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108 Reviews
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book for those people who are not history scholars, but are fully interested in history
‘Story of the Jews’ written by Simon Schama is well-researched book that on its five hundred pages provides a good overview of Jewish history over a period of 2500 years.

When I saw the title of this book I was a bit surprised how such a long history period the author managed to compress in the still respectable 500 pages book, and how readable it...
Published 4 months ago by Denis Vukosav

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46 of 62 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to follow
I was somewhat disappointed by the book. Given the high profile of the author I had come to expect a very competent and thorough historical account but found myself confused from the first chapter onwards about the direction of the book. Although I appreciate that this is not meant to be popular science or Jews for Dummies the book expects a lot of prior knowledge in...
Published 8 months ago by ChristophFischerBooks


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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book for those people who are not history scholars, but are fully interested in history, March 21, 2014
This review is from: Story of the Jews, The: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD (Hardcover)
‘Story of the Jews’ written by Simon Schama is well-researched book that on its five hundred pages provides a good overview of Jewish history over a period of 2500 years.

When I saw the title of this book I was a bit surprised how such a long history period the author managed to compress in the still respectable 500 pages book, and how readable it would be to someone who does not consider himself a detailed scholar of Jewish history, but approaches to the subject as a historical enthusiast.

The answer is that the author successfully found the middle ground, his book is easy and interesting to read, but still offers wealth of information that pushes it toward academic kind of work, although does not come fully to such level, probably intentionally to remain interesting to a wider audience.

Simon Schama will lead reader on a journey not only through long periods of time, but also the three continents where this story is taking place – Africa, Asia and Europe.

Through the book the reader will not only learn a lot about the history of the Jews, but also about the times, systems, governments and countries where Jews lived through history and were usually persecuted – such as Rome, Paris and London – while Schama manages to skillfully evokes the atmosphere and different times passing through the exciting and often tragic Jewish history.

Therefore ‘Story of the Jews’ can be considered a good book for readers who do not want to go very deep in every epoch because any book that will try to achieve that goal will be equally large as this, but he was interested to provide an overview of a nation history. This does not mean that the author is superficial in his descriptions or that there is a lack of details in his story, just the opposite, but it's all about the story and pace, and the author does not bury the reader with unnecessary details that would cause fatigue and boredom.

So if you love history and you are interested to get a good history overview of the Jewish people in the less well-known time period, give ‘Story of the Jews’ a chance because Simon Schama did a good job of writing a book just for those people who are not history scholars, but are fully interested in history.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FROM MOSES TO EINSTEIN ... AN EXTRAORDINARY HISTORY!, March 18, 2014
By 
Robert Steven Thomas (author, researcher, retired executive) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Among the distinct surviving ancient cultures which make up our modern advanced nations, few can reasonably deny that, as a percentage of the Earth's peoples, the Jews have made more than an inordinate share of contributions to the fields of Art, Science and intellectual achievement than almost any other single culture. This book is an illustrated, companion-reader to the PBS/BBC television production series of the same name. While it is true there are very few remaining archaeological artifacts, written accounts or remnants that have survived from early Jewish history (pre-750 BC); The author of this book and creators of the series have done a magnificent job of creating whole cloth out of the dwindling amount of surviving historic thread. Spanning the globe over approximately 2500 years, from the first written Hebrew to Columbus' historic voyage to the New World, this book describes and highlights the most significant chapters in the history of these enigmatic humans. It is a true masterwork.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb and inspiring, November 9, 2013
By 
This review is from: The Story of the Jews (Paperback)
Alas, some reviewers miss the subtle nuance of the title. Simon Schama has crafted a story about the history of Jews, weaving a dream-like image of the past. In his role of the story-teller, Schama does indeed demand much of the reader in terms of background knowledge, but so would any author writing on a topic of this magnitude and complexity. I am certain that he would say that he never believed for an instant that he could write the last word on the topic, and he would probably be gratified that any reader would feel compelled to search out and fill the gaps in her/his knowledge as a result of reading this book.

