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The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BC-1492 AD

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  373 ratings  ·  65 reviews
In this magnificently illustrated cultural history--the tie-in to the PBS and BBC series 'The Story of the Jews'--Simon Schama details the story of the Jewish experience, tracing it across three millennia, from their beginnings as an ancient tribal people to the opening of the New World in 1492 to the modern day.

It is a story like no other: an epic of endurance against des
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Hardcover, 512 pages
Published March 18th 2014 by Ecco (first published 2013)
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Gustav Dinsdag The documentary is really good. A very personal approach it seems. I haven't read the book yet but I'm told it follows the same outlines as the…moreThe documentary is really good. A very personal approach it seems. I haven't read the book yet but I'm told it follows the same outlines as the documentary. I can recommend watching it!(less)
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Richard Epstein
I thought, "I can't wait to see how it ends!" I should have waited. Volume 1 ends with the Inquisition burning, and the Crown expelling, Jews by the thousands. Schama writes with great brio and a distinctively conversational wit (though I just can't make myself as interested in architectural and holographic details as he is), but there is no way to disguise the the terrible sadness of angry Christianity in action. One wants to cry out, again and again, 'Have they never read that book of theirs?"
Christoph Fischer
I was somewhat disappointed by the book. Given the high profile of the author I had come to expect a very competent and thorough historical account but found myself confused from the first chapter onwards about the direction of the book. Although I appreciate that this is not meant to be popular science or Jews for Dummies the book expects a lot of prior knowledge in several disciplines, unless you want to continuously flick back to the index. I know some of the necessary background but not enou ...more
Denis Vukosav
‘Story of the Jews’ written by Simon Schama is well-researched book that on its five hundred pages provides a good overview of Jewish history over a period of 2500 years.

When I saw the title of this book I was a bit surprised how such a long history period the author managed to compress in the still respectable 500 pages book, and how readable it would be to someone who does not consider himself a detailed scholar of Jewish history, but approaches to the subject as a historical enthusiast.

The an
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Richard Block
Tale of Woe

The brilliant, erudite and articulate Simon Schama produces a muddled, idiosyncratic history of his people (OK, our people). Using his usual trick of engaging you through people you may or may not have heard of to make general points, this first volume only pays dividends in the later chapters on the late middle ages and the inquisition. Until then, it's a mess.

Schama does not credit biblical history much, unless it is Christian or Muslim history. He thinks the Old Testament is pretty
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Mal Warwick
Can you think of any ethnic group that has been more closely studied than the Jews? I can’t. Thousands upon thousands of books have been written about Jews and Judaism; more than 53,000 are listed on Amazon alone — surely a small fraction of the total works produced over the three millennia that have passed since King David united the nation of Israel.

Why, then, does Simon Schama write yet another history of the Jews? The easy answer, of course, is that he was approached to produce a television
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John Carter McKnight
Simply the best book I've read in many years, due largely to the quality of Schama's voice. As a history, it's fascinating in its wide range - from the Mesopotamia of 1000 BC to the Spanish Inquisition, from a fort at the head of the Nile to the Tower of London, from Aramaic to Arabic to Ladino. That scope can be a bit dizzying, as the pace accelerates after the Roman destruction of the Temple: generations pass in the blink of a few pages.

But through it all, Schama's narrative voice is a guide:
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Howard Cincotta
I had never heard of Elephantine, and Simon Schama is betting that you haven’t either, as he opens volume one (“Finding the Words”) of his massive and massively entertaining history of the Jewish people from their puzzling origins to their brutal expulsion from Spain in 1492. Volume two (“When the Words Fail”) takes the story to the present.

In Schama’s telling, Elephantine, a Jewish garrison town on an island in the Nile River that dates from the fifth century BCE both reinforces and contradicts
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William Crosby
I saw the title and thought this would be a linear history. I should have paid more attention to the word "story" and the subtitle: "Finding the words."

So if you are looking for a strictly historical and linear account as I was you could be frustrated. It jumps around and includes discussion of archaeology and research and spends extensive pages on stories.

I found the jumping around distracting. Dwells extensively on a comparison of the mythology of the Jews (as told both in the Bible and in oth
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Socraticgadfly
OK as an intro, but not much more.

The main problems are twofold and related.

It's thin in places, and it's just wrong in a few. The latter first.

