cover image Jerusalem: The Biography

Jerusalem: The Biography

Simon Sebag Montefiore. Knopf, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-0-307-26651-4

Popular historian Montefiore (Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar) presents a panoramic narrative of Jerusalem, organized chronologically and delivered with magisterial flair. Spanning eras from King David to modern Israel with rich anecdotes and vivid detail, this exceptional volume portrays the personalities and worldviews of the dynasties and families that shaped the city throughout its 3,000-year history. Montefiore explains how religious and political influences created the city’s character, while fostering its stature as a center of the Western religious world. He effectively demonstrates how political necessity stimulated and inspired religious devotion and how the portrayal of Jerusalem as a holy city sacred to three religions is relatively recent. Chapters are organized by epochs: Judaism, paganism, Christianity, Islam, Crusade, Mamluk, empire, and Zionism, with the body of the book ending with the Six-Day War. A balanced epilogue considers Jerusalem in the context of recent events. Drawing upon archival materials, archeological findings, recent scholarship, and his own family’s papers (he is descended from the 19th-century Jewish leader Moses Montefiore), Montefiore delivers Jerusalem’s unfolding story as epic panorama and nuanced documentary history, suitable for general and scholarly audiences. Photos and maps. (Oct.)