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A History of the Jews Paperback – September 14, 1988

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st US edition (September 14, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060915331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060915339
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (169 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Paul Johnson says that writing A History of the Jews was like writing a history of the world "seen from the viewpoint of a learned and intelligent victim." Johnson's history begins with the Bible and ends with the establishment of the State of Israel. Throughout, Johnson's history is driven by a philosophical interest: "The Jews," he writes, "stand right at the centre of the perennial attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose. Does their own history suggest that such attempts are worth making? Or does it reveal their essential futility?" Johnson's history is lucid, thorough, and--as one would expect of almost any project with such a broad scope--a little wrong-headed. By the end of the book, readers will be grateful for Johnson's questioning of the Jews' confidence in their cosmic significance. However, readers may also be a little annoyed by his energetic inquiries as to whether this significance was man-made or providentially provided. Either way, it's a given: for a historian of Israel, this should adequately settle the question. Johnson's 600-page history is probably the best we've got by a living gentile--which is no small accomplishment at all. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

Less a seminal contribution than a distillation of a wide range of sources, this history of the Jews focuses on their four-millennia interplay with, and adaption to, other, often hostile, civilizationsa "world history seen from the viewpoint of a learned and intelligent victim." Weaving biblical and archeological data, Johnson (Modern Times and A History of Christianity is particularly deft at placing the patriarchs and early Israelites (the Bronze Age through the destruction of the First Temple) in their historical context. His dense, somewhat arbitrary, capsule extols Judaic rational scholarshipwhich contributed to ethical monotheism and the 18th-century economic system, in turnand denigrates mystic kabbalah"heresy of the most pernicious kind." Although Johnson, who seeks to acknowledge "the magnitude of the debt Christianity owes to Judaism," traces "an inherent conflict" between the religion and the state of Israel through the various ages, the work is incontrovertibly sympathetic to Zionism. BOMC and QPBC featured alternates; author tour.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Beginning with Modern Times (1985), Paul Johnson's books are acknowledged masterpieces of historical analysis. He is a regular columnist for Forbes and The Spectator, and his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.

Customer Reviews

Good book, hard read.
Johnson's book, as a history of the Jews, thus is an excellent text, as well as being a good read.
Richard A. KUlick
This book may provide some of the answers.
Harold Reisman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

261 of 265 people found the following review helpful By dougrhon on March 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is my third book by British historian Paul Johnson. There is no question that he is an extremely talented writer and an excellent but opinionated historian. As always this combination makes for a lively and exciting read. Johnson states in the introduction that, as a believing Christian, he feels he owes much to the Jewish people who he greatly admires. He therefore felt that he wanted to write a complete history. It proves that a good Jewish history does not need to be written by a Jew. Johnson divides Jewish history into a series of epochs, each one of which consumes a part in the book. The chapters are called "Israelites" which covers the biblical period, "Judaism" which covers the period from the building of the Second Temple through the early Christian and early Islamic period, "Cathedocracy" in which Johnson deals with the experience of the Jews under medieval Christendom and Islam, "Ghetto" which deals with the late Medieval and Renaissance period in Europe. "Emancipation" which discusses the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, "Holocaust" which needs no further explanation and "Zion" which covers not only the birth of modern Israel but also the post-war Jewish experience world wide.
This book is enormously detailed and highly opinionated. Johnson's affection for the Jewish people shines through on virtually every page. Never one to hedge on a conclusion, Johnson has opinions on everyone from Abraham to Begin. My favorite chapter was the opening one, "Israelites". Here Johnson attempts to use similarities between biblical descriptions and known facts of other ancient civilzations to demonstrate that the bible, from Abraham forward is essentially historical. This section will be of enormous interest to everyone, whatever your knowledge of the bible.
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161 of 167 people found the following review helpful By Menashe Aaron on August 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
As an Orthodox Jew, an "insider", I was absolutely (and positively) amazed to see an "outsider", like Mr. Johnson, penetrate through the layers of confusion and misunderstandings and really "gets it". In the words of Rabbi Berel Wein (a contemporary Jewish historian), "Mr. Johnson did a much better job than many secular Jewish historians". There are many things I disagree with in this book but more often then not I found myself nodding in agreement and underlining key sentences. All this is my commentary on the CONTENTS of the book, when it comes to lucidity, choice of words and philosophical depth, well... Brilliant is putting it mildly. This book is a must-read for Jews and non-Jews alike!
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135 of 144 people found the following review helpful By David E. Levine on July 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
I have read histrories of the Jews by at least half a dozen authors and I rate Johnson's as the best. Just as he successfully captured the character of the American people in "A History of the American People," so too, he captures the essence of Judaism, it's culture and history. What is remarkable about these two works is he is not an American (he's English) nor Jewish (he's Roman Catholic) yet observing from the "outside," he does great justice to both America and to Jews. I consider myself to be well versed in Jewish history and traditions. I am well read on the subject and, indeed, I have taught a college course in Judaism (at Marymount College in Tarrytown, NY). I find Johnson's views to be insightful and his facts to be laid out with no glaring errors. Starting in prebiblical times and continuing to the present, he tells a remarkable story. If you read only one history of the Jews, you would do well to select this one.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By P.K. Ryan on September 2, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paul Johnson's `History of the Jews' is a well written, entertaining, and informative 4000-year history of the Jewish people. Coming in at just under 600 pages, it is exhaustive, and thus an exhausting read. Johnson makes no secret of his deep admiration for the Jews-he is a Christian who feels religiously in debt to them-and thus the entire book is written from a highly philo-Semitic perspective. The book is arranged chronologically into the following seven sections:

Part One: Israelites
Part Two: Judaism
Part Three: Cathedocracy
Part Four: Ghetto
Part Five: Emancipation
Part Six: Holocaust
Part Seven: Zion

In the Prologue, Johnson writes; "At a very early stage in their collective existence they believed they had detected a divine scheme for the human race, of which their own society was to be a pilot. They worked out their role in immense detail. They clung to it with heroic persistence in the face of savage suffering. Many of them believe it still. Others transmuted it into Promethean endeavors to raise our condition by purely human means."

Now this seems to be an accurate appraisal of the essence of Judaism, and a worldview with which Johnson agrees. He clearly believes that the Jews are God's gift to mankind and they, the enlightened ones, are here to lead the gentiles along the path to righteousness. He believes the Jews hold a "special genius" that the rest of us apparently don't. He cites their numerous contributions throughout the ages, starting with the concept of ethical monotheism, and continuing on with an "endless continuum of patient study, fruitful industry" and an untiring commitment to bettering the human condition.
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