Jerusalem is the universal city, the capital of two peoples, the shrine of three faiths; it is the prize of empires, the site of Judgement Day and the battlefield of today’s clash of civilizations. From King David to Barack Obama, from the birth of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is the epic history of three thousand years of faith, slaughter, fanaticism and coexistence.
How did this small, remote town become the Holy City, the “center of the world” and now the key to peace in the Middle East? In a gripping narrative, Simon Sebag Montefiore reveals this ever-changing city in its many incarnations, bringing every epoch and character blazingly to life. Jerusalem’s biography is told through the wars, love affairs and revelations of the men and women - kings, empresses, prophets, poets, saints, conquerors and whores - who created, destroyed, chronicled and believed in Jerusalem. As well as the many ordinary Jerusalemites who have left their mark on the city, its cast varies from Solomon, Saladin and Suleiman the Magnificent to Cleopatra, Caligula and Churchill; from Abraham to Jesus and Muhammad; from the ancient world of Jezebel, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod and Nero to the modern times of the Kaiser, Disraeli, Mark Twain, Lincoln, Rasputin, Lawrence of Arabia and Moshe Dayan.
Drawing on new archives, current scholarship, his own family papers and a lifetime’s study, Montefiore illuminates the essence of sanctity and mysticism, identity and empire in a unique chronicle of the city that many believe will be the setting for the Apocalypse. This is how Jerusalem became Jerusalem, and the only city that exists twice - in heaven and on earth.
©2011 Simon Sebag Montefiore (P)2011 Random House Audio
“Magnificent . . . The city’s first ‘biography’—a panoptic narrative of its rulers and citizens, heroes and villains, harlots and saints . . . Montefiore barely misses a trick or a character in taking us through the city’s story with compelling, breathless tension.” (Norman Lebrecht, Wall Street Journal)
“Impossible to put down . . . A vastly enjoyable chronicle [with] many fascinating asides . . . Montefiore has a fine eye for the telling detail, and also a powerful feel for a good story.” (Jonathan Rosen, New York Times Book Review)
“Magisterial . . . As a writer, Montefiore has an elegant turn of phrase and an unerring ear for the anecdote that will cut to the heart of a story . . . It is this kind of detail that makes Jerusalem a particular joy to read.” (The Economist)
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
I have listened to a lot of audible history books, including many on the Middle East. This one is a standout. Justly praised by experts on the subject, this book manages to walk a lot of tightropes: it is a biography of a place, but manages to include many engaging characters. It covers vast amounts of time, but still gives you a deep and vivid feeling for periods of history. It draws on many scholarly sources, but manages to remain compulsively interesting to non-experts while still acknowledging the many disagreements and debates over various time periods. It offers great sweep, but avoids moralizing or lessons.
And, in perhaps the greatest tightrope of all, it covers the entire history of Judaism, and much of Christianity and Islam, in a way that is both historically based and respectful. While the author does not take any religious claim seriously (mentioning how many religiously important tombs or shrines are actually known to have different origins than those ascribed to them, discussing the historical evidence for David and Jesus, and so on), the book sticks to historical facts in a way that is likely to enlighten more than it will offend.
Really impressive overall, and very well-read. I would suggest it to anyone with an interest in world history, the middle east, or the history of religion - really, just about anyone.
You start into this book looking at the historical context of this time in middle eastern history and you become wrapped up in a drama meant for television. John Lee captures the personalities and background politics of an incredibly influential period of time in Israeli Arab relations leading to this war. You understand the pretext of the political events leading to this war but more important, you feel the intricacies involved among all sides involved as well as the intelligence and political motivations both short and long term. The material is read with depth and intention bringing the listener into the events as they fold so that the listener understands what was generally believed by the people of the nations drawn by nationalism and one countries plight to remain on the map. This is a political journeyman's flight through prewar, understanding the politics of war and the long term affects considered long before the end of a conflict.
Two distinct ideas came to mind as I listened to this one. Since I could not weave them into one coherent treatise I thought I’d share them both.
- If you like John Lee as a narrator, this book is possibly for you.
- If you like your history dense, this book is probably for you.
- If you wonder why this area continues to be so f*ed up, this book is likely for you.
Sadly, Jerusalem’s history has been determined by dynamite, sword, and blood. It’s violent past has earned it the moniker, “The maim, rape, and pillage capital of the world”.
SO,. . .
- If you like beheadings, heads on poles, heads on gates, or mutilated bodies left rotting on the ground for years and/or enjoy the putrid odor as a result this book is for you.
- If you like eviscerations, bisections, slow dismemberments starting with fingers and toes and working your way through the body joint-by-joint, or dismemberments of noses, ears, hands, etc., for punishment, this book is for you.
- If you like hangings, garroting, fingernail pulling, or heads crushed in vices, this book is for you.
