Jerusalem: The Biography

Simon Sebag Montefiore

2011


A real page-turner of a "biography", as much of religion as of the city of Jerusalem: the two are essentially inseparable.

The author has done an amazing job covering so much history in a consistently interesting and engaging style, from the earliest occurrences of Jerusalem in the historical record up to (nearly) the present day. And in all that time Jerusalem has been at the central nexus of history, as empires have flowed past it despite its inconvenient location.

What makes this book most fascinating to me is the cast of familiar characters who turn up, but out of the place in history you generally associate them with. There are Franz von Papen, Rudolf Hess, and Rudolf Hoess there during the First World War, before their rise to power in Nazi Germany; Charles Warren, who later achieved notoriety hunting Jack the Ripper; Rasputin, on leave from the Tsar's court. (There's also a walk-on part by a man called Fulk the Repulsive, who I wanted to hear more about just for his name.) The same is also true to some extent of the architecture, where each new building is constructed from the spolia of a previous age, re-used and re-purposed in a way that lets the alert scholar find Crusader inscriptions hidden on Muslim walls. A book like this illuminates sides of the city that no ordinary visitor, even one with a detailed knowledge of some historical period, could ever extract for themselves. It's enough to make one want to visit, with this biography as a guidebook.

Finished on Sat, 23 Aug 2014 00:00:00 -0700.   Rating 5/5.