I came to this book as an Arab reader, growing up with songs, poems, and books written about beloved Jerusalem, but never have I come across a book offering such a luxurious detailed and honest view and at such a scale! Written with remarkable neutrality and taking us through the diverse and rich history of the most disputed and news making region in the world! This comprehensive, and unpatronising treatment of Jerusalem's past is neither overwhelmingly scholarly to gloss over the gory (and fascinating) details, nor too hurried as to miss out important facts. Simon Sebag Montefiore combines the rare talent of total political and cultural understanding with a great and most eloquent narrating skill!
"Jerusalem, the Biography" is a new sort of History, written as a biography, through the people who made Jerusalem, starting with King David and ending with Barrack Obama, over a span of 3000 years. Each section is about a person who, made, destroyed, believed in, or fought for Jerusalem, some are ordinary people, some are monsters and dictators. There is massacre, siege, blood, violence, but also beautiful poetry.
The story of Jerusalem, is truly (as the author expressed) the story of the world, as well, of the Middle East, of religion, of holiness, of empire! I was thrilled to read about one of the greatest philosophers, the Arab historiographer "Ibn Khaldoon", about Suleiman the Magnificent, Caliph Muawiya, Saladin Dynasty, Druze princess and angelic voiced Singer "Asmahan", the Hashemite (Sherifian) Dynasty, and most exciting to read was some poignant poetry by Nizar Qabbani.
One can read it as an adventure story, or as an explanation of why the Middle East is what it is today, I felt infused with great knowledge, one that I could never acquire if I read a thousand books. The book offers correct answers and honest background of many of the issues of the region today such as, Israel vs. Palestine, America vs. Iran, written without an agenda, and with remarkable impartiality. And I must not forget the most fascinating details over the Apocalypse-the End of Days.
To fit such a swathe of history into a 650-page-turner is a bit of an art form in itself. The book also offers wonderfully informative illustrations and photographs, family trees, and even maps.
I thoroughly enjoyed three of Simon Sebag Montefiore's previous books (or rather masterpieces), but this has to be my most enjoyable read of a history, I have no words to do the author nor the book justice, well-paced and absolutely gripping, this book is a treasure -trove, and I highly recommend it for all readers of different faiths, political, cultural backgrounds, well versed in the Middle East or not.