JERUSALEM by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Kirkus Star


The Biography
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The sanguinary story of thousands of years of conflict in the home city of religions.

Perhaps it’s impossible to write disinterested history, but Montefiore (Young Stalin, 2007, etc.) endeavors to do so—and largely succeeds. The author sees Jerusalem not just as the setting for some of history’s most savage violence—some of the butchery makes Titus Andronicus look like a Sesame Street segment—but a microcosm of our world. Our inability to achieve sustained peace there is emblematic of our failures around the globe. Montefiore begins in 70 CE with the assault of the Roman leader Titus (not Andronicus) on Jerusalem, an attack featuring thousands of crucifixions of Jews—not to mention eviscerations to extract from the bowels of the victims the valuables they’d swallowed. The author then retreats to the age of the biblical David, and away we go, sprinting through millennia, pausing only for necessary explanations of politics, religion, warfare and various intrigues. The story is horribly complex, and Montefiore struggles mightily to make everything clear as well as compelling, but the vast forest of names, places, events sometimes thoroughly conceals some small treasure at its heart. Still, the history is here: Nebuchadnezzar, the Herods, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Pilate, Caligula, Paul, Titus, Justinian, the Arabs and the Muslims, the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Suleiman, Ottomans, Napoleon, Disraeli, Lawrence of Arabia, Zionism. There are even some guest appearances by Thackeray, Twain and Melville. Suddenly, we are in the 20th century, and only the names and the killing technology have changed. The author ends with the 1967 Six-Day War and with some speculations about the future.

An essential text, bathed in blood, lit with faint hope.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26651-4
Page count: 672pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2011


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