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Customer Review

81 of 94 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining overview, but flawed., 10 Jun. 2011
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This review is from: Jerusalem: The Biography (Hardcover)
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East is a particular interest of mine, and it was depressing to see how often the author uncritically reproduced long out-of-date theories, presenting them as fact.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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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Jul 2011 12:56:35 BDT
T. Moore says:
Is there a historical account of Jerusalem that you would recommend? For recreational reading not scholastic. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jul 2011 15:08:24 BDT
Lector says:
Actually, if one exists I'd love to know! That's partly why I have to tip my hat to this author for even attempting the task. My own area of expertise (that's putting it too grandly, but you know what I mean!) is only up to shortly after the Romanisation of Jerusalem. Even within that period I need to look to various books and can't think of a single 'definitive' one. Beyond that period, I tend to turn to things like histories of the crusades or histories of Modern Israel - and this approach still leaves gaps that this book (sort of) covers.

I just wish I could trust it to cover them reliably!

Posted on 28 Jul 2011 21:36:56 BDT
Can you give a few examples of the "unsupported assertions, question-begging statements and even jaw-dropping howlers"? I've just finished one of his other books and I'm wondering if I should read this one.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Jul 2011 21:58:14 BDT
Lector says:
I'm a bit uneasy about trying to give examples, but only because I've read several other 'Israel' books since then - I'm afraid of mixing them up - and I can't check my facts because I gave my copy of this book to the Oxfam shop. I seem to recall that he reproduced the old chestnut about camels not being domesticated in the days of the Patriarchs, among other things.

In general in the Old Testament era he seemed well-researched on some outdated theories of Israel's history and writings. The 'howlers' comment referred particularly to his chapter on Jesus - I forget the specific instances, but it did make me laugh out loud a couple of times.

If you've read his other stuff and liked it, you may well like this too. It's certainly very easy to read, but I would still advise getting a 'second opinion' before quoting any facts from it. My own knowledge of Jerusalem fizzles out sometime after 100AD, but I think there are other reviewers here who point out factual slips in other eras.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Sep 2011 22:17:58 BDT
I'm reading book - and enjoying it - but I was surprised to see Nottingham's best-known pub called The Journey to Jerusalem in one of the footnotes. It is Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem, known to locals as "The Trip".

I accept that this is not exactly an important mistake, but if such an easily verifiable fact has not been checked it does rather make you wonder about the quality of the research underpinning the book.

Posted on 10 Dec 2011 08:41:43 GMT
` was depressing to see how often the author uncritically reproduced long out-of-date theories, presenting them as fact.' Well this reviewer has made it plain that there are problems with this account. As always with negative views there is no attempt to pinpoint what, where these errors are. Nor does this reviewer even offer a pointer to more `accepted' versions of events described. A poor review by a poor reviewer.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jan 2012 10:23:30 GMT
Twiggy says:
We are not in a court of law you know...MD, I actually find JS's review very helpful, in that it sounds as though I would rather not read something that poses as an historical account that leaves a partially informed mind with doubts as JS confesses. With very little time spare to read myself, honest accounts are of great value to me.

What I do find irritating with book reviews on
Amazon is people who give such detailed agressive picky accounts of someones work with a hundred examples. JS gives his 'impression'of the book and yet also allows for other readers interpretations.
I did go on this forum to see if I could ask if JS could recommend a preferred reading on this subject, and found he has already answered exactly that to another person. But can I add, it is not his job to recommend other books as you sharply suggest. Let the man 'review'!

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jan 2012 17:10:16 GMT
you don't seem very sure about anything and if you were the scholar that you say you are you could at least have given us examples of howlers and inaccuracies. I don't think that you are a scholar of anything

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jun 2012 13:34:12 BDT
SoaringDuke says:
Ahh yes, after the vociferous condemnation of howlers and mistakes concerning your """area of expertise""" when prompted to name some of these obviously very large mistakes, you umm and ahhh, mention something contrite about the comestication of camels, (which you are not even sure is in this book) and then assure us that these howlers do really exist.

Terrible review.

Posted on 26 Jun 2012 12:25:34 BDT
Eliakim says:
I agree entirley with this review.
Examples of 'howlers' would include James, the brother of jesus, being one of the twelve apostles, and the gospels claim that Mary was a virgin until after the birth of Jesus somehow causing a problem since they also record the names of Jesus' siblings.
Overall, the author demonstrates an ability to write entertainingly but without the academic rigour that might make tihs book of interest to anyone wanting a reliable account of history.
He does make some good points about archeological finds from early Israel but he is not a scholar nor an archeologist - just an writer who has done some research - mostly second-hand at best.
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