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A History of the Jews

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,994 ratings  ·  156 reviews
This historical magnum opus covers 4,000 years of the extraordinary history of the Jews as a people, a culture, and a nation, showing the impact of Jewish character and imagination upon the world.
Paperback, 644 pages
Published September 14th 1988 by Harper & Row (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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 ·  1,994 ratings  ·  156 reviews

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Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review is dedicated to the Jewish Nation, reborn as a sovereign people, in the Land of Israel.
In this work Johnson undertakes a comprehensive study of the Jewish people (from the route word Yehudi, meaning people of Yehudah (Judea), popularly referred to today as the West Bank, the ancient cradle of the Jewish people.
He begins the book by referring to the town of Hebron, where the founder of the Hebrew Nation is buried with his wife Sarah. Johnson refers to the previous occupiers of Hebron,
Barnaby Thieme
Nov 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned, judaism
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
May 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeffrey Cohan
Dec 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, judaism
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
Rajiv Chopra
Oct 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Thomas Mulshine
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting and rather complete and sometimes complex review of the Jewish history. I would have given it five stars except for the reader which I found very hard to understand at times. Obviously I did not read this book but listened to it on audio.
Regina Doman
May 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Lior Lichai
Now, I have a confession to make before I begin my review. I did not finish this book. I could not finish this book. My rabbi asked me to go through the books they recommend as resources and see what I thought of them.

I think the publisher should be sued for false advertising. They described this book as a "history." It is not a history. It's a mix of Christian biblical literalism and thinly veiled Christian supersessionism. Very thinly veiled. At one point, he says, apparently with no self-awa
May 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Goldy Kresch
Apr 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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
Jun 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Alex Waterston
Aug 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is a book written by someone who believes the (mostly) literal truth of the Bible, and where archeological evidence is lacking, or disagrees with the biblical narrative, the Bible is presented as evidence in its stead. That alone would be enough to stop reading. Unfortunately, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The author dismisses, wholesale, all non Judeo-Christian people as backwards, uncivilized barbarians. He dismisses Islam as a fringe group of uncultured Jewish heretics. He nonchalan
Kaitlin Moore
An incredibly detailed yet comprehensive guide to the history of the Jews, starting with Genesis and heading up through the creation of Israel. It details these constant nomads experiences though the early possession of Israel, to the diaspora, to settling throughout Europe and the persecution that found them there. The creation of Israel i found particularly fascinating.

It's a long book, and there was a lot, I'll admit, I didn't absorb as much as I'd have liked but it's an excellent tool to le
Jun 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
DC Palter
Aug 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
An evangelical Christian view of the Jewish history, working from the assumption that everything in the Bible is essentially true starting at least from Noah being a real person. (Since other ancient people in Mesopotamia had similar myths of a flood, it must be true, just as the Bible says!) It declares Abraham's story as fact since it seems realistic and goes from there. It's exceptionally long and poorly written, spending more time refuting anyone who calls these stories myth than trying to t ...more
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Paul Johnson’s epic-length ‘A History of the Jews’ is the very definition of a curate’s egg - good, in parts. But it is also very bad in other places.

On the whole, it has been a slow but enjoyable read. Johnson offers remarkable and candid reflection on critical moments in the rich, often painful, history of Judaism and Jewish people. He gives a vast overview of some three thousand years of history, theology and politics, providing me with much greater insight into a topic I always wished I knew
Sudeshna Bora
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Paul Johnson has comprehensively chronicled the journey of the Jews in this mere 644 paged book. Given the fact that he has captured about 4000 years of world history focussing on the Jews, this is a commendable feat in itself. This book starts at a time when the Jews didn't even call themselves that and ends at the 1970's. This book takes us back to about a few dozens of years before collective Jewish faith started being adopted.
Paul Johnson has divided this book into seven logical subparts na
Ann Otto
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Johnson's book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in history. In 644 pages he details the history of the Jews from their beginning as Israelites four thousand years ago to the 1980s when the book was published. There is much detail, and many names are mentioned and then referred to pages ahead. Fortunately, Johnson's index makes it easy to check back to the first mention of the individual and get up to speed. He doesn't use chapters. The book is divided into seven long parts reflecti ...more
Paul Mullen
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
May 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish
Basically what you would expect -- a very able historian giving us a 4,000 year history in 600 pages. As a narrative, the book would have worked better had Johnson been less focused on dates and devoted more time to some of the key figures of Jewish history. I also fault him for being too credulous when discussing biblical events and for not being more evenhanded when writing about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Jun 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Comprehensive history that includes the many contributions of the Jewish people to western civilization in spite of centuries of unrelenting persecution and prejudice.
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is one of a minority of books that are more an experience than a narrative. I honestly feel awed. Nadia May narrates excellently.
Bryan Alkire
Nov 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Bit too credulous for a professional history
Oren Mizrahi
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
tl; dr: long, nuanced, highly academic, incredibly disorganized

Paul Johnson seems to be the only gentile in the history of Judaism to love the Jews more than we love ourselves. Demonstrating what is very clearly a deep passion and admiration, he attempts this 4,000 year history of the Jewish people.

In this 600 page monologue, there are some hits and some misses. The hits:
1. He somehow manages to refine all of Jewish history into a number of recurring themes, all the while accurately portraying t
Eileen Mulshine
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book! Thanks to Paul Johnson for his thorough research over the long history of the Jewish race. From it's beginnings, when God called Abram out of the land of Ur, Abram followed God's instructions and thus started a new race of a people of whom God continued to revealed Himself, giving them a new way of life different than all the nations of the world. The way of peace with their fellow man, with the giving of the Ten Commandments and the revelation of one God with the way to worship Him. ...more
Juan  Cordero
While both the first and last chapters are quite thrilling and captivating, the narrative decays along the middle and become difficult to follow the guiding thread. There are too many characters, events that are referred just a couple of times and then never mentioned again.
This could be a much shorter book, focusing on the most relevant episodes of Jews' history, and leaving aside those unnecessary details and anecdotes that turn the reading heavy at times.
By the way, the author is notoriousl
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
This is a profound and readable book - a great primer for Jewish history from its earliest beginnings to the mid-1980s. I read this shortly after finishing Modern Times, Johnson's more famous work. This book compares favorably because it will always be more linear to cover the history of one people over thousands of years than that of all peoples over sixty years, as Modern Times attempts to do.

My only caveats with Johnson's work have to do with the first few chapters of the book. Johnson takes
Olga Trueshine
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
A comprehensive encyclopedia of Jewish culture and history that switches from never-ending lists of names and descriptions to deep discussions on philosophy and psychology. What I enjoyed most is that I could use this book as a reference to find other Jewish books, art, and people.

I got almost to the end, but the Holocaust chapter was too painful for me. It was so well-described (from perspectives of economics, sociology, politics, etc.) that I couldn't read anything else for months afterwards,
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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

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