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History of the Jews

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,171 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews

A national bestseller, this brilliant 4000 year survey covers not only Jewish history but he impact of Jewish genius and imagination on the world. By the author of Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Eighties.

ebook, 656 pages
Published March 17th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 1987)
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Stephen Dean-
I believe "History of the Jews" is still considered to be the definitive history of the Jews. It was recommended to me by several members of the…more
I believe "History of the Jews" is still considered to be the definitive history of the Jews. It was recommended to me by several members of the Orthodox Jewish community as the most detailed and accurate account of the Jewish experience through history. I hope you will read this book and learn as much from it as I did from Johnson's amazing work. You won't be dissapointed. (less)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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May 09, 2011 Elaine rated it liked it
Shelves: ebooks
This history of the Jews is written through the ideas of a devout Christian who believes, i think wrongly, that Jesus intended to abandon Judaism in order to start a new religion . Yet, Johnson's own account of Jesus' ministry confirms that Jesus, a student and follower of Hillel, had as His mission the aim of getting Jews to practice what they preached

Before enlarging upon this perhaps controversial claim, we should consider Johnson's reasons for writing the 4000 year recorded history of the
Goldy Kresch
This is a marvelous history - of a people who happen to share a name with mine but otherwise bear no resemblance to them. Johnson is a wonderful historian, but he clearly has never read the Talmud or Kabbalah. He writes of the rationalist and irrationalist strains of Judaism without realizing that Kabbalah - which he deems irrationalist- actually addresses some of philosophy's hardest questions and brilliantly refutes such notable philosophers like Aristotle and Spinoza. He assumes that the frin ...more
Barnaby Thieme
I'm not really reviewing this book, I'm explaining why I abandoned it pretty early on. This book is not for me, and personally I feel it shouldn't be for anyone, but you can draw your own conclusions.

I abandoned this book when it became excruciatingly obvious that Johnson was cherry-picking historical arguments to find archaeological and historiographical support for Biblical events, and reducing more than a century of criticisms of this approach to Biblical archaeology to straw man caricatures
Jeffrey Cohan
Sep 15, 2011 Jeffrey Cohan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: judaism, history
This book was written by one of the most prominent historians of the 20st Century, and as a best-seller in the late 80s, has certainly been read by a large number of non-Jews. But this book should be read by every Jew who lacks a full appreciation for what Judaism has contributed to modern civilization. And the vast majority of Jews fit that description.

It isn't so much what Johnson will teach you – it's how he says it, how he transmits the essence. To wit, here is part of his description of Mos
Jan 25, 2010 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was very well done. The author seemed to mainain his objectivity, although that is always up for debate, I guess. I found the ancient history and the modern history equally enjoyable, perhaps because I have some basic knowledge in these areas, but the middle history (1000-1800) was pretty much all new to me and helps complete the picture. I remember a plant from my childhood that we called a "Wandering Jew" and I finally understand the meaning of this phrase (if not why it is applied to tha ...more
Jul 11, 2015 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why did I read this book? Not sure. I suppose I wanted to know more about Jewish history, which is probably the best reason for reading a Jewish history book. How do you talk about an entire religion and culture within the single volume of a book? You don't. Instead, you do your best to provide thoughtful summaries that serve as bookmarks for the reader, remind the reader to go back and find out more about the subject that appeals to him or her. Paul Johnson is a famous British historian who tur ...more
Regina Doman
May 09, 2012 Regina Doman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Paul Johnson ... ah, this man is a treasure. The only thing I can think of that comes close to being as good as reading a book by Paul Johnson is reading a book by David McCullough -- and I read David McCullough mainly to console myself after having finished another book by Paul Johnson.

Johnson brings a relentlessly moral worldview to his various surveys of history, and he has just enough difference in temperament and worldview from me to keep me reading critically. I have come to look forward
The first three parts of the book were very interesting and I especially enjoyed learning about the prophets as actual people, as well as all the variety of Jewish sects that sprung up in antiquity. Where the book runs out of steam starts in the fourth part, when he starts to get bogged down by continuous listings of dates and cities of expulsions and pogroms. We get it, already! Listing dates and locations doesn't make for an interesting book. He also gets bogged down with listing all these peo ...more
Rajiv Chopra
Oct 26, 2013 Rajiv Chopra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the Jews
Shelves: religion
This is an excellent book, and for anyone interested in learning about the Jews, this is an excellent book. Paul Johnson has covered the saga of the Jews in an admirable way. Having said that, it is a heavy read, and may require one or two re-readings after a space of time, to fully understand the book. This, I write from the perspective of an Asian who has read about the persecution of the Jews, but who's knowledge is sketchy.

