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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent!
I was already a fan of Simon Sebag Montefiore, as I consider his biographies of Potemkin and Stalin outstanding works of scholarship and great writing. Consequently, it would have been an understatement to say that my expectations regarding "Jerusalem: The Biography" were anything but huge. Yet, the book overwhelmingly surpassed them.
This is an "opus magna."
No...
Published on Nov. 21 2011 by Vlad Thelad

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment!
I was disappointed by Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem, the biography. This book tells the history of a 3,000 years old city that grew in the desert and became the center of worship of three major religions, and the locus of unending wars and conflicts. It also tells the history of city at the confluence of western and eastern civilizations. The story of Jerusalem is...
Published on Dec 30 2011 by J. C. Mareschal


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent!, Nov. 21 2011
By 
Vlad Thelad (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Hardcover)
I was already a fan of Simon Sebag Montefiore, as I consider his biographies of Potemkin and Stalin outstanding works of scholarship and great writing. Consequently, it would have been an understatement to say that my expectations regarding "Jerusalem: The Biography" were anything but huge. Yet, the book overwhelmingly surpassed them.
This is an "opus magna."
No one, secular or religious, can be indifferent to Jerusalem, the city at the epicentre of humankind and its relationship with God. This is what makes Montefiore's such a remarkable feat: he manages to navigate Jerusalem's history with objectivity, extraordinary lucidity and compelling writing, without losing an ounce of passion for his subject. This is History at its best, to be read, discussed, treasured, and imbibed by all.
Bravo, bravissimo!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment!, Dec 30 2011
By 
J. C. Mareschal (Montreal, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Hardcover)
I was disappointed by Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem, the biography. This book tells the history of a 3,000 years old city that grew in the desert and became the center of worship of three major religions, and the locus of unending wars and conflicts. It also tells the history of city at the confluence of western and eastern civilizations. The story of Jerusalem is also 3,000 years of history of the world.
There is no doubt that Simon Sebag Montefiore is a good writer and a fine historian, but telling the history of Jerusalem is an enormous task. The history of Jerusalem is related to the birth and decline of civilizations and empires. It is incomprehensible without understanding the development of three religions. Unfortunately, the book does not provide sufficient historical background and the broad perspective that one needs to understand the story. The book is full of anecdotes, interesting anecdotes, but it reads like a long list of murders and massacres, with very little space for compassion and mercy. It is full of sound and fury and the story makes little sense. After reading this book, one still wonders how and why the three religions that claim Jerusalem as a holy city brought so much violence and destruction to the region.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book, July 5 2012
By 
Patrick Case "biggarthomas" (Toronto) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Hardcover)
One of the criticisms of this book is that it is written on too narrow a gauge, that it tends to ignore the motivation and behaviour of masses of people. Most of us, understand that history is not just about the actions of kings and queens. However, a story told from the point of view of great people has its place. No one book can address, in all of its dimensions, the history of Jerusalem and its peoples and I do not think that book is touted as work of definitive proportions. Having said all of that, the book yields up a large amount of information and gives readers a sense of the unbroken chain of hostility that has characterized the history of Jerusalem. We are still, many of us, captive to the notion that Jerusalem belongs to one side or another in the centuries old fratricidal war between adherents to the Abrahamic traditions. This book represents a challenge to those whose views about the Middle East start and stop in the most recent sixty-year time frame. In my view, the indivisibility of Jerusalem seems clear and the city stands as a taunting challenge to create one state within which Jews and Arabs can live in peace.
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4.0 out of 5 stars `In Jerusalem, the truth is often much less important that the myth.', June 16 2012
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Hardcover)
Simon Sebag Montefiore writes the history of Jerusalem from its beginnings as a fortified village through successive conquests or occupations: Canaanite, Israelite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine, Ummayad, Abassid, Fatimid, Seljuk, Crusader, Saracen, Tartar, Mamluk, Ottoman, British, Jordanian and finally Israeli. As different religious groups occupied Jerusalem, earlier (and rival) places of worship were destroyed or taken apart and rebuilt into new places of worship. From an archaeological perspective, this makes Jerusalem a very complicated site. And what happened to the people through these successive conquests or occupations? Some populations were slaughtered, others were sold into slavery, and each dispossessed population was replaced by new waves of immigration.

`The story of Jerusalem is the story of the world.'

