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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.
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VINE VOICEon May 11, 2003
I walked into this book having read several of Karen Armstrong's books, so I knew of her leanings that other reviewers have pointed out. Of course, if you are going to write about three major faiths, it is natural to expect some bias towards one of them. That aside, I found her history to be very interesting and helped put this city into a perspective I had not had before. She shows how an off the beaten path city became one of the most important places for three of the world's religions, and a contentious site of conflict. What Armstrong does well is to show the shifting lines that have occurred between areas of the city as various religious powers came to control. But more importantly she brings the various pieces of Jerusalem and puts them in a coherent organized narrative. Many of the places mentioned in the bible are put into perspective with each other, and their historical changes are traced over time. Even more useful is that the author generously includes maps throughout the book to show the changes and shifting lines of groups throughout time. As someone who knew little about the geography of Jerusalem, I found this to help keep all the players and movements straight. The book lags at points but overall moves very well through the centuries. This is an excellent overview history of this holy city and would be a very good introduction to the reader wishing to know more. It should not be the only book you read on the region, but rather use it as one view of the history which has brought us to the modern religious conflicts of the area.
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on November 17, 2011
Karen Armstrong writes very well. Her Jerusalem One City , Three Faiths traces the history of Jerusalem through its early Jewish rulers and then its Christian inhabitants under Roman rule , then under Muslim rulers and finally as a city in the state of Israel. The book was written in 1996 and ends with the assessment that the prospect of peace looks bleak. This has not changed in 2011. The Ballantine 2005 edition carries a wonderful interview with Armstrong.

There are two other outstanding books on Jerusalem. They are Jerusalem by F. E. Peters 712 pages Princeton Univ Pr (October 30, 1995) and Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore 688 pages Knopf (October 25, 2011).

FE Peters' book contains useful commentary as well as selections of eyewitness accounts from pilgrims and travellers to Jerusalem, and quotations from the Bible. Montefiore's book is the latest and it has a gripping historical narrative of the rulers who ruled Jerusalem as well as the politicians, saints and travellers associated with Jerusalem .
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on December 28, 1996
If you're like me, you'll buy Karen Armstrong's Jerusalem just
after purchasing your plane ticket to the historic city. And
you'll try to read it before you leave. My advice: wait
until you're on the plane to begin reading--no guilt for not
getting to it before departing. The early chapters are better
read while en route, and the later chapters "live" while sur
rounded with the three faiths that have made Jerusalem the
most interesting city in the world. The old city still has
the same flavor, I'm sure, as it did centuries ago. The
Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy
Sepulchur are all infinitely more meaningful after reading Armstrong's history. So save the money that local guides want to charge you and read Armstrong's book, muster your self-control (if you have any) and wait until you're on your way to the holy city to read her
rich account of Jerusalem, a city that still needs our prayers
to live up to its name--"city of peace."
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on September 27, 1999
As one who has studied and read much on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I greatly appreciated Armstrong's even-handedness in this book. It made it a pleasure to read. She has a way of making history so much fun.
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on January 30, 2015
I love this book; I've read it several times, over a couple of decades. It has told me something new each time. It speaks to those who are steeped in the region, those who are searching for spiritual connections, and those who are investigating the "Holy Land" and its inhabitants for the first time. Armstrong, a focused seeker with deep roots in religious studies, delivers a portrait of the historical and current "Jerusalem" without bias--a very unprecedented offering, and her perspective is a model for Christian, Jewish, or Muslim scholars and students of religion, and for those seeking to understand the roots of spiritual human dissonance. Both the Biblical scholar and the "believer" or "non-believer" will find essential "take-aways" that will inform their spiritual journeys and challenge them to take their respective faith-beliefs to the rest of the world.
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on April 10, 2002
I have just finished reading this book and A History of God and found them both interesting but biased. Ms. Armstrong explains away all actinos and atrocities committed by Muslims while highlighting and denouncing actions taken by Christians and Jews. for example, in her view the building of mosques and other holy Islamic shrines are welcome but similar activities by Christians and Jews are considered to be "putting facts on the ground so that they may control Jerusalem." Repeatedly, muslims defend themselves against the aggression and atrocities of Christians and Jews but their atrocities are justified because the others acted first. I cannot vouch for her "facts" but I can unequivocally state that her interpretation of those "facts" does a strong disservice to the hope of having Muslims, Christians and Jews understand each other and find ways of creating peace.
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on October 19, 2008
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, 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.
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on January 16, 2005
While this is a superb, fair-minded and empathetic history of the city which will be enlightening to all except very knowledgeable specialists, it is at the same time Karen Armstrong's meditation on the "sacred geography" conceived by the three faiths in its spiritual and its material form. She is very sympathetic to and receptive of the spiritual ideals of all three faiths, and is dismayed by how so often they have all been debased by bitter rivalries (between as well as within religions), by demands for exclusivity and domination, as well as by the "idolatry to see a shrine or a city as the ultimate goal of religion". This is something the wisest theologians - few, alas, in number - have taught. At the same time, however, a material shrine is one expression of one's spiritual identity, so that the perceived threat or the destruction of a shrine - let alone expulsions and exile - are experienced as violations of one's spiritual identity. She shows that the potency of religious symbolism is such that even secular nationalism (to which she perhaps does not pay quite enough attention) has recourse to it. She shows how the best periods in the history of the city have been those few when the rulers of one faith or ethnicity have respected the faith, ethnicity and buildings of another. She is not optimistic that such wisdom is available in Jerusalem in the near future.
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on May 15, 2002
As someone who is not part of the Jewish, Muslim or Christian world, I found Ms Armstrong's narrative well-paced and meticulously detailed. This book is written from the point of view of a religion expert, and the construction of the pre-Christian times of Jerusalem are particularly creative and evocative. Certainly, Ms Armstrong captures the complexity of problems that Jerusalem faces.
Be careful, though, of Ms Armstrong's strongly pro-Muslim bias. The history and present of Jerusalem are convoluted to say the least and Ms Armstrong does tend to paint the Muslim community's role and current stance with flattering brush strokes, and that of the Jews and Christian with disparaging ones.
I do agree with her eventual conclusion - tragically, the history of Jerusalem does not make a solution to the current situation very likely. In fact, it is possible to see history being repeated for the umpteenth time with the most recent events.
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