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

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. 31, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-26651-4

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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