Customer Reviews


215 Reviews
5 star:
 (115)
4 star:
 (47)
3 star:
 (23)
2 star:
 (15)
1 star:
 (15)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


300 of 312 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most fascinating and enjoyable read of a history
I came to this book as an Arab reader, growing up with songs, poems, and books written about beloved Jerusalem, but never have I come across a book offering such a luxurious detailed and honest view and at such a scale! Written with remarkable neutrality and taking us through the diverse and rich history of the most disputed and news making region in the world! This...
Published on May 16, 2011 by Asmahan

versus
78 of 94 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Little better editing please
I'd be happier with closer proof reading. The Mediterranean isn't eastward of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar didn't take Jerusalem 100 years before he was born, and Jesus isn't the Aramaic for Joshua. Yes, it's a well written book, but these clinkers make me unwilling to accept it as authoritative.
Published on November 17, 2011 by J. Stewart Schneider


‹ Previous | 1 222 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

300 of 312 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most fascinating and enjoyable read of a history, May 16, 2011
I came to this book as an Arab reader, growing up with songs, poems, and books written about beloved Jerusalem, but never have I come across a book offering such a luxurious detailed and honest view and at such a scale! Written with remarkable neutrality and taking us through the diverse and rich history of the most disputed and news making region in the world! This comprehensive, and unpatronising treatment of Jerusalem's past is neither overwhelmingly scholarly to gloss over the gory (and fascinating) details, nor too hurried as to miss out important facts. Simon Sebag Montefiore combines the rare talent of total political and cultural understanding with a great and most eloquent narrating skill!

"Jerusalem, the Biography" is a new sort of History, written as a biography, through the people who made Jerusalem, starting with King David and ending with Barrack Obama, over a span of 3000 years. Each section is about a person who, made, destroyed, believed in, or fought for Jerusalem, some are ordinary people, some are monsters and dictators. There is massacre, siege, blood, violence, but also beautiful poetry.

The story of Jerusalem, is truly (as the author expressed) the story of the world, as well, of the Middle East, of religion, of holiness, of empire! I was thrilled to read about one of the greatest philosophers, the Arab historiographer "Ibn Khaldoon", about Suleiman the Magnificent, Caliph Muawiya, Saladin Dynasty, Druze princess and angelic voiced Singer "Asmahan", the Hashemite (Sherifian) Dynasty, and most exciting to read was some poignant poetry by Nizar Qabbani.

One can read it as an adventure story, or as an explanation of why the Middle East is what it is today, I felt infused with great knowledge, one that I could never acquire if I read a thousand books. The book offers correct answers and honest background of many of the issues of the region today such as, Israel vs. Palestine, America vs. Iran, written without an agenda, and with remarkable impartiality. And I must not forget the most fascinating details over the Apocalypse-the End of Days.

To fit such a swathe of history into a 650-page-turner is a bit of an art form in itself. The book also offers wonderfully informative illustrations and photographs, family trees, and even maps.

I thoroughly enjoyed three of Simon Sebag Montefiore's previous books (or rather masterpieces), but this has to be my most enjoyable read of a history, I have no words to do the author nor the book justice, well-paced and absolutely gripping, this book is a treasure -trove, and I highly recommend it for all readers of different faiths, political, cultural backgrounds, well versed in the Middle East or not.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


96 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jerusalem - a true masterpiece, June 22, 2011
Simon Montefiore has already proven himself as a superb biography writer in his works on Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsarand Catherine the Great and Potemkinamong others, he then made the very difficult transition of writing a novel - Sashenka: A Novel which once again impressed with a beautiful story and yes, the attention to historical detail that only a true expert is capable of.

In Jerusalem he surpassed himself. This was a true masterpiece - a biography of a city yet so much more. This isn't just a retelling of facts - through stories, anecdotes, and pages and pages of researched history you really feel as if you are stepping back through time and experiencing Jerusalem's history first hand.

Jerusalem is never boring, like the city itself it is vibrant, mysterious, and occasionally controversial. Yet even as I found myself disagreeing with the author - I was still enjoying the book. I could not put it down.

When discussing Jerusalem there will always be more than one voice, and more often than not those voices are raised, but Montefiore's Jerusalem tries to bring as many voices as possible and include them in the narrative. That is just one of the things that make Jerusalem unique.