I also appreciate Schama's inclusiveness, which reflects his own beliefs against the narrowness of an interpretation of a people's culture as separate monolith over time and space. He presents his story of Jews as everyone's story, and that is a lovely and touching aapproach in our era drenched in neo-con rhetoric of the "clash of civilisations."

If you do not like Simon Schama's style, then certainly you will not like this book. Myself, I like him and have thoroughly enjoyed this book.

For China hands, Schama's book calls to mind The Chinese Heritage by C.H. Wu, published in the early 1980s. Demanding but it pays dividends for those who invest the time and effort.
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60 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Egypt to Paris to the Ukraine..., March 22, 2014
This review is from: Story of the Jews, The: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD (Hardcover)
Simon Schama has written a very well researched book about the history of the Jews in his Book "Story of the Jews"
This 500 page book, covers a 3,000 year period of history of culture, experience and identity.

This book follows the 5 hour documentary on PBS this month, of the same name.
This book discuss many historical characters, from Sigmund Freud, to Moses, to Josephus, as it discusses varies episodes of history we all have read about. It is a story of endurance tracing the Jewish people's experience in the face of destruction, oppression, grief and the affirmation that life continues, despite all of this. This is a deeply felt history of a people.

I found the book an excellent read and a joy to my heart. Mr. Schama has done an amazing job trying to get so much history, in so little space.
If my review helped you, please click on "helpful" (or "yes") and thank you for reading my review.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rather indigestible beginning, but improves as it goes along, January 29, 2014
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Yet another History of the Jews? But Simon Schama digs out much that is missing from most such histories. The first chapter already sounds a new and idiosyncratic note: he begins not with the Patriarchs or the Exodus, but many centuries later, in the sixth century BCE, with the Jewish community and temple at Elephantine, in Egypt, during the time when Egypt was governed by the Persians. Schama calls it the “first [sic] Jewish society we know anything much about” (can this be true?), though “outside of a circle of scholars, this first [again], rich Jewish story has had virtually no purchase on the common memory of Jewish tradition.”

Later parts of the story follow along more traditional lines, but Schama also introduces little-known details found in scraps of clay, papyrus or other materials which are about the daily activities and concerns of ordinary people. (There are sixteen pages on the Genizah treasure trove, discovered in Cairo in 1896.) There are also fables which, as all fables do, tell us something about the mind set of the people who invented them.

The book is not one for readers new to the subject: a good deal of knowledge is taken for granted. It does improve as it goes along; but the early chapters are not always an easy read, and the chronology is not always clear and has to be worked out from other sources. Again it is in the early chapters that the style is sometimes stodgily detailed; at other times, both here and later, it is imaginative and eloquent, in places jauntily colloquial, and occasionally verbose and declamatory.

Schama is expansive on some topics: on Josephus, for example; or on the glowing murals of the synagogue at Duro-Europus and the mosaic floors of at least forty synagogues, which show that religious Jews did at one time make images (as indeed they would do again in medieval Haggadahs and Bibles); or in the loving description of the Mishna’s obsession with minute details both in injunctions about behaviour and in recalling the minutiae of sacrifices made in a Temple which no longer existed; or on the Jewish poets in Muslim Spain. On other topics he is cursory: for example on the Babylonian captivity; or on the life of the Jewish community that stayed behind in that region after the Return and flourished under the Persians; or on the Karaites and Saadia Gaon; or on Kabbalism.

The story is not always continuous: the long third chapter discusses at great length the Victorian scholars (they included George Grove, who was irked that he was known to most people only as the compiler of the famous Dictionary of Music and Musicians when he saw himself primarily as a Bible scholar) who went to the Holy Land to identify places mentioned in the Bible; then those scholars who think the Hebrew Bible in mainly invention; then the archaeologists who have found in their work support for passages in the Bible. It is all very technical, and a massive interruption of the story.