The manner in which I approached the book also made it a bit confusin
This is not just a history of the Jews. It is a history of Western Civilization. It covers so much, it is at times overwhelming. It is hard to sum up one’s response to a book that covers nearly 5000 years and every major event in the West. I can do no better than quote Johnson from his Epilogue: “It seems to be the role of the Jews to focus and dramatize these common experiences of mankind, and to turn their particular fate into a universal moral” and “The Jews believed they were a special peopl ...more
Jun 19, 2009 Erik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This caught me up on Biblical mumbo jumbo, the dawn of rabbinism, all the juicy violent tidbits about the Spanish Inquisition, Russian pogroms, French conspiracy theory, and Holocaust. Finally it updated my about the origins of Zionism, and helped my have a deeper understanding of the ongoing Arab/Israeli conflict. This book does seem to have a Jewish favoritism thing going on...yet it was written by a Christian. You sort of get to see the dilemma of the religion of Judaism, and the race of Jews ...more
Mar 10, 2016 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Rounding up from 3.5

There is a lot of information in this book. Some parts were really fascinating and informative. Other parts were a bit slow. It seemed like the focus was more on the place of Jews in society than on their beliefs. Other than a long section in the middle that seemed to place a lot of emphasis on Jewish mysticism, there wasn't a lot of time spent on how religious beliefs evolved or stayed the same over the centuries. I would have liked more of that. The focus instead was much m
Justin Tapp

The only way to get through massive volume like this quickly is to listen to it, which is what I did. You can discount all the negative reviews that say "just read a Bible!" because biblical history is only the first 15% of this book. Most Protestants have never read Maccabees and are generally unaware of the history of Israel between Micah and Matthew, making it hard to understand the contextual backdrop of the Gospels. Johnson comes from the Catholic tradition and almost assumes the reader has
Nov 24, 2015 Jena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Todos conocemos alguna parte de la historia de los judíos por leer la Biblia --me refiero al Antiguo Testamento y no a los Evangelios--. pero pocos podemos ligar esa parte de la historia con lo que les sucedió en la Edad Media, en la Ilustración y más tarde en la Época Contemporánea --la nuestra--, en la cual el pueblo judío logra sus derechos de ciudadanía, que por siglos le fueron negados, y la adquisición de un territorio en Palestina donde establecerse. Por otra parte, nos instruye sobre el ...more
Demetrius Rogers
A history of the Jews should've, in my mind, read like a narrative. However, this one felt more like a disconnected set of lectures. I listened to this on audio, and maybe it was because of the narrator, but it was dry. Delivered in a monotone. It did not not compel or interest me in the least. I strained to capture a few nuggets here and there. I will say it was thorough, and everything that you would need to know to understand this people's history is brought together here. But, where's the dr ...more
Jan 16, 2014 Adrian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Paul Johnson has once again attempted a daunting task, and succeeded. Having previously read other comprehensive studies of Jewish history, this is the far superior comprehensive study on the market.
The opening chapter, Israelites, follows the Biblical narrative of the founders of the Hebrew nation, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon, and then later, at the time of Isaiah, the narrative changes from when the descendants of Abraham became known as Jews, rather than Israelites.
The chapters
Rafael da Silva
Um livro muito interessante. Conta a história do povo judeu desde os tempos bíblicos até a década de 1980. Seria mais interessante se tivesse uma edição complementar. Uma que falasse dos anos 2000 também.

Uma coisa que não gostei, mas não desmerece o livro, foi o claro posicionamento antiesquerda do autor. Nenhum intelectual da esquerda tem nenhuma qualidade. Não estou alegando que foram perfeitos, ninguém é, mas ficou claro que só foram ressaltados seus defeitos e ou posicionamentos que difiram
Paul Mullen
Feb 20, 2016 Paul Mullen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To be sure, to understand history one should read more than one account. This particular account is remarkably helpful because it does several things well:

1. It recounts the events. It is generally told in chronological order, but not strictly so. This allows the reader to understand themes that run through the story.

2. It places the story in context. One cannot tell the story of the Jews without telling the story of the world around the subject people.

3. It offers a point of view. This one is f
Jean Hoefling
Feb 11, 2015 Jean Hoefling rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In his prologue, author Paul Johnson offers curiosity as one of his primary motivators for writing a book about the intriguing Jewish people, and my curiosity on many elements of Jewish history was certainly satisfied through this book. From the cradle of monotheism and Abraham, to "a vaguely promised land," to a thought provoking chapter on various Jewish visions of what and who the Messiah is, to an overview of the (somewhat) modern Israeli state (the book was published in 1987), it's all here ...more
Adam Glantz
Paul Johnson's work adopts the perspective of "world history seen from the viewpoint of a learned and intelligent victim." This provides insight into the method to follow. In style, Johnson is sensitive, practically to a fault, and to contemporary readers this is most visible in his treatment of Zionism as a positive given, rather than a phenomenon to be debated. In substance, his work often emphasizes the lachrymose turns in a story that's well known for its tragic episodes. Overall, the book i ...more
Feb 24, 2016 William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well done. The book drags a little in the twilight years of the Middle Ages, as the history at this point is one of survival through a torrent of pogroms. Johnson had a daunting task, trying to bridge the years between the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. to the Renaissance when Jewish historical data is scarce. But he does a good job of showing how the pogroms led to Jewish community consciousness in Europe, and on to the Dreyfus affair, to Zionism, to the Holocaust, to the formation of Is ...more
This was a very comprehensive recounting of 4000 years of Jewish history, from different perspectives and with a wonderful analysis of context, diversity, and religious views.

