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88 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Most fascinating and enjoyable read of a history"
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...
Published on 15 May 2011 by Asmahan

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Violence and vice
Montefiore's Jerusalem is 20 % religion, 20 % violence, 20 % sex, 20 % politics. Very lively, with an abundance of colorful characters.

The history of Jerusalem is the story of cyclical destruction and renewal. Kings, prophets, emperors, pashas, governors, colonists and crusaders have conquered the city, destroyed parts of it and build others. Every inch was...
Published on 28 Aug. 2011 by battleofthebooks


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88 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Most fascinating and enjoyable read of a history", 15 May 2011
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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.
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166 of 176 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important and beautifully produced book, 2 Feb. 2011
Right from the off, with a blistering opening set in 70AD as the Roman general Titus lays siege to Jerusalem, this is a well-paced and absolutely gripping read.

Early on Simon Sebag Montefiore tells us that a story of Jerusalem is, really, `the story of the world'. If at the beginning I was sceptical, by the end I was not. What stops Jerusalem from being a Wikipedian succession of kings, rabbis, muftis and patriarchs is the author's elegant and consistent ability to supply fascinating characters - the kind of characters you might not expect to find in a book like this. For every despot - and there are plenty - Sebag Montefiore gives us a rake, a bungler or an eccentric. Just as Jerusalem emerges as a place of religious intensity, it is also a city addicted to vice.

An important and beautifully produced book. Highly recommended.
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134 of 145 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Capital of Blood and Holiness., 22 Jan. 2011
If Jerusalem is a City of World History then it is the capital of blood and holiness. Simon Sebag Montefiore's superb new book is rich with salacious detail, scholarship and narrative drive. Such has been Jerusalem's centrality to history that the author is able to use the city as a prism to shine light upon a number of diverse periods and movements - Roman, Jewish, Christian and Islamic.
The structure of the book is chronological and finely weighted. Jerusalem has witnessed blood upon the hands of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike - yet the author is balanced and insightful enough to praise those rulers and characters of all religions who infused Jerusalem with a sense of tolerance, prosperity and architectural beauty.
Jerusalem may be a long book, but it is never laboured. One can read this book cover to cover, or dip into it to mine facts or comment on your favourite chapters, such as the Crusades or the middle east during WWI or WWII.
Am pleased to say that Jerusalem: The Biography lives up to the anticipation and hype.
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69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God Bless Jerusalem: The Biography, 23 Jan. 2011
Throughout history Jerusalem seems to have been at the hub of where the world can come together - and then also pull itself apart. The city, from King David's time to the present day, has served as a place of worship and a prize to be won. Simon Sebag Montefiore has written an expansively researched but pacy account of this desert town which, even now, somehow resides at the centre of the world. In many ways the author's Jerusalem is a stage, upon which players make their entrances and exits - but what characters they are: prostitutes and prophets, crusaders and caliphs, worshippers and warmongers.
If you enjoyed the author's gossipy yet elegantly written biographies of Stalin then you should enjoy this title too.
The publishers should also be applauded for framing such a sumptuous portrait in old fashioned production values. The cover is attractive and textured, the book contains four sets of plates where one usually just gets one or two nowadays and the paper quality and typesetting are excellent. My advice is to buy this book as a present for someone - and read it first.
My one criticism would be that I would have liked the maps to be in with the text, rather than filed at the end.
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53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely - and Terrific, 6 Feb. 2011
Although Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem is an entertaining and engaging romp through history, the present instability in Egypt and the Middle East adds greater resonance to this wonderful book.
Jerusalem: The Biography tells of past uprisings, powerful yet unpopular leaders, bloodshed and religious and political conflict.
I purchased this book after reading various favourable reviews - yet such is the scope and richness of this book that no one review (including this one) can do justice to this book, period and region (which is again at the centre of the world's attention).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Extraordinarily Well Balanced Account, 20 Aug. 2014
By 
C. E. Utley "Charles Utley" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This was a very brave venture on which to embark. Jerusalem may be the holiest city on earth, acknowledged as such by all three Abrahamic religions (though Islam may put Mecca top of the list), but it has also been the site of appalling brutality throughout the ages. What makes this a brave venture is the fact that the controversies which led to all that brutality are very much alive today. And, what is more, the brutality continues. For a Jew, and one whose family has been closely involved with Jerusalem for many generations, to attempt an objective history of this sad and glorious city is courageous in the extreme.

But Simon Sebag Montefiore has succeeded. And succeeded brilliantly.

Only one of the founders of those three religions actually set foot in Jerusalem. Jesus, of course, did so often. Abraham didn't (because it didn't exist in his time) and neither did Muhammad (though it did). But the Jews founded the city and Muslims ran it for a thousand years. Throughout most of its history it has witnessed grotesque extremes of religious fervour. Jews have slaughtered innocent Arabs. Arabs have slaughtered innocent Jews. Both have slaughtered innocent Christians. Christians have slaughtered innocent Jews and Arabs. And all in the name of religion. The tragedy, of course, is that the slaughter goes on to this day (though the Christians do seem to have discovered, at last, that the founder of their religion - unlike both the others - did not live by the sword).

Sebag Montefiore triumphs because he describes both the vices and the virtues of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Members of all three faiths can read this magnificent biography of a city in the confident knowledge that none of the religions is being put forward as being superior to the others.

