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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on June 20, 2004
When I was in my early teens, back in the days of disco, fat ties, oil crises, and gaudy leisure suits (aka, the 1970s), I remember looking through my parents' book collection for the book with the most pages. At the time, I thought that the length of a book somehow corresponded to its difficulty level, and that if I could read a 1,000+ page book, then I must be REALLY smart and also grown up! Anyway, one of the first books I decided to read, based on these sophisticated criteria, was "The Source," by James Michener. Surprisingly, I found out that the book was actually easy to read, fascinating, and highly entertaining, and I whizzed right through it (boy, did I think I was smart afte that)! I remember being completely engrossed as the centuries flew past, as conquering armies marched, as cities rose and fell, as blood flowed through the streets of Jerusalem, and as the Jews wandered through the Middle East and Europe. I also remember thinking that the Middle East had an incredible history that I needed to learn a lot more about.
Well, almost 30 years later, with a Masters Degree in Middle East Studies, with a couple of trips to the region under my belt, and with a job dealing with the Middle East, I can blame it all, at least in part, on reading "The Source" at age 12 or 13. Seriously, though, I do believe that the seed of my life-long fascination with history, international relations, politics, and the Middle East was planted when I read "The Source" as a young teenager. Actually, come to think of it, another Michener book -- Centennial -- got me fascinated in the history of the West and the American Indian, while several others made me want to learn more about South Africa, Hawaii, the South Pacific, the Chesapeake region, and even outer space. So, definitely read James Michener, but be warned: you could become addicted to a lifetime of learning, travel, and adventure.
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on August 8, 2003
If we take the Source as a history of the Jews, which I think is what the author intended (as opposed to the history of "Makor" in the Holy Land), then I have to say that this is an excellent book. Michener writes with passion about the sufferings and resilience of the Jewish people, and his narrative explaining the origins and development of rabbinical Judaism is enlightening. The rich diversity and beauty of Ashkenazi and Sephardi culture come to life in Michener's book. One cannot help but feel a sense of empathy for the Jewish people as they struggle through exile, inquisition, pogroms, and exploitative officials.
Michener also does a good job of desribing the various inhabitants of Galilee through the ages, and through the clan of Ur, one gets a sense of how the Palestinian people came to be -- Canaanites and Philistines who were first Hellenized, then Romanized, and finally Arabized.
This book does so many things well that it is easy to overlook some serious flaws. Michener almost romanticizes Jewish history and suffering, and while his chapter "Rebbe Itzik and the Sabra" offers a compelling contrast between secular and religious Jews, it gives a woefully lopsided view of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. The book seems to argue that the Jews "deserve" the land more because of their suffering and because "they can manage it better." It fails to establish the connection of the Arabs with the land -- as though the Palestinian Arabs "deserve" to be exiled -- even though the character Jemail Tabari supposedly is a descendant of people who lived there 12,000 years ago. Indeed, an examination of the chapter "Twilight of an Empire" reveals unforgivably stereotyped Arabs -- flat, colorless, without culture, dirty, corrupt, and often cruel. While Michener mentions Arab massacres of Jews, he neglects to mention the Deir Yassin Massacre or Hagganah massacres of Arabs in 1948.
Read this book if you want to learn more about Jewish history and religion (on these merits, I would rate it 9/10). On the other hand, I would rate the book's historical accuracy about 7/10.
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on November 20, 2012
This book is a historical fiction that describes the generations of a fictional town of Makor in Galilee. The author journeys through the various epochs of history in a interesting and sometimes political fashion, and in doing this he opinionates about the various religions that have settled in the area.

The author uses his perspective on the evolution of religion that was popular around the publishing date. Namely that religion evolved out of the need of prehistoric humans to reconcile personals needs to environmental challenges.

The purpose of this review is not to quibble over fact or fiction but the author seems to de-construct some history in favour of his evolution of religion agenda. For example the gradual migration of the Jews into Galilee and the gradual assimilation of the population into the new religion of Israel is portrayed as de facto history in this work of fiction. As such the master of inter-generational historical fiction seems not to use history as a touch point for his fiction but used the fiction to de-construct the history.

In the latter pages the place of modern Israel is debated amongst the characters. At the time of publishing modern Israel was still defining itself in the world and Michener covers all the issues, even the controversial ones in an engaging fashion. I found this book hard to read at times due the sometimes ugly depiction of various negative moments of history. But I did find myself engaged by the heroes of modern day Israel just because they were underdogs in that drama of independence of Israel.
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on January 20, 2015
This is an amazing understanding of the Arab, Israeli, and Christian origins and conflicts. It is so very fitting to read this book written over 40 years ago, but if you didn't know it you could swear it was written yesterday. Excellent read.
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on June 2, 2014
What a magnificent history book this was for me, one that forever linked me to lovable characters who walked me from one generation to the next.

