Vibrant portrait of the most famous city in the world, seen here as an earthy metropolis, a clamor of voices, a cluster of cultures of mind-boggling diversity and promise. Rabinovich, an Israeli journalist, peoples his city with a mesmerizing cast of heroes and villains. The heroes, who include both Arabs and Jews, are epitomized by Mayor Teddy Kollek, a savvy, hot-tempered former gunrunner who works 18 hours a day to unite his city's warring factions. The villains are religious fanatics such as Dennis Rohan, a deranged Australian Christian who precipitated a major political crisis when he torched the al-Aksa mosque on the way to proclaiming himself King of Judah. Between these two poles stand most of Jerusalem's inhabitants, selectively brought to life by Rabinovich in quick, vivid sketches: Hanan, a police spy who infiltrates a Jewish ultra-orthodox sect; Leib Weisfish, a Hasidic anti-Zionist obsessed with Nietzsche; Hamdi Nubani, a Muslim who translates Jewish spiritual texts; Frida Schlain, a housewife from Argentina who has a vision of the ark on the ruins of Masada; Father Photius, sole inhabitant of an ancient monastery near Jerusalem. The overriding sense here is that of a dusty, stone, walled hothouse filled with the human equivalent of orchids, roses, Venus' flyraps: a city so teeming with life, so scarred by death that it can never be understood, only quizzically observed in cross-sections such as these--the next best thing to being there.