Jerusalem's story involves accounts of massacre, rape and war; of persecution, fanaticism and feuds; of corruption, betrayal and hypocrisy; and of spirituality. Trying to make sense of it all is difficult; although reading a chronological account of events makes it easier to understand the significance and ongoing importance of this city to the three monotheistic religions that hold it sacred.

`It is only by chronological narrative that one avoids the temptation to see the past through the obsessions of the present.'

There's a lot of history covered in this book: Jerusalem was exclusively Jewish for 1,000 years, Christian for about 400 years and Islamic for 1,300 years: `not one of the three faiths ever gained Jerusalem without the sword, the mangonel or the howitzer.'

I found the detailed history fascinating and sad - fascinating because of its complexity, sad because inclusive agreement seems so difficult to either achieve or to sustain when it is achieved.

I learned quite a lot about the Jewish and Islamic claims and perspectives, and was reminded of Christian claims. Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote:
`If this book has any mission, I passionately hope that it might encourage each side to recognize and respect the ancient heritage of the other:..'

I hope so as well. Differences need not be mutually exclusive.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and fast-paced, May 26 2012
By 
Rodge (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Hardcover)
I do not think that Montefiore could realistically have been expected to produce a truly fair masterful work on a city as ancient and controversial as Jerusalem. Certainly not as masterful as his Stalin biographies. However, to be truly fair, I think his work is a largely successful one. It is fast- paced, too much so at times, and Montefiore zeroes in on entertaining and tantalizing and horrifying anecdotes, avoiding momentum clogging analysis that might have helped us understand the city better. However, we are presented with the broad sweep of 3,000 years of history which Montefiore divides into 9 or so distinct phases. Everybody knows something or thinks they know something about Jerusalem. This book puts you in touch briefly with everything else as well, reminding us that true understanding is beyond our grasp. Jerusalem seemingly has always been a frustrating city, idealized and yet so depressingly messy and conflicted.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, March 18 2012
This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Hardcover)
Jerusalem: The BiographyI ordered this book with great anticipation prior to a trip to Jerusalem... only to be disappointed by its sloppiness. It seems to have badly needed a strong editor - the writing and grammer are weak at times. Worse is the lack of care in the presentation of history, some of which seems to originate in a kind of arrogance in the author. For example, he attributes thoughts and motivations to Jesus, that he cannot know and that others would not necessarily agree with. We know so little about Jesus that it comes across as arrogant to so knowingly state his views. For example, "The city and the Temple were central to his vision of himself."... "He was obsessional about the fate of Jerusalem."... "Jesus, realizing that he was in danger, escaped..."... and later, "He knew what a visit to Jerusalem would mean." While in some places scorning the gospels as history, in other places he relies on them in possibly dubious ways - for example, writing without any qualifications that the Jewish crowd shouted of Jesus, "His blood be upon us and our children" - which most historians consider highly unlikely to have happened: why would the Jews curse themselves? He gives us the story of Judas straight from the gospels - but presents it as history - again without qualification, and without noting that many historians question the existence or role or Judas, who, like the above quote from the Jewish crowd, may have been added later to shift blame from Romans to Jews. There are similar issues in other chapters.

These are just examples from the first part of the book - I am only half way through and I do plan to finish it. A survey history like this isn't easy and I appreciate the effort that has gone into this, but I think a stronger editorial hand would have fixed the sometimes awkward writing, deleted the author's assumptions about thoughts and emotions, and clarified what is history and what is just story.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Read, Obvious Bias, Feb. 15 2012
This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Hardcover)
Simon Sebag Montefiore is an excellent researcher. He's assembled a good work here. However, he brings his personal bias to bear when making broad and sweeping statements about the inaccuracy of his sources. Are the works of Josephus reliable? Sure. Persian Histories? Why not. The Bible? Crap. It's just unfortunate that Simon presupposes that the bible is vastly exaggerated. One statement in the Bible claims that 42500 people left babylon to resettle Jerusalem. Simon says... that's exaggerated. Why? Because he presupposes that the Bible is not accurate so it must be, not that he has any supporting or contrary evidence. That would make the first 100 pages or so of his book crap, oh and the next 50 are heavily based on Josephus who read the bible and paraphased it in his Testimonius Flavius. Hmmm... at least we still have the pictures!!

(Let me make it clear that I would buy this again though - the story of Jerusalem could be recounted by a Monkey and still be thoroughly spellbinding)
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