarship says about important characters, while at other times he seems to be completely ignorant and almost parrots the ancient sources like Josephus and even when it suits, the Gospels. This brings a mix-up of perceived fact and that which is actually fiction. One wonders at times what to believe and what not.
That said, I couldn't find any clear preference for a specific group of people that laid claim to Jerusalem over the centuries. His bringing together of a vast array of sources to paint the biography of this spectacular city, helps the listener to see the bigger picture of how the puzzle of politics surrounding the city in various era fit together. His explanation of Herod's role within the Ancient Near East and how he fitted in with Anthony and Augustus is just one example.
I found the later parts of the book (the founding of the State of Israel etc.) more difficult than the earlier parts. What became clear is how complex the issues surrounding Jerusalem has become. The book also challenges your own prejudices and traditional stance towards the holy city.
Andrew Sachs does a superb job in reading this book. He has an easy to listen to voice.
The book comes highly recommended.
Fascinating history of Jerusalem. I look forward to reading the unabridged edition some time soon.
Would you listen to Jerusalem again? Why?
Yes - Montefiore describes so many intrigues and atrocities, I really need to read it again to get more of it straight in my head. But before I read this book again, I need to read some Jane Austen or PG Wodehouse to recover.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Jerusalem?
I found the story of the Crusades particularly interesting, though also horrifying for the way both sides gloried in the grisly deaths of their opponents.
Which character – as performed by Andrew Sachs – was your favourite?
He didn't exactly perform characters - this is history.
Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
It made me feel quite sick at several points. If I were a cryer I'm sure I would have cried.
Any additional comments?
I am again highly impressed by Montefiore's grasp of history and his narrative skill.