The main areas of errors are in events related to Jesus and his time. First, Schama indiscriminately uses the term "procurator" for the Roman governor of Judea when, in most the material covered by Acts, that person was a "prefect."

Second, he's too credulous on Suetonius and Tacitus and just how much, or how little, they knew what they were talking about
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Bob Breckwoldt
When I saw Simon Schama launch his book “The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000BCE-1492CE” at Manchester Jewish Museum it took 10 minutes of talking for him to realise he hadn’t switched on the microphone and not everyone could hear him. This very much encapsulates him and the book. It is like him, excitable and voluble, personal and academic, Jewish and learned, polemical and partisan, jokey and deadly serious. And everywhere there are words, words, words - yet images and artefacts abou ...more
Jonathan
Despite his occasional annoying habit of letting his television voice slip into the narrative, Simon Schama's work is a minor masterpiece, especially in his extrapolation of the latest archeological research into the history of the Jews of the Biblical era. He assumes a certain familiarity with the general themes of the topic (not a problem for me, but I can't speak for everyone) but, as is par for the course with Professor Schama, the language flows effortlessly as a seamless, captivating garme ...more
Todd Stockslager
Review title: Lost, but never for words
Schama has been a popular and prolific narrative historian covering topics as diverse as the French Revolution, American history, and now this history of the Jewish people. I've read all three of those, and they usually leave me wanting something missing.

This story starts strong as Schama describes the transition of the Jews from scattered wanderers to, well, scattered wanderers in different places but with a remembered homeland in Jerusalem. The early stor
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Michelle
I think Schama could make the history of dirt exciting, and gory. So when I saw he was taking on the history of the Jews I was excited. I'd somehow missed--or possibly just never thought about--his being Jewish when I read his previous books. If you are a very religious traditional Jew who believes the Biblical narrative completely, you may have some disappointments in the early chapters. I enjoyed the early chapters for the stuff I *didn't* know--like there was a colony of Jews in southern Egyp ...more
Francine
This book is outstanding! I am a fan of Schama's Citizen so I knew I needed to read this book.

I have a degree in European History and Schama, of course, filled in the gaps and illuminated things I had never heard before. Oh, the great women of Judaism, so many fine examples who are seldom highlighted in the teaching of History.

I an not Jewish but I know that much of my Catholic faith is built upon their faith. I know something of the historical missteps, and worse, that divide us and Schama taug
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Scott
Last winter Schama's documentary of the same name aired on PBS and along with it the promotion of this two volume history. I enjoyed the series so well and the previous Schama book I read (Landscape and Memory) that I ordered volume one. And was not disappointed.

First, Schama is a skilled writer. Here are a couple of examples:
For a couple of hours after supper, the sages, false messiahs, poets and rabble-rousers came into our little company as we cracked walnuts and jokes, and drank wine and the
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Ariel
Finally done. I learned so much and so painlessly, thanks to Schama's erudition combined with a witty, irreverent, lively, sometimes poignant style. Longer review to follow.
Rui
Very good! It gives a good perspective about what is history in the Bible. And we get a feeling about how Judaism evolved.
Scott Schneider
I didn't really know much about Jewish history from 1000 BCE to 1492 so I did learn a lot from this book. I just found the writing difficult. A lot of long sentences with many unfamiliar names and place names. Do you know who the Idumeans are? Neither did I. But some parts were fascinating, e.g. about the evolving relationship between Jews and Christians or Jews and Muslims. Also some of the Jewish poets and philosophers. But it was just difficult to read. As well as being somewhat depressing. I ...more
Ameya Warde
I didn't realize how very little I knew about the history of the Jewish people until I read this book. And, despite it's extreme readability (some other reviewers complained about his 'tv presenter voice,' but I found that all the more engaging), this took me -months- to read, which is very unusual for me.

Significant time was spent, especially in the first half, wikipedia'ing the many things mentioned in passing that I wanted to learn more about. Schama balanced detail and sweeping overview rat
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Alex Marshall
What's not to like, as Simon Schama would say in one of his yiddisher asides. Apart from these slightly overdone bits of the demotic, i found the writing a bit doughy. That's a pity, because he has a lot to say. I kind of wish I'd seen the TV series instead, or as well.

