Book Review: Simon Sebag Montefiore: “Jerusalem: The Biography”

I studied history for the past 4 years as part of my undergraduate. I think thats how I became a history teacher. During this time I didnt get to read many books from cover to cover. I just had to zone in on whatever topic my assignment or essay was on and hope that the person who had the book before me had underlined the relevant parts.

When I finished my degree I decided that one thing that would do me well in my future career would be to read more history books. So I decided that the only books I will read for the next while would be historical. Some would be straight up history books, others would be biographical, others would be history based novels. Did I mention that I’m an exciting guy? No, oh pardon my rudeness. I’m an exciting guy, I once knew a guy who knew a guy who won €100 on a scratch card. He wasn’t 18.

As I have been blogging an awful lot about the Holy Land recently, it is only fitting to review a book that I read in preparation for the trip. The book I am going to review is Simon Sebag Montefiore’s; “Jerusalem: The Biography”.

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“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.”

I loved this book. Very enjoyable to read about the history of a fascinating city. I first came across Simon Sebag Montefiore during my undergraduate while researching an essay on Stalin. His style of writing makes his books very accessible and, unlike a lot of history books, his chapters are short and easily read while not skimping on the details.

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.

“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 is believed 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.”

A fascinating read that was thoroughly enjoyable. So much so that I actually saw it printed in Hebrew in the gift shop of the Holocaust museum in Israel and considered buying it for the novelty factor. It’s length makes it not suitable for sole classroom use but its insights and observations would compliment any lesson you may be doing on the holy city, be it in R.E or history class.

Highly recommended!

עד לפעם הבאה שנפגש.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Simon Sebag Montefiore: “Jerusalem: The Biography”

  1. Pingback: 7 Days in the Holy Land (part 4) | Mr. Bender's Plog

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Meda Ryan: “The Day Micahel Collins Was Shot” | Mr. Bender's Plog

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