I learned so much about the history of the world.

Eleanor Cowan, author of: A History of a Pedophile's Wife: Memoir of a Canadian Teacher and Writer
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on November 24, 2014
Supposedly a history of Israel, but in reality it is a history of cave men slowly evolving over tens of
thousands of years. If I wanted a book on evolution I would buy one. False advertising if I ever saw it.
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on April 19, 2004
I cannot vouch for the absolute historical authenticity of this magnificent book. Even biblical scholars can't do that. I have read many religious texts that were supposed to inspire me, save my soul, help me approach God. They didn't quite measure up. Michener did not intend to write a spiritual text, but his convincing romp through the "evolution of religion" came close to turning my agnostic beliefs into those of a near-believer. Much more than the "Holy" Bible ever did. Fascinating, layered characterizations, riveting plots, and truly educational exploration of the meaning of mankind's place in the cosmos give The Source a top-ten ranking among my favorite books of all time. I was thrilled to see so many glowing reviews of this book, and so few negatives.
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on February 20, 2004
The Source is essentially the story of Jewish history from about 10,000 BCE.
Michener is well known for making "place" the focal point of his stories, and in this book the "place" is an archeological dig in the Middle East near the Sea of Galilee. The earliest section of the book introduces the dig and the principle characters (the archaeologists) who begin excavating the tell (the mound that is the dig site) and unearthing artifacts. Each chapter then recounts the story behind each artifact they find and how it got there. The order is chronological, beginning about 12,000 years ago and ending in the mid-twentieth century.
It is essentially a very entertaining history lesson disguised as a historical novel. It is easily digestible, or "history light", but a great introduction for those not wanting to read what some refer to as the "dry history" of traditional history texts.
The archaeologists make brief appearances throughout the various stories and do a lot of philosophizing about the relations between the Jews, Christians, and Moslems and the various moral dilemmas each group has faced at various times throughout history. I found it interesting, though some may find it a bit forced.
Overall, if you do like historical fiction, this is one of the best!
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on June 2, 2003
The Source is a sweep back through time to the Jewish people of the Middle East. The story takes us back to the days when the gods were little statues, monoliths on a mountain, and child-eating fires. It moves forward through time to the mid-sixties. The author uses the tool of mini-stories, one per chapter, to show the evolution of one era to the next.
Individually, the chapters (stories) are well-written and emotionally compelling. Some will break your heart. Some will make you cheer. Overall, the book does an excellent job of showing how the Jewish people feel about themselves, their homeland, each other, and their religion. They are not over-simplified but shown in the full complexity of their feelings and experience. This is what the book does really well.
The only complaint that I have is that some parts of the book are historically questionable. Many will feel that the story shows a bias against certain religious/ethnic factions. The author also occasionally gets a little lax about using modern verbage in inappropriate settings. For example, I can't imagine someone in the pre-Christian era using the word 'cronies'.
Overall, though, the book is good and worth reading for a picture of the Jewish feelings that may have been manifest in different periods. It is also excellent as pure fiction. I enjoyed it a lot.
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on February 1, 2003
This is a long book; but it's basically a long book of short stories tied together by framing short story and by a family line beginning when the first caveman dared to set foot outside the cave.
The stories basically involve "salt of the earth" Jews on the periphery of all the great Biblical and historical events. The idea was probably to give some insight into how and why the Jews have survived as long as they have as a cultural identity. But unless "because they're stubborn" is insight, I can't say it did much there.
The use of God, as a character, is an interesting one. It was a bit jarring at first, but after a while, you begin to realize that you only ever hear "Him" through another character, and that character is always alone.
The highlight of this book is the very human stories, particularly those in the ancient times. The story of the Hoopoe, the clever-but-homely architect who connects the town to its water source, is one of the best I've ever read.
When the Jews encounter the Greeks and the Romans and the early Christians, their interactions are also quite interesting. Particularly in the sense that it's easier to relate, in many ways, to the lifestyles and attitudes of these other groups, than it is to the "stiff-necked" Jews who seem reactionary to the point of mania. (But then, this is why they survived.)
Michener seems very at home in the older days, perhaps because he had freedom to write without having to worry too much about political concerns. More modern stuff is almost glossed over. At the same time, it's in the post-Luther era where the book really began to drag for me.
It's worth finishing, but it is stronger in the early parts.
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