This really is a wonderful read.

Charles
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54 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating History of the City, 23 Jan. 2011
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A fascinating story of the city of Jerusalem, and by extension of Israel, by a brilliant historian. Sebag Montefiore is rare in a historian in handling the archaeological evidence deftly, and sifting through the axiom and labels, to present the material clearly - so structures ascribed to King David are shown to have been built by Herod, for example. I loved that he covers some of the crack-pots, such as Captain Monty Parker and his search for the Ark of the Covenant, not just the 'greats' of history.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Violence and vice, 28 Aug. 2011
Montefiore's Jerusalem is 20 % religion, 20 % violence, 20 % sex, 20 % politics. Very lively, with an abundance of colorful characters.

The history of Jerusalem is the story of cyclical destruction and renewal. Kings, prophets, emperors, pashas, governors, colonists and crusaders have conquered the city, destroyed parts of it and build others. Every inch was fought over and is soaked in blood. Holiness went hand in hand with violence, intrigue, treason, vice and greed.
In Simon Sebag Montefiore's book Jerusalem is made out of equal measures of religion, politics, sex and violence. It is filled to the brim with plots, sieges, power games, and attacks.
Montefiore does not offer much guidance or analysis. Only in the epilogue he summarizes, by stating that Jerusalem was Jewish during a thousand years, christian during four hundred years and Islamic during thirteen hundred years.
Montefiore recounts stories and does so admirably. He knows how to breath live into his characters, even when they only appear in a few paragraphs.
There are so many anecdotes on every page of this book that it makes the readers' heads spin. One beheading is followed another conspiracy, and the next plot is already in the making.
His story is that of the powerful man and women who ruled the city or at least tried to. He has an open eye for women, especially the concubines, courtesans, prostitutes, adulterous wives and nymphomaniacs.
The borders of the area of which Jerusalem was the capital were rather fluid. That remains so, of course, till the present day. Jerusalem is never a quiet corner of the world.
Montefiore's story is not original, which is not to be expected. The Bible is a major source and for the later stages he seems to lean heavily on well known works. His description of part of the crusades is remarkably close to the classic work of Sir Steven Runciman.
During those crusades we encounter Sigurd, king of Norway, the first European royal to visit the newly conquered Jerusalem. Sigurd is the name the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik adopted, when he joined the reconstituted order of the Knights Templar. It isanother reminder that this history still has an effect in the present.
Jerusalem was often on the frontier of empires and and a playground in their struggles. That was still the case in the First World War, when the British sponsored Zionism out of political reasons. They were hoping to keep or gain the support of Russia and America. Later, the British came to regret that move and were more pro-Arabic and often outright anti-Semitic.
If there is a connecting question in this book, it is how Jewish Jerusalem was. In his thoughtful epilogue Montefiore does not say who the city belongs to. Jews and Arabs both have their rights.
The situation is made even more complicated by the role that Jerusalem plays in the apocalyptic visions of fundamentalist Christians and Muslims.
Montefiore says the Old City should be transformed into a `demilitarized Vatican'. If that will ever be the final chapter of another biography of this city remains an open question.
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81 of 94 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining overview, but flawed., 10 Jun. 2011
By 
Steampunk "JS" (Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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It's a brave man who attempts a history of Jerusalem!

From the sheer amount of information required, it's perhaps questionable whether any one person could do the job. So the author perhaps shouldn't be blamed too severely that in so many places this account is superficial and even factually incorrect.

To be honest, I *almost* put the book in the trashcan several times during the first 100 or so pages. The history and archaeology of the ancient Near East is a particular interest of mine, and it was depressing to see how often the author uncritically reproduced long out-of-date theories, presenting them as fact. By the time I got to the 'Jesus Christ' chapter I'd stopped being surprised and was frequently laughing out loud at the sheer frequency of unsupported assertions, question-begging statements and even jaw-dropping howlers.

But this was also the point where I 'got' the book and started to enjoy it. Taken as any kind of scholarly work the book is a failure - but if you think of it more as an 'entertainment', it works.

Up to this point, I had been continually thinking, "If this book is so often wrong in the areas of Jerusalem history that I actually DO know about, how can I trust a word of it when I get to the historical periods that I know nothing about?"

But taken as 'entertainment', this stops being so much of a concern. You just enjoy the big picture, and forget about treating individual 'facts' as actually factual - treating them more as little fictions thrown in to add colour, really.

In short, the best way to read this book is as if you were watching a Holywood movie on the history of the city. It will give you a GENERAL idea of what happened historically, but will flesh out the 'script' with interesting speculations (without marking them as speculations, of course) and certainly won't let any facts get in the way of spinning a good yarn.

You'll come away with a rough idea of what actually went on, but since this is the 'Hollywood' version, you'll be properly cautious about repeating any individual 'facts' without checking them out elsewhere.

So... great fun - just don't use it for your history exam!!!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disapointed, 2 Feb. 2012
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After reading the 2 Stalin books by the same author several years ago, I was looking forward to this one. I even avoided the TV series to allow me to enjoy the book more. However I found that Sebag-Montefiore was trying to put a gallon instead of a quart into a pint pot. The history is too long, and although fascinating, the pace, covering several thousand years in just over 500 pages meant I never really felt I knew the people or the times they lived in. This was a shame because with more restraint, and perhaps a less ambitious projeect it could have been excellent.
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