In James Carroll's provocative reading of the deep past, the Bible's brutality responded to the violence that threatened Jerusalem from the start. Centuries later, the mounting European fixation on a heavenly Jerusalem sparked both anti-Semitism and racist colonial contempt. The holy wars of the Knights Templar burned apocalyptic mayhem into the Western mind. Carroll's brilliant and original leap is to show how, as Christopher Columbus carried his own Jerusalem-centric worldview to the West, America too was powerfully shaped by the dream of the City on a Hill - from Governor Winthrop to Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan. The nuclear brinksmanship of the 1973 Yom Kippur War helps prove his point: religion and violence fuel each other, with Jerusalem the ground zero of the heat.
"What a remarkable book. I was blown away by the breadth and depth of it. Another hugely important book from James Carroll, right there with Constantine's Sword." (Reza Aslan, Contributing Editor, Daily Beast; Middle East analyst for CBS News)
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The author has a theory and spends a lot of time making the evidence fit it. The theory in essence is that Jerusalem in its mythological iconic form (and sometimes, in its reality) is at the heart of religion's love affair with death and war. Add to that his belief that Christianity and the Catholic church's systematic and institutionalized persecution of Jews is unforgiveable (I couldn't agree more) and that Israel, as a nation suffers from PTSD (a probably legitimate observation) ... well, this is a massively abbreviated version of the story.
In some ways, the book is a grab bag, full of religious or, depending on how you want to look at it, anti religious philosophy and/or history ... well, it's interesting albeit a bit overly ambitious (the book starts with the big bang and proceeds through human history). When he get to the conclusion, it is difficult to be entirely sure what he is saying. I suspect the ambiguity is intentional ... either that or he isn't entirely sure how to sum it all up and given the scope of the material he is attempting to synthesize, I can understand the problem.
For all that, he is a good writer and if he rambles and ranges far and wide through world history, theology and geo-political issues in various places and combinations, it is never dull. If the book has a flaw, it is the author's attempt to include absolutely everything.
Now, about the narration.
If he had bothered to learn the correct pronunciation of ANY of the locations in Israel and Jeruslam or any OTHER Hebrew word -- which are, after all, central to the book -- he would have gotten five stars. But he didn't. He mispronounces every single one of them, from Gush Emunim to Mea Shearim. He probably mangled the Arabic words too, but fortunately for me, I was not familiar with all of them, so it didn't bother me as much.He did some mangling of good old American words too, which was also jarring. But mostly, he's a good narrator and this was a long and fairly complicated book and he does a good job at handling it with verve and energy. Nonetheless, he should have taken the time to find out how things are pronounced. It's not that hard to get the information.Maybe it won't bother you, but it really annoyed me.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I didn't agree with all of it, not sure how I feel about some of it, disagree with parts of it, was not entirely sure what the author's conclusion mean but it was sufficiently thought provoking to make me willing to stay with it to the very end and listen to a couple of parts more than once, just to make sure I heard it right. I know that a lot of people react to this material very strongly, for good or ill.In my opinion, I think he was trying to be fair and for the most part, succeeded, but you can draw your own conclusions.
Definitely worth your time if you are historically and theologically inclined, or specifically interested in Jerusalem and it's place as a fulcrum in western civilization.
Very easy to listen to overview of the history of Jerusalem, from the perspective of a Catholic. Unfortunately some of his facts are not entirely accurate in the Jewish portion of the book, (from the perspective of an Orthodox Jew), which leads me to doubt some of the accuracy on some of the other facts of the less-known sects of Christianity and their views on Jerusalem. Overall though, it is a nice listen, written in a fairly balanced approach showing all sides of the land ownership over the ages.