I cannot recommend Jerusalem enough, it is a 'Must Read' - absolutely brilliant, I feel privileged to have read it and as always, wait impatiently to read what Simon Montefiore has in store.

For more reviews go to [...]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


75 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of erudite analysis, April 24, 2011
When I first started to read this book I was often quite irritated. The author clearly knew so much about the pre 19th century world of and around Jerusalem that I was frustrated that he did not go into more detail. The long succession of characters, the leaping over large gaps in time, all led me to put aside the book repeatedly. Yet I persevered and thank goodness I did. As it ran into the 19th and 20th centuries and the detail seemed to come more into view (or possibly I could see it just as one reads a book, identifying the shapes without having to recognise each letter).

And the object of the book began to become clearer (maybe I am none too bright and should have seen this earlier). It became more and more apparent that Jerusalem is almost a metaphor for human kind's frailties, faiths and prejudices. While many of the characters throughout history have been wise enough to realise that compromises and accommodation are possible without necessarily sacrificing all the principles they adhere to, regrettably there are others who can only see the world in a binary black and white, whether they be fundamentalist Christians, Islamists or Jews or whatever. These often use a very selective view of history to justify prejudice and religiously inspired mayhem.

I am in admiration of this remarkable work and wish to thank the author for providing many hours of enjoyable stimulation.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


78 of 94 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Little better editing please, November 17, 2011
By 
J. Stewart Schneider (Ashland, Kentucky USA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I'd be happier with closer proof reading. The Mediterranean isn't eastward of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar didn't take Jerusalem 100 years before he was born, and Jesus isn't the Aramaic for Joshua. Yes, it's a well written book, but these clinkers make me unwilling to accept it as authoritative.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent reading!!!, November 2, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This book is a real page turner! The violence depicted Is very graphic,and is not for the faint of heart. The author does not pull punches about the city's blood filled past, nor does he promote any one's religous viewpoint. All of the historical figures are covered without romanticism.It may make many uncomfortable by the time they finish reading It.Sure to stir controversy, this book is hard to put down, highly recomended!!!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oddity, March 10, 2013
This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Vintage) (Paperback)
This is a remarkable book in several ways, and I have rarely been so truly ambivalent when writing a review. The fact that the author foretells such reactions in his introduction does little to mitigate these feelings or justify his work.

On the one hand, the book is well-written and contains some fascinating detail. Montefiore knows how to do research and convey it in a readable and hence enjoyable fashion. I never find him tiresome, and I learn things constantly as I read. He has a way of incorporating details and then allowing the reader to see the bigger picture in a way that is truly admirable.

On the other hand, Montefiore is a rare combination of incredulity and naive, uncritical acceptance when it comes to the sacred. For example, he tersely declares that Herod's massacre of the innocents "never happened" (when even the most liberal scholars grudgingly admit such an act would be most like Herod, and since erstwhile historians would have little reason to record the death of a dozen peasant children in a sleepy village, silence is hardly an argument), while on the other hand speculating in almost tabloid fashion about Mary the mother of Jesus remarrying one Clopas (when different Marys are as common in the Gospel accounts as squirrels in an oak forest). In some cases, he makes absurd assertions that no self-respecting New Testament scholar would even think (such as Jesus' brother, James, being one of his original twelve apostles--that James only rose to prominence after the birth of the church). It is also odd that Montefiore tries to handle the Gospels critically (as he should), but elsewhere accepts their word at face value with no sense of a particular evangelist's redaction (Montefiore is seduced by Luke's details about Jesus' interaction with the Temple--apparently because it serves his narrative purpose--but seems entirely oblivious to the fact that the Temple is a major theological theme for Luke).

The book has value. But when dealing with the biblical accounts, especially vis-a-vis Josephus and other sources, Montefiore needs to be taken with not just a grain of salt but a salt shaker. He clearly does not understand those texts, and (for a historian) depends on them too much or too little as the case may, utilizing them clumsily and perhaps a bit fantastically in order to tell a story. This makes the whole suspect, I'm afraid, and seriously in need of cross-checking.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A near-definitive history of the only city that exists twice- one on earth and once in heaven!, October 31, 2011
By 
Coco Pazzo (Long Beach, CA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
There isn't much to say about the biography that hasn't been covered by the critics. For once, the hype is well deserved. The comprehensive history is written in a clear, concise page-turning style. Montefiore does not shirk away from covering controversial topics (the true size of David's city, the Arab-Israeli conflict, etc.) but instead clearly presents conflicting opinions that let the reader decide.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, October 18, 2012
By 
This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Vintage) (Paperback)
Simon Sebag-Montefiore's acclaimed and bestselling history of Jerusalem is an intriguing read, full of interesting lesser known facts, personages and new angles. At times, it reads almost like a well-paced novel, and is as hard to put down. Certainly, it provides a timely, as well as carefully balanced, account of this extraordinary city's long history, from the earliest times to the present day.

