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History of the Jews
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on 21 September 2013
Paul Johnson is nothing but thorough in his massive and well researched history of the Jews. Though he is clear and at pains to show the truth about Jewish history and to praise Jews throughout for their contributions to the world, one cannot escape the lack of 'mea culpa' in the Catholic role of persecution - he is after all, a leading Catholic writer. He also avoids Geza Vermes' conclusion that Jesus and his followers were indeed wholly Jewish, and not some self-appointed Messiah cult. It was Paul who created the fatal schism between followers of Jesus (Joshua, to give him his right name) and the more traditional Jewish disciples who took part in the events of his life and death. All the Gospels accepted by the Church were written by Paul's followers well after his split with the Jews, and became increasingly anti-Jewish after the First Revolt against Rome. That Johnson is ignorant of these facts is simply not possible.

With these caveats, I doubt anyone, Jew or Gentile, would not learn a great deal from this one volume. I know I did. Johnson is intelligent, clear eyed, and creates some wonderful insights into the facts. That Israel today is riven by the same tensions between the worldly (Saul) and the religious (Samuel)is one bold and largely true insight. Johnson is clearly full of praise for the Jews throughout, though he is not sparing in his adept analysis of Jewish self-hatred, as seen in Marx and many other characters. This is due to the astonishing persecution throughout the ages, and the internal fight between the worldly and religious. There is much to think about here and reflect.

Johnson is also unsparing about his views of tormented Israel and the role of the Arabs, Soviet Union and oil money in creating a topsy-turvy image of Zionism as racism. Haven't Jews suffered enough? This is the question asked by the pious Jews who see Israel as man's presumptions over-stepping Gods -no, there is more to come. Though written in 1987, this book has enough bite to be relevant today, and if you have the time, patience and resolve, reading it is well worth while.
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on 9 December 2014
I am about halfway through with the Kindle version of this. As is usual for Paul Johnson, it is an engaging read and hard to put down.

The reason I give it 4 stars, however, is due to the Kindle version having a few OCR rendering issues, which detract from the text occasionally (it seems about every other page in some sections). This means sometimes that I have to go elsewhere to see who or what Johnson is writing about.

(Until I started using Kindle, I had no idea how many manuscripts weren't committed to digital format by the publishing companies - some are so distractingly full of OCR rendering issues. I assume this arises from being copied from hard copies.)
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on 3 December 2013
Enjoying it. Some odd gaps so far, which probably have more to do the the reality of pre-history than Johnson's ability. One is the idea that the tribe, that became the nation, that became Israel seemed to emerge with a sense of self before even the religion, or area of settlement became real. Another is the observation that at one stage, about 0AD, perhaps 10% of the population of the Roman empire was Jewish, and had already spread though Italy and many other geographies.

Enjoyable read on a big subject.
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on 3 October 2016
Fantastic - so much in there that I didn't have a clue about - shows how ignorance of history drives peoples prejudices.
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on 25 September 2012
This book does not cover everything - but then no work on such a vast topic can.

What Paul Johnson does cover he does very well - both on history, and on theology, philosophy, economics and politics.
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on 24 January 2016
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on 14 April 2013
It took me a year to read this and I am glad I did. I am a much more informed jewish person as a result! It starts slowly but comes to a momentous climax! One thing of many that I learned (and remembered in this case) was that Zionism was a secular movement. Theodore Herzl had never been in a synagogue before he had to try and get the religious communities on board in order to achieve his aim, which was to escape the horrendous life he and his fellow countrymen were enduring in Tzarist Russia, with it's institutionalized racism in the 1870's.
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on 17 April 2012
I have not finished reading this big ,all embracing, book but so far it promises what I wanted; a comprehensive review of Jewish history going to back to year one.
Not just that but this book explains Jewish philosophy and how it was formulated ,the reasons for their traditions and points of view, there is a lot to it, not a quickie read on the underground!

So far it excellent!
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on 26 January 2018
I found this book because I realised my history of the Jewish culture and race was fairly spotty. Having read the book, its definitely mission accomplished. Its very thorough, well researched and a complete history of the Jews (ie as the title suggests!). However, it is far from the most accessible book I've read. In particular, it uses a lot of arcane/archaic words. Here's a few examples:

psephologists, comintern', exegetical, tendentiousness, doge, flagrant delicto, unctuous, irenic, palimpsest, demotic, sylviculture, eschatological,
embrasures, antinomian.

Luckily I read this on kindle so could quickly access definitions, but still? My next challenge is the book is only divided into five sections! For such a long book this can make it difficult at times!
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on 16 January 2014
Paul Johnson has once again attempted a daunting task, and succeeded. Having previously read other comprehensive studies of Jewish history, this is the far superior comprehensive study on the market.
The opening chapter, Israelites, follows the Biblical narrative of the founders of the Hebrew nation, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon, and then later, at the time of Isaiah, the narrative changes from when the descendants of Abraham became known as Jews, rather than Israelites.
The chapters Cathedocracy and Ghetto follow the story of the Jewish people after the fall of Jerusalem and their attempts to find place in European society. What follows is the story of various expulsions, ranging from the 1492 expulsion from Spain, the persecution under the Spanish Inquisition, and how the general fortunes of the Jewish people could change intermittently, as their rights under their hosts could often be (and were) revoked.
The chapter Emancipation is a general study of Jewish progress in the modern era, with the various Jewish intellectual achievements of the age, such as Freud and Marx (though Johnson makes no attempt to hide his critical attitude toward Marx) and the various Jewish leaders and politicians of the age. Although Theodore Herzl is examined very well, perhaps more background on the founder of modern Zionism could have been given, though the work is more about the movement, rather than the individuals.
A particular strength of Johnson's study is the chapter Holocaust. While this may be very familiar ground for any student of modern history, Johnson has at least covered new ground for this reader. Johnson approaches the infamous crime with a particular question, why did it happen in Germany, the most educated and advanced country in the world? Germany was once a country that had a very good record of treatment of Jews, but this was gradually upturned. Johnson provides a detailed analysis of how Jews were gradually stripped of their rights starting with the 1933 disenfranchisement of most civic rights, and how the moves toward the Final Solution were done in a stealthy manner.
More surprising, however, is the general incredulity of the allies toward what was actually happening. The United States was reluctant to accept Jewish refugees, and Great Britain, perhaps the most philosemitic country in the world at the time, was generally set on continuing Jewish Emigration to Palestine, rather than absorbing an influx of refugees.
The final chapter, Zion, examines the creation of the state of Israel. As a Graduate of International Relations myself, the examination of the partition plan, the six day war, and the 1973 war seemed very familiar, but where Johnson sheds new light is in the dynamics of Israeli politics and society, and how Israel very narrowly avoided becoming a one-party state dominated by the Labour Party.
Johnson also contains additional gems of knowledge such as the various manifestations anti-semitism could take, including the most absurd conspiracy theories (Protocols being one of many), the extent to which they were believed, and the rationale (or lack of) behind them.
The only critique this reader has of Johnson's work is that the general themes of the chapters later in the work seem to overlap. The beginning of the chapter Holocaust appears very clearly as a continuation of Emancipation, and the actual namesake of the chapter is not reached until later on, however with a work this good it is difficult to find fault.
Johnson writes passionately, and not only is his work illuminating and filled with gems of knowledge, it is also immensely readable, and is perhaps, the best single volume work on the history of the Jews available to the general public.
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