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The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC - 1492 AD Hardcover – March 18, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Schama is a professor at Columbia University, an award-winning author of history and art books, and a writer and producer of acclaimed television documentaries. This is the first of a planned two-volume work, and it covers the development of Judaism and the Jewish people from their first stirring of a sense of a national identity up to the expulsion of Jews from Spain. Schama has written an unconventional but masterful and deeply felt history of his people, which seamlessly integrates themes of art, religion, and ethnicity as he illustrates how Jews both influenced and were influenced by the other people they lived among for more than 1,500 years. While Schama follows a roughly chronological approach, this is not a strictly narrative account. Rather, he focuses on particular topics to define the essence of a particular period, and he does so by examining literary and archaeological remnants that provide a human and often deeply moving touch. A letter from a Jewish mercenary in Egypt illustrates the paradox of a Jewish “return” to the land of their enslavement. The writings of a poet in eleventh-century Granada convey both the benefits and difficulties of Jewish life in a Muslim state. This beautifully written chronicle is a tie-in to an upcoming PBS series. --Jay Freeman

Review

“Award-winning Columbia University historian Schama . . . brings to bear his gift for synthesizing mountains of information into a well-crafted, accessible narrative in this impressive volume that spans nearly 2,500 years and serves as a companion volume to a PBS series.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A multifaceted story artfully woven by an expert historian.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Schama has written an unconventional but masterful and deeply felt history of his people…” (Booklist (starred review))

“Mr. Schama’s The Story of the Jews is exemplary popular history. It’s engaged, literate, alert to recent scholarship and, at moments, winningly personal.” (New York Times)

“In his brilliant new history of the Jews, the unconventional scholar somehow manages to be simultaneously sentimental and subversive, consensual and contrarian - and we readers are the beneficiaries.” (Haaretz (English edition))

“Mr. Schama’s history flashes by with entertaining velocity…” (Wall Street Journal)

“An energetic cascade of prose and erudition, rife with pointillist detail and witty colloquialisms…” (Chicago Tribune, Printers Row)

“Schama writes history from below, and from the middle and other unexpected angles, resurrecting the unrecorded and long-forgotten, and analyzing the social and cultural forces that shaped his subjects’ lives… [he] has pulled it off with opinionated flair and literary grace.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Stirring and fascinating” (Los Angeles Times)

“Schama is a historian of prodigious and varied gifts. He can take a specific subject and drill deep; he can take a wide-angled view of many countries over long periods of time. He does both in this excellent first volume… Revealing and moving.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Reading Schama is like sitting across from the world’s most dazzling dinner party guest…” (Seattle Times)

“The story that Schama tells is wide-ranging, well documented, delightful, amusing, personal, and inspring…” (New York Review of Books)
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Product Details

  • Series: Story of the Jews (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (March 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060539186
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060539184
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (180 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Schama is a professor of art history and history at Columbia University, and is the author of numerous award-winning books; his most recent history, Rough Crossings, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. He is a cultural essayist for the New Yorker and has written and presented more than thirty documentaries for the BBC, PBS, and the History Channel, including The Power of Art, which won the 2007 International Emmy for Best Arts Programming.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By sinophile on November 9, 2013
Format: 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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69 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Robert Steven Thomas TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
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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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau on January 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
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.
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