The prologue of this heavy volume begins with the destruction of the Second Temple and genocide of Jerusalem's Jewish population by the Roman legions commanded by Titus.
The first chapter proceeds with the period of Jerusalem's beginnings The father of the Israelite nation, Abraham who travelled to Canaan was greet by Melchizedek the priest-king of Salem in the name of El-Elyon the Most high God. This was the city's first mention in the Bible, suggesting Jerusalem was already a Canaanite shrine, ruled by priest-kings.

He continues with the capture of the town by King David of Israel who made the city great and made it is capital. Continuing through the
saga of the city and of the Land of Israel. The glorious reign of King Solomon was followed by the disastrous division of his kingdom into the realms of Judah and Israel and the two destruction of the two kingdoms-most catastrophically the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews to Babylon. Following on the growth of the Samaritans and the return of the Jews to their homeland at the behest of Persian Emperor Cyrus.

An incorrect bit is his referral to the ancient Land of Israel as Palestine , when speaking Irael in Biblical times
The term "Palestine" came from the name that the conquering Roman Empire gave the ancient Land of Israel in an attempt to obliterate and de-legitimize the Jewish presence in the Holy Land. The name "Palestine" was invented in the year 135 C.E. Before it was known as Judea, which was the southern kingdom of ancient Israel. The Roman Procurator in charge of the Judean-Israel territories was so angry at the Jews for revolting that he called for his historians and asked them who were the worst enemies of the Jews in their past history. The scribes said, "the Philistines." Thus, the Procurator declared that Land of Israel would from then forward be called "Philistia" [further bastardized into "Palaistina"] to dishonour the Jews and obliterate their history. Hence the name "Palestine."

Following on the return is the Hellenic period, the Maccabees and the coming of the Romans, together with the tyranny and bloody intrigues of the Herodian dynasty. The author has a controversial and interesting view of Jesus and the origins in Israel of Christianity. Then again Montefiore takes us the to Jewish Wars, the destruction by Titus of Jerusalem and exile of Jews from that city.

After the crushing of the Bar Kochba rebellion of 130 CE, Cassius Dio wrote of the Jews in that are that 'Very few survived. fifty of their outposts and 985 villages were raised to the ground and many more and many more by starvation, disease and fire' Roman Emperor Hadrian expunged the name Jerusalem and renamed it Aelia Capitolina
"Seventy five known Jewish settlements simply vanished" continues the author "So many Jews were enslaved at the Hebron slave market that they fetched less than a horse. Hadrian not only enforced the ban on circumcision but banned the Jews from even approaching Aelia on pain of death. Jerusalem had vanished. Hadrian wiped Judea off the map, deliberately naming it Palestina after Jews ancient enemies, the Philistines"

Interesting episodes in this digest include the brief return of Jerusalem to the Jews in 614 by Persian Emperor Shabaraz, known as the Royal Boar who two years later expelled the Jews and restored Christian rule.
In the section of the book on Mohammed it is interesting to note that in persecuting the Jews for refusing to adopt Islam, after expelling the Jews from Medina, executing the men and enslaving the women and children, then changed the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca. "God had destroyed the Jewish Temple because the Jews had sinned so they have not followed your qibla Jerusalem"
This has two very pertinent implications. by rejecting Jerusalem Mohammed was ironically confirming Jerusalem's Jewish essence. And one cannot therefore in all fairness affirm Jerusalem as being as central to Islam as it is to Judaism.

This relates the quibbles I have with Montefiore about this book. Montefiore espouses the thesis that Jerusalem belongs equally to Jews, Christians and Muslims. However it is self-evident in the history covered here that Mohammed rejected Jerusalem and made Mecca the Islamic centre. Jerusalem was later conquered by invading Arabs and absorbed into their empire. All Islamic rule of Jerusalem being an occupied part of the various Arab, Mamluk, and Ottoman Empires.