This is resumed when Schama comes to tell about the Hellenistic period (here, and wherever else he finds it, Schama stresses and approves of acculturation), the Roman and Byzantine period, Jewish life under medieval Islam in the Middle East and in Muslim Spain, the horrors of the massacres in Western Europe during the crusading period. And this first volume ends with the terrible events leading up to the expulsion of unconverted Jews from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1496.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction to Jewish history, October 29, 2013
Previous reviewers commented on the price instead on the content, so I will stick to the latter instead dismissing a book based on the price.
Simon Schama's attempt to present a history of the Jews -limited in the first of two volumes, the second covering the remainder - as a largely personal account, using the stories of individuals of different times embedded in the events of the era. It is an interesting concept I think although sometimes he seems to get lost a bit in small details. The interesting parts however are the gems hidden among the noise, such as the development of Jewish teaching throughout time and its consequences in everyday life. He emphasizes a lot on the Mishnah and the later creation of the Talmud as a consequence of the events taken place in the year 70 CE -perhaps apart from the Shoa and the Zionist movement the most defining event in Jewish history (in my opinion) - not only for Jews but for Christians as well. The book describes lively how Jewish culture blossomed under Muslim rule and suffered under Christian rulers in the west. It is hard to believe that the Talmud (in the form of the Babylonian Talmud) originated in the very same region where Jews are under threat today - whilst protected by the west. How things change in history! Simon Schama sees himself as a Zionist when I recall the accompanied TV program correctly. Certainly the book emphasizes on the efforts made by previous generations of Jews to assimilate and the rejection by the Muslim and Christian rulers. In thus he echoes Theodor Herzl.
For Christians this book is definitively a good introduction into Jewish history and complements another book published at around the same time, "Anti-Judaism- The Western Tradition" by David Nirenberg.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Egypt to Paris to the Ukraine..., March 22, 2014
This review is from: The Story of the Jews (Paperback)
Simon Schama has written a very well researched book about the history of the Jews in his Book "Story of the Jews"
This 500 page book, covers a 3,000 year period of history of culture, experience and identity.

This book follows the 5 hour documentary on PBS this month, of the same name.

This book discuss many historical characters, from Sigmund Freud, to Moses, to Josephus, as it discusses varies episodes of history we all have read about.

I found the book an excellent read and a joy to my heart. Mr. Schama has done an amazing job trying to get so much history, in so little space. Brilliant read.
If my review helped you, please click on "helpful" (or "yes") below. Thank you for reading this review.
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46 of 62 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to follow, November 4, 2013
I was somewhat disappointed by the book. Given the high profile of the author I had come to expect a very competent and thorough historical account but found myself confused from the first chapter onwards about the direction of the book. Although I appreciate that this is not meant to be popular science or Jews for Dummies the book expects a lot of prior knowledge in several disciplines, unless you want to continuously flick back to the index. I know some of the necessary background but not enough to follow Schama's narrative and train of thought which seemed to jump between tribes, locations, philosophical aspects and other topics.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From one historical writer to another- Well done!, April 17, 2014
This review is from: Story of the Jews, The: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD (Hardcover)
I wrote a history book. I know it is not easy. I envy and admire anyone who can do it well- with ease and enjoyment on every page. Schama excels. I wish I could write history like he does. I felt as though he was holding each ancient relative's hand and walking with them through history on a personal, compassionate level. He feels a personal attachment during each epoch of history touching upon the Jewish ancestors, affecting the modern Jewish psyche. If your roots were Greek, or Irish, or Native American Indian, I doubt you could muster the deep connectivity that Jews feel for their ancestors, because I doubt any race or religion or cultural group kept such detailed and personal records..every slap on the face, every discrimination, every chat with God is remembered. Forever. Highly recommended reading.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Story of the Jews is a well researched and exceptionally presented piece of literature, March 20, 2014
This review is from: Story of the Jews, The: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD (Hardcover)
The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama is a well researched and exceptionally presented piece of literature. The book covers a huge space of time and does a great job at showing you the "Story of the Jews". This book shows you beautifully how we as humans can endure any hardship and not only survive but thrive within the constaints we are placed within. This book is pretty comprehensive at 512 pages long. I am glad I read this book and would definitely recommend it to others.

Thank you for reading my review.
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Story of the Jews,  The: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD
Story of the Jews, The: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD by Simon Schama (Hardcover - March 18, 2014)
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