Drew's Reviews > Jerusalem: The Biography

Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore
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's review
Jan 13, 2012

it was ok

This book was an ambitious undertaking. Montefiore, in the end, does an OK job. The book is really slow to start off and there seemed to be a lot of holes in his storytelling. The first 2/3 of the book comes across as choppy and poorly written. There are gaps in the history and, at times, his writing comes across as awkward. In this portion of the book, he is essentially telling a history of war in Jerusalem, which is certainly important, but not the whole story for sure. I would have loved to have heard more about the geography, architecture, technology available, sitz im leben, etc. of the city during these various periods.

As the story and history itself moves on, Montefiore seems to get into it more and his expertise in modern history comes out. Those other aspects begin to appear and the story itself becomes more detailed.

Some pluses about this book are that he ties together a load of archaeological information in one volume, he does a good job of offering a fair account of the deeds and misdeeds of all three major religions over the years, and he has a unique and personal perspective to offer concerning this sacred city (particularly in the epilogue).

Sadly, a lot of the archaeological data is found in the footnotes. I think he would have been well-served to integrate this information into his narrative. Also, while he is a popular historian by trade, I would have rather just read his personal reflections on this history than an "objective" account because of his unique relationship to the city.

Three other niggles I have about this book are 1) his use of the King James Version for biblical quotes while he uses more contemporary English to translate all other primary sources 2) his misunderstanding or lack of engagement (I can't tell by reading which is the case) with the hermeneutics of ancient texts and genres, particularly biblical apocalyptic 3) he also spends a lot of ink diverging his history to talk about other places than Jerusalem. I understand that context is important, but he often spends paragraphs providing context that could be summed up in a few sentences.

Although it is neat to have all of this information in a single monograph, there are surely better narratives and more accurate histories. My suggestion is to look to those sources first and then read the epilogue of this book.
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06/05/2016 marked as: read

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message 1: by Kathlyn (new)

Kathlyn The good reviews I have heard of this book have largely been from uninformed readers. Those who are historians / specialists have largely condemned the book - for it's style (short sentences large amount of information in footnotes), it's factual inaccuracies and it's anti Islam bias.

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