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on March 18, 2012
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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on December 30, 2011
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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on March 9, 2016
While a very detailed historical account, the book fails to help explain the present conflict over Jerusalem in light of modern humanitarian and international Law. The Montefore dynasty is compromised by its overwhelming support of Zionism in teh last century.

Johann Funk
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on February 15, 2012
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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