I had just some issues with the use of "race" as referring to the Jewish people in the prologue and first chapter of the book, and with the exclusion of the tabernacle and it's role from the text (which I think would have made some of the observations of the latter role of the Temple, different). Other than those two thing
Jul 13, 2013 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gushing tribute to Judiasm and the Jewish experience. He covers 4 thousand years, hurtling through Abraham and Moses, the Torah, Judea and Israel, Babylonian captivity, the prophet and kings, the Temple, Jesus, the Maccabees, and the travails of the diaspora in Spain, especially under the inquisition, and on to central and eastern Europe, amongst the Poles and Russians, and the split between the poor Jews and the assimilated thinkers and traders, the court Jews. All leading to Hitler's holocaust ...more
Genese Grill
Oct 14, 2013 Genese Grill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This massively interesting and at times harrowing book changed my mind (and life). How can I have walked around and had opinions about things all these years without knowing all of this terrible and wonderful and complex history? Reading it was like having dark areas in my brain illuminated. I always like Paul Johnson, for his stodgy conservatism and his clarity of writing (his biography of Elizabeth I is my favorite of his books, second to his book on Modern Times..can't remember the title righ ...more
Richard Block
Sep 26, 2013 Richard Block rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Catholic Guilt?

Paul Johnson is nothing but thorough in his massive and well researched history of the Jews. Though he is clear and at pains to show the truth about Jewish history and to praise Jews throughout for their contributions to the world, one cannot escape the lack of 'mea culpa' in the Catholic role of persecution - he is after all, a leading Catholic writer. He also avoids Geza Vermes' conclusion that Jesus and his followers were indeed wholly Jewish, and not some self-appointed Messi
Jan 06, 2014 C rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's a tough book to read. It's relatively well written, although I've seen better organized histories. Obviously it was something of a monumental task and getting it together in this form is impressive. It's just so depressing. Johnson tries his best to make it sound like we haven't spent the better part of four thousand years being treated as "sub-humans" or not human at all. Tries and fails, it must be said. A noble failure.

The major complaints I had: The ancient history section is a little s
Jan 17, 2008 Ray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Its one of those highly anecdotal, tart, opinionated, under-footnoted, rambling British style histories, like Owen Chadwick's Secularization of the European Mind, or Peter Brown on Augustine, or one of Thomas Cahill's popular books. I'm sure Johnson is way off at points (I don't know enough to know where). And he is way to sympathetic to his subject to be balanced. He's a neo-con politically, spending the early '80s with the American Enterprise Institute, hanging out with Zionist Jews like Irvin ...more
Jan 30, 2016 Yves rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Some basic knowledge of the History of the Jewish people is indispensable for those living in western, so-called "judeo-christian", societies. This book by Paul Johnson is an excellent primer from where to begin, and from there to deep-dive - at will- into other books.
One could not comprehend fully the History of the Jewish people without being aware of the contribution and impact of "Cathedocracy". One chapter of this book rightfully delves into it.
Anna West
May 14, 2008 Anna West rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jews
I got it for Sid but then I didn't have a book so I've been reading it instead. there is no way he is going to get through it. This book is really interesting. It starts wih the first Jew, Abraham and traces from the Old Testament the lives of Jews all the way to present day. I thought it would be fascinating to have a copy of the bible nearby (I don't) to compare passages with those in the book, because it pretty much follows it chronologically.
That being said, I didn't even make it through a q
Elsie Klumpner
I was looking for comprehensive history of the Jews and this books certainly delivers. Johnson does an excellent job of leading the reader through ancient times until the present, documenting the history of the Jews against the context of the hostile world we have lived in. His writing is clear and he takes the time to introduce the reader to the important characters both Jewish and gentile. The history of the Jews IS the history of anti-semitism. It is as old as the earth and it never flags eve ...more
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Paul Johnson works as a historian, journalist and author. He was educated at Stonyhurst School in Clitheroe, Lancashire and Magdalen College, Oxford, and first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for, and later editing, the New Statesman magazine. He has also written for leading newspapers and magazines in Britain, the US and Europe.

Paul Johnson has published over 40 books incl
More about Paul Johnson...

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“Indeed, there are recurrent hints in the Bible that the Israelites had feelings of guilt about taking the Canaanites’ land,147 a curious adumbration of Israeli twinges about homeless Palestinian Arabs in the late twentieth century. The Israelites, however, hid any remorse in the belief that the conquest was a pious act: it is ‘because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you’.” 1 likes
“Zohar-kabbalah is heresy of the most pernicious kind. Yet it is a fact that this kind of mystic pantheism exercises a curious appeal to very clever people whose customary approach to thought is soberly rational. By a remarkable paradox, the current of speculation which was to carry Spinoza out of Judaism brought him to pantheism too, so that he was the end-product both of the rationalism of Maimonides and the anti-rationalism of his opponents.” 1 likes
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