In the section on the Mamluks there is a discussion on the great Torah scholar Rabbi Moses ben Nachmann known as Nachmanides or the Ramban. Ramban believed that the Jews should not merely mourn Jerusalem, but return, settle and rebuild before the coming of the Messiah. In other words the Ramban was a pioneer of religious Zionism. Zionism is a movement that has existed ad developed since the Romans exiled the Jews from Jerusalem.

The reader can discover more in this volume about the Islamic persecution of Jews in Jerusalem and the Levant. It is a myth and pro-Islamic propaganda that that the Jews were well treated in this land during Islamic rule. In this period Jews in Jerusalem were prohibited from wearing white on their Sabbath or Muslim headgear or to wear nails in their shoes. Christian lived under similar ordinances. Both had to make way for Muslims in the streets. Oppressive fees were enforced with cruel violence.

"When a stray dog wondered onto the Temple Mount, the qadi ordered the killing of every canine in Jerusalem. As a special humiliation, every Jew and Christian had to deliver a dead dog to a collection point outside the Zion Gate. Gangs of children killed dogs and then gave their carcasses to the nearest infidel". The Jews were extorted and robbed and many left the city for this reason.

"The Polish Ashkenazis were broken finally in 1720 forcing imprisonment, banishment and bankruptcy, the synagogue burned down-this became known as the Ruin-the Hurva Synagogue. and remained a wreck for over a century. It was reconstructed in the 19th century but destroyed by the Jordanians in 1967".

In the 19th century the plight of the Jews under Ottoman rule was made worse. In April 1854 Karl Marx wrote in the New York Daily Tribune after a visit to Jerusalem "None equals the misery and suffering of the Jews of Jerusalem, inhabiting the most filthy quarter
constant objects of Musulman oppression and intolerance, insulted by the Greeks, persecuted by the Latins".
The British vice-consul James Finn reported that a Jew who walked past the gate leading to the Holy Sepulchre was beaten because it was illegal for a Jew to pass it. Another was stabbed by an Ottoman soldier and Finn reported that a Jewish funeral was attacked by Arabs.
The idea of Jews in the Middle East being sovereign in an independent state, and not subjugated to Muslim rule and humiliated under Dhimni status is what was intolerable to the Arabs and the roots of the violent Arab rejection of the state of Israel, and before that of migration of Jews into the Land of Israel. This was anathema to the demand for Arab supremacy and dhimnitude. With the coming of the Zionist movement Arabs were enraged by the prospect of having to live with the Jews as equals after centuries of being masters of the Jews. This is one of the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict which continues to this day.

The first real challenge in centuries to Muslim dominance was carried out by General Napoleon Bonaparte who entered Palestine in 1799 from Egypt, conquered Jaffa and laid siege to Acre. At Ramle, 25 miles from Jerusalem on 20 April 1799 Napoleon issued a call for the restoration of Jewish rule in their ancient homeland, the Jews being the rightful heirs in the Holy Land.

Interesting chapters on the restoration of Zionism in the 19th century, when there was already a considerable Jewish presence in the Land of Israel, and a Jewish majority in Jerusalem from 1860.

Fascinating chapters on the British mandate period and the pogroms carried out by Arabs against Jews in Jerusalem, under the instigation of Amin el Husseini in 1920 and 1929. As well as the Nazi backed 1936 Arab Revolt. In 1936 the mufti called the German consul in Jerusalem to state his support for Nazism and wish to co-operate.
The closing chapters discuss Jerusalem during World War II, when the Jewish community of pre-State Israel was threatened with the Nazi conquest of the Holy Land, given German advances in Egypt under Rommel and and Nazi penetration of the Soviet Union into the Caucuses.
This is followed by the Dirty War by the British colonial forces of the Jews of the Palestine Mandate, the War of Independence, the first 20 years of the restored State of Israel and there-unification of Israel after the Arabs forced the Six Day War on Israel.

The Epilogue discusses the conflict until today and the author's views on it. While Montefiore saliently points out "It is often forgotten that all the suburbs outside the Jerusalem walls were new settlements built between 1860 and 1948, by Arabs as well as Jews and Europeans. The Arab areas such as Sheik Jarrah are no older than the Jewish ones and no more or less legitimate".

