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All Sides of the Story
on September 1, 2003
In books concerning hot conflicts like the Middle East, it is commonplace to cover only part of the story or to concentrate on one set of events more so than others. This is understandable of course since most people with adequate interest in a topic typically have made up their minds and favor one of the conflicting sides. Not so with this book. I read this book with a critical eye, begging to find any evidence that the author is partial to anyone anyone, but in all of the 430 pages I could not find a single biased reference nor any significant omissions. By writing this wonderful comprehensive and well-researched history of Jerusalem, Karen Armstrong has done all of us concerned about the city a great favor. Throughout the 5000-year history of the city, this book describes in an unbiased tone the enormously interesting history of this hotly contested city. Many remarkable and little-known facts are can be found here. For example, I was surprised to learn that the history of Jerusalem extended for 2000 years before King David, its purported "founder". The book covers all the different eras of the city: the Canaanite, Egyptian, Israelite, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Muslim, and Crusader eras. The last two chapters focus on the 20th century history of the city.
Though the author was a former catholic nun, she displays no bias whatsoever towards Christianity. The book displays the history of the city equally from the points of view of all three religious groups that care about it: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Thus the book dwells in detail about the extreme agony of the Jews for their loss of the city and their being forbidden to enter it during Byzantine Roman rule. The book also illustrates the relative tolerance of early Islam and how Jews for the first time were allowed to return to Jerusalem under Islamic rule and coexist in peace with Christians and Muslims. If the author displays a bias against anyone, it is against extremists from all religions who are today fanning the flames of conflict and threatening the peace of the city.
The book is a definite page-turner, packed full of information, and well worth a read if you cared about understanding the "whys" and the "how comes" behind the daily headlines.
If you liked this book, you'll like Karen Armstrong's other books, especially "A History of God" which, surprisingly, contains little repetition or overlap with this book, unlike many similarly prolific authors.