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 3,000 years of faith, slaughter, fanaticism, and coexistence.
How did this small, remote town become the Holy City, the 'centre 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.
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. Read by John Lee.
©2011 Simon Sebag Montefiore (P)2011 Random House Audio
This is a book I should rather have read in print. That would have the added benefit of being able to look at the countless maps and illustrations, none of which is included in the Audible edition (inexplicably, given the ease of providing a pdf file).
Jerusalem is a city with a fascinating history, and Montefiore does about as good a job of telling this history as one could wish for. (The book doubtless deserves its countless rave reviews, and John Lee's narration is also excellent).
However, at times hour after hour of narration involving a constant succession of potted descriptions of conquests, rebellions - and the atrocities involved - becomes hard to absorb and leaves one's head spinning. Like an account of thirty football games in direct succession, one loses score and can't remember who did what to whom - just that it was exceedingly bloody.*
This is true mainly for earlier parts of the book (after a few hours I almost decided to stop listening); I found the later actors and events, which are dealt with at greater length, easier to remember.
I listen to audiobooks - most of them intellectually quite challenging - while painting; somebody who does nothing else while listening may find the whole of the book easier to absorb.
So, my advice is: if your eyesight and lifestyle allow it, read it instead of listening to the 25 hour audiobook.
* "In “Jerusalem: The Biography,” Simon Sebag Montefiore unleashes so many kings, killers, prophets, pretenders, caliphs and crusaders, all surfing an ocean of blood, that the reader may begin to long for redemption, not from the book, which is impossible to put down, but from history itself." - Jonathan Rosen in a review of the book in the NYTimes, Oct. 28, 2011.
"A Rolls Royce Production"
At a number of points throughout "Jerusalem" I found myself thinking "How did he learn all this stuff and how is he managing to set it down in such a readable way?" The scope of the period covered by Simon Sebag Montefiore; the birth of civilization in the fertile crescent to the current day; presents real problems. The thing could just become a survey of historical events; it could get bogged down in detail or leave the listener dissatisfied by seeming to skim over crucial events. He avoids all of those pitfalls partly by opting to tell the story of Jerusalem through a number of families who shaped its history. So we get a gallery of intriguing and in some cases very obscure characters who are all fascinating company and who help to give a sense of the story barrelling along while also allowing Montefiore to slow down when he thinks it necessary and really explore a topic.
The city and it's buildings also feature with a satisfying level of detail about where the remains of ancient buildings can still be found in sometimes hidden corners of contemporary Jerusalem. As we get nearer to the modern day the author offers what seems like a fair and balanced account of the claims and behaviours of the various groups who still tussle for control of the city as a whole and the religious sites within it. I'm not religious so I just wanted this aspect of the book to feel like it was treating all parties with a bit of respect and so it did. The other way he grips the listener is through consistently excellent writing.
In addition to the absolutely excellent book itself praise is also due to John Lee, who narrates and the producers. Lee manages some pretty daunting pronunciations well throughout; he's clear as a bell and sounds like he's actually reading the book rather than just reciting it thoughtlessly. It's always nice when good narration makes a positive contribution to the listening experience.
Highly recommended. Sorry I can't give it 6 stars.
"Interesting but ultimately too long"
There was a lot in this book that was interesting and informative but it somehow couldn't hold my attention for long periods of time. In small chunks I found it worthwhile and I never felt like giving up on it but often took a break from it. As a result, it took me a lot longer than usual to get through it.
Probably not. I might suggest it to a friend who had an interest in the subject but I don't think it would inspire anyone if the interest wasn't already there.
I had no problem with John Lee's narration It suited the subject.
I started off being very interested but as the book went on, each episode seemed to be dealt with in the same way and at a similar pace. It is a long book and my interest steadily waned. I always listen to unabridged versions but perhaps, in this case, I would have been better making an exception.
The speaker stresses every sentence in a dramatic way that makes it painfully hard to concentrate for any length of time.
"A VERY INTERESTING READ"
The author is perhaps most insightful when he gets to the more recent history, but the book is quite an achievement nonetheless. I found the narration irritating because the British English reader had plainly been told to use American English pronunciation; I couldn't get over the incongruity of it!
Well read, well structured and a real eye opener for those with preconceived ideas of the Middle Eastern political situation.
Essential reading for anyone interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
"Vitally important book"
If you have any desire to understand the current situation in the Middle East this is a great place to start. Seeing how the region has changed over the centuries helps to tie together very complex strands that are otherwise impossible to appreciate. This is a work of incredible breadth, staggering research and yet retains charm by way of delightful excursions and meanders. There are so many great characters brought to life that will provide you with the impetus for further research. 25 hours well spent!
A note on the voice, I wasn't that happy with it from the sample but it grows on you and he does a great job.
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