Then again, the central idea, that it is the Book, the words, that have kept Jews Jewish down the centuries, is a powerful one. How else to account for the survival of Jews, as Jews, in the face of resolute attempts to extinguish
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anna
The book of Nehemiah is considered a memoir by scholars, and with the book of Ezra written at the same as the events (30).
There's no evidence to corroborate the exodus, but the fact that Israelite poets would create an epic detailing servitude and slavery (which us completely different from other epics) shows that there must be some actual history in the story (73).
"It makes much more sense to see the bible texts arising from the yeasty Hebrew-- shared by the people's tongue, the priestly poetr
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Randall Smith
What I most like about Schama’s book was the emphasis on the tangible. He concentrates on archeological discoveries, surviving papyrus letters and fragments, the ruins of ancient synagogue, their styles, locations and decorations, in other words, things that can be seen, felt, read. He does not start the history with Abraham, Moses and similar mythic characters for whom there is no real evidence. Since he deals mainly with the tangible, the history does not start as early as one might have thoug ...more
Ami
Incredible in its scope and detail, this is not a history book in the classical sense of dates and chronologies. Schama weaves together the stories of Jewish communities and individuals arching back to 1000 BCE to 1492 (as if he knew them all first hand) with his own very personal search for what unites us all. The five part PBS series that was produced from this book and its yet to published second volume is just a small taste of the incredible ground that is covered in this absorbing book.
Marleene
Beautifully written prose as always, is characteristic of any book by Schama. Historical characters are given personality and emotion and life in this work and the reader can delight in his witty turns of phrase. He is primarily an art historian, and he devotes many loving pages to descriptions of mosaics and illustrated manuscripts, to architectural details and to those portions of Jewish history which he personally finds most telling but not necessarily those that other historians may find of ...more
Henry
Rarely has history found such an approachable exponent. It's a huge subject, and a huge book, but a marvellously easy read. There is, of course, a serious point. Jews have contributed disproportionately to human culture, but have been rewarded by intermittent but historically relentless persecution by every society in which they are constrained to live (and this book only gets as far as 1492.) Zionism may be unfashionable, even unpalatable. But it is also necessary.
Riet
Schama heeft een prachtig boek geschreven. Ik denk wel, dat je het een en ander over het onderwerp gelezen moet hebben om het allemaal te volgen. Zoals altijd schrijft hij geen recht toe recht aan geschiedenis, maar zoekt er allerlei interessante en vaak onbekende feiten en personen bij. Het is heel goed leesbaar,bij vlagen ook geestig. Ik ben benieuwd naar het tweede deel.
Dave Kramer
This companion history to the PBS documentary was, at times, a little difficult to read, but fascinating nonetheless. I am not Jewish, so I sometimes didn't understand all of the terms he used. Sometimes he explained them, sometimes he assumed we were as informed as he is. Still, I really enjoyed the narrative.

It isn't a traditional history in the sense of a blow-by-blow, year-by-year account. He selected key periods in time that were not only pivotal moments in Jewish history, but also when he
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Jorge Efraín Dardon
Store ofertas the Jews.

Interesaron but sad. The beginnning in Elephantina is a master stroke. The book doesn't explain very well the deterioration of the Link with Christians. Somehow, it assumes some kind of inevitability. The final chapter about Spain and the expulsion is heartbreaking.
Mark
Pretty good overview of premodern Jewish history here, full of Schama's trademark wit and erudition. His hilarious and sympathetic encounter with the Talmud and its authors alone is reason to pick this up. A focus on Jewish-gentile relations makes this a book for everyone, as I am sure was the intent.
Jon
This overview of Jewish history from the post-Davidian kingdoms to the Spanish expulsion is very much written in Schama's voice: you can hear him talking to you, the cadences of his writing being very much those of the spoken word. This is very engaging and entertaining, and Schama introduces us to a wealth of interesting characters (especially the redoubtable and resonantly named Licoricia of Winchester), but I'm knocking off a star for getting bogged down in too much detail at several points.
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Simon Schama was born in 1945. The son of a textile merchant with Lithuanian and Turkish grandparents, he spent his early years in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. When his parents moved to London he won a scholarship to Haberdashers’ Aske’s School where his two great loves were English and History. Forced to choose between the two he opted to read history at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Here he was taught ...more
More about Simon Schama...
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