Given this point I cannot understand why he should then oppose the growth of Jewish communities in East Jerusalem and Judea after 1967 as an 'obstacle to peace'
I cannot agree that is illegitimate for Jews to build anywhere in the City of David or Judea. But the author seems to aim in some of his conclusions to please everybody. He however pertinently points out the absurdity of the claims by the PLO, Palestinian Authority and Hamas et al that the Jewish Temple never exited in Jerusalem easily disproved by architecture and recorded history. The denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and Israel should be regarded as equally offensive to the Jewish people as Holocaust denial and no less dangerous. So should the diabolical claim that the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland is somehow an act of 'colonialism'.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelmed?, June 1, 2012
By 
Andrew Desmond (Neutral Bay, NSW Australia) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Having previously enjoyed Simon Sebag Montefiore's two books on Stalin, I was looking forward to "Jerusalem". Alas, unlike many of the reviewers, I was disappointed.

Jerusalem is undoubtedly a city of great antiquity and great tumult. It is here that the three great monotheistic religions rub up against each other. Within a few hundred metres, one can find the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (ie the site of Jesus's execution), the Western Wall and the al Aqsa mosque. What history! What proximity! Incidentally, as a person of no faith, I am always intrigued that such history is crammed into one small location with no natural attributes. Was god playing a joke?

Regardless, I struggled with this book. I think this may be for two reasons:

1. Montefiore is covering thousands of years of history in just over 500 pages. Arguably, this is a big ask. He has probably bitten of more than can be chewed. Certainly, as a reader, I was overwhelmed by the extraordinary cast and sweep of events.
2. The book is not well structured. It follows a chronological flow but, at times, is simply confusing. In the sense, the author has erred.

Having made my criticisms, I still regard "Jerusalem" as a significant contribution to our understanding of this totemic city. Too many people know next to nothing of the place. Montefiore has attempted to fill this void. The pity is that the task is so vast. It has overwhelmed his capacity to distil the monumental flow of events.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at a Reckless Pace, January 14, 2012
I saw Simon Sebag Montefiore speak at the Hay Festival last year about Jerusalem, and he does have a certain style. Most speakers are introduced by some avuncular Radio Times type and there's a lot of nodding and giving of roses. However Simon was introduced by a very glamorous female who wound up the crowd, and on comes the writer wearing white jeans, a 70s rock star belt and open necked shirt. He then spoke without notes, without a lectern, without pause, and with great eloquence, about a subject clearly close to his heart.

He is of course from a famous Jerusalem family, and he doesn't undersell his subject, the book jacket saying a history of Jerusalem is a history of the world. His point is that it was the centre of the Jewish religion, became the centre of Christianity, and also one of the Muslim holy cities, and the mythologies of all three religions are repeatedly intertwined.

Montefiore tears through several thousand years at a gallop, focusing on personalities.

For me the highlights were the early days, the sack by Nebuchadnezzar, the era of the three Herods, and much later the rivalry of Saladin and Richard.

What you see in this book is the continuity, how Jerusalem is the fulcrum of three related but distinct global religions, and possession of the city has massive political and secular implications for each of them in turn.

At times the narrative seems unsatisfactory and the argument not made. For example he asserts that the crucifixion of Jesus was the decision of the Romans not the Jews without making any sustained attempt to marshal the arguments on either side. Much later his coverage of the six day war is cursory in the extreme. But these are subjects which are each on their own the subjects of countless volumes by others, and his achievement is in the continuity, the linking of the experience of different eras, and the attempt to show the totality of life in a city which at times seems like a list of massacres, and a city known more for its decadence than piety.

While reading this book I had an injured hand and my copy got a number of bloodstains, much more appropriate than I would have expected!

His attempt to understand the experience of all three religions helps put these negative aspects in context however.

Before reading this book I thought I knew quite a lot about the history of the Middle East, but didn't really understand how Jerusalem had become so important. The sticking point in Middle East peace agreements has lately been chiefly access to the Temple Mount - see Clayton Swisher's book for example. We can't deal with this without understanding the religious aspects.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 222 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Jerusalem: The Biography (Vintage)
Jerusalem: The Biography (Vintage) by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Paperback - September 18, 2012)
$20.00 $14.15
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.