Holy City’s evolution

Simon Sebag Montefiore’s ‘Jerusalem: The Biography’ is a highly readable narrative about the ancient city’s turbulent history

Jerusalem: The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, Phoenix, RRP£9.99, 720 pages

Starting with Jerusalem’s Abrahamic origins around 1,000BC, Simon Sebag Montefiore swoops through the Judaic, Christian and Islamic periods of the Holy City’s turbulent evolution in this highly readable “biography”. It is a relentless narrative of mass slaughter, conquest and sacking.

This bloody, but fascinating, whistle-stop history of military adventuring and the peccadilloes of rulers gives little sense of the physical city’s nascent personality until the relative stability of the Ottoman period. Growing western interest and cultural imperialism broaden the palette as the author picks out political complexities of more recent times, coming to a natural “decisive stop” at the 1967 six-day war.

Montefiore scrupulously avoids theocratic adjudication between the Abrahamic faiths’ competing claims on this ancient and unique city. His secular tone gives a balanced portrait that offers contextual depth to the region’s fractured history.

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