Jerusalem: The Biography - Simon Sebag Montefiore

I picked this up on a whim, sometimes the best way to find a book. I started it almost in a stand offish way. I was wary that it would have a heavy religious bias, but found myself pleasantly surprised to find it quite impartial. Not knowing anything about the period or the setting; I was drawn into a gory, Borgia-esque world of death, war, rape, ravage and plunder. Sections of the book, ranging from the epic battles of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin to Zangi the bloody and beyond, provided a gruesome, yet utterly engrossing read.

 

Undoubtedly it is just an entry level book into a topic that one could spend several life times studying and still only accrue a basic understanding of. Nevertheless it does the job it sets out to do and quite masterfully pulls together thousands of years of events into a brief summary that both the knowledgeable and also those with a passing interest into the period can enjoy. If you were to be cynical you could point out that its accessibility and its rich tales stem from the desire to produce something more akin to a story than objective history. However, the history of Jerusalem is so full and expansive, that when told its almost as if you're stepping into a world that's even more brutal than some of the fiction in George R.R. Martin's A song of Ice and Fire. Some of the shady characters that have lived and died in the holy lands would eat the likes of Cersei Lannister for breakfast.

 

Because of the sheer scope of the book's timeline, (It covers thousands of years) a newcomer to the period may find themselves confused with the huge number of historical figures. At times the complex names can be hard to process. This combined with the fast paced nature of the book, due to cramming thousands of years of history into six hundred or so pages, can leave the reader somewhat disorientated. This would be my first criticism of the book. However, I would also like to take this point and turn it on its head to say that I also deeply admire the skill it takes to organize and plan a short book based on heaps of information. If as a reader i found myself at times confused by the names and events taking place, I can only imagine what it must have been like to be the person sifting through and organizing it all into a readable, factually correct book.

 

The only other small criticism I had of the book, is that despite it being generally quite impartial, as I'm aware I mentioned earlier, at times I felt that the author was perhaps more focused on the Jewish characters of the book as opposed to the other people's included in this brief history. In order to gain enough knowledge to form a well rounded opinion on the period, I would like to read several books with differing standpoints from across the regions of the holy lands. But to clarify this is slight and perhaps me being overly picky, this is a very well rounded starting point for any person that wishes to start their learning of a vastly interesting period of History, thank you for reading.