- If you like eye gouging, hacking of bodies until they are no longer recognizable as human and then kabobed, this book is for you.
- If you enjoy torture such as being forced to drink molten gold, or suicide bombings this book is for you.
I don’t know if it was the author’s intent but I interpret the overriding theme to be the historic brutal violence of this place. I had known of the Crusades and assumed there were military battles but never imagined the sickening degree of violence. It reminds me a quote from William Wilberforce (an English social reformer and abolitionist) that I referenced in my review of The Slave Ship, that sums it all up for me, “So much misery condensed in so little room is more than the human imagination has ever before conceived.”
(George Burns speaking as God) “What in my name have you done? Yeah, you! I’m talking to all of you. Christians. Muslims. Jews. Arabs. Europeans. Palestinians. You know who you are. You, who invoke my name. This disgusting, vile, abhorrent behavior has gone on for over 2,000 years and must stop. What’s wrong with you people? Did you lose or misunderstand the tablets I sent down regarding your expected behavior? I have granted you dominion over all my creations and in return I ask you to follow 10 simple rules. Is that really too much to ask?
As your Father, I try to be understanding and patient. And, like a father, I am sometimes forced to discipline. Remember, the 40 days/nights of rain? Sodom and Gomorrah? The plagues of Egypt? How soon children forget. But, be forewarned! Know that I’m watching. Learn to play nice with the other children and stop justifying your actions in my name. I am a God of peace and love. Don’t make me bring all of you up here for your personal judgment. If that happens, let’s just assume I won’t be in a good mood.”
As-salamu alaykum. Shalom Aleychem. Peace.
I was shocked at how little I knew (with a Masters in History) on many aspects of the Worlds Most well known city. This is a long, in-depth detailing history of the most influential spot on the planet. Don't miss your opportunity to listen to this fine detailing of Jerusalem. There's murder, mayhem, intrigue, and beauty that will just keep you rooted to the book for all 8+ hours of listening and you won't even notice how long you've been listening.
This book would be a joy to listen to again, if only for the fascinating stories and sometimes outrageous personalities that are an indelible part of Jerusalem's history.
The sections on early Islam, Herodian Jerusalem, Jesus and the Crusades were excellently written and expertly narrated.
This book is much too long to listen to in one sitting, much less digest the wealth of information. It is better enjoyed listening to each section over 1 to 2 months. With whispersync, I often found myself reading the book along with John Lee's narration to follow the dense but intriguing story.
John Lee's narration is nearly flawless. He uses correct pronunciation for Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Greek and Armenian names, just to name a few. His only flaw is an attempt to imitate Chaim Waitzman, which comes off as slightly slapstick.
It was very well performed and extremely interesting. The muslim periods were difficult for me to keep track of because the names all seemed so similar. However, it would rank it in the top 80% of audiobooks that I've listened to.
There was humor, scandal, and very interesting connections that were peppered all throughout the book. I felt like it was tied together very, very well.
Buckle Up - This is a Long, Long Story
While this book increased my knowledge, and I am glad that I listened to it, I'm quite uncertain about the quality of the knowledge gained. When the author announced that his only historical basis for a section of his book was the Bible, I was alarmed by how badly he managed to misstate the facts. It made me wonder about the rest of his "facts" when drawn from sources where I was not an expert.
Another cause for concern about his credibility arises from how he treats his relatives in the book. For example, he describes one elderly ancestor who (as I recall) raped a household servant. (I say "raped" because I understood the servant to be a 14 year-old.) Instead of treating this as a character flaw (to put it mildly), the author claims this event shows the vigor of his ancestor. It made me wonder about the accuracy of his conclusions where he did not recount the underlying facts.
The narrator has a most unusual way of pronouncing names. Historical names familiar to most people are pronounced in such a bizaarre way that it takes a few moments to realize which historical figure is being discussed. Time yourself to see how long it takes you to realize that the person under discussion is, for example, Hercules or Nebuchadnezzar.
Maybe I shouldn't have experienced a more academic historical view of Jerusalem, but it hardly seems wise to base the early history exclusively on the fables from the Bible and Torah.
Some scholarship and research could have helped to explain to a listener what we understand the old city was like from excavations and research and not just paraphrased the old testament and call it a job well done.
The later half was much better researched and balanced, and the modern period was very enlightening.
What an incredible feat. To bring so much history, so many dates and empires and overthrows into such vivid, fascinating detail. Not a dry moment in the whole book. And perfectly read by the fantastic John Lee.
I feel so much richer for understanding the sordid, complex, fascinating history of this troubled and tremendous city that is Jerusalem.
Simon Montefiore did a great job in making the complicated history of Jerusalem understandable. There are some issues in his interpretation of Christian history that are questionable. Nonetheless, it's the best work on the matter.
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