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At a number of points throughout "Jerusalem" I found myself thinking "How did he learn all this stuff and how is he managing to set it down in such a readable way?" The scope of the period covered by Simon Sebag Montefiore; the birth of civilization in the fertile crescent to the current day; presents real problems. The thing could just become a survey of historical events; it could get bogged down in detail or leave the listener dissatisfied by seeming to skim over crucial events. He avoids all of those pitfalls partly by opting to tell the story of Jerusalem through a number of families who shaped its history. So we get a gallery of intriguing and in some cases very obscure characters who are all fascinating company and who help to give a sense of the story barrelling along while also allowing Montefiore to slow down when he thinks it necessary and really explore a topic.
The city and it's buildings also feature with a satisfying level of detail about where the remains of ancient buildings can still be found in sometimes hidden corners of contemporary Jerusalem. As we get nearer to the modern day the author offers what seems like a fair and balanced account of the claims and behaviours of the various groups who still tussle for control of the city as a whole and the religious sites within it. I'm not religious so I just wanted this aspect of the book to feel like it was treating all parties with a bit of respect and so it did. The other way he grips the listener is through consistently excellent writing.
In addition to the absolutely excellent book itself praise is also due to John Lee, who narrates and the producers. Lee manages some pretty daunting pronunciations well throughout; he's clear as a bell and sounds like he's actually reading the book rather than just reciting it thoughtlessly. It's always nice when good narration makes a positive contribution to the listening experience.
Highly recommended. Sorry I can't give it 6 stars.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
Of my limited experience, Jerusalem is one of my favourite cities and I am interested in the history of Israel. This is a good book but I expected it to be great and it dragged a bit in places. I have had enough of the narrator's style having listened to at least two of his longer performances in the recent past.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This is a book I should rather have read in print. That would have the added benefit of being able to look at the countless maps and illustrations, none of which is included in the Audible edition (inexplicably, given the ease of providing a pdf file).
Jerusalem is a city with a fascinating history, and Montefiore does about as good a job of telling this history as one could wish for. (The book doubtless deserves its countless rave reviews, and John Lee's narration is also excellent).
However, at times hour after hour of narration involving a constant succession of potted descriptions of conquests, rebellions - and the atrocities involved - becomes hard to absorb and leaves one's head spinning. Like an account of thirty football games in direct succession, one loses score and can't remember who did what to whom - just that it was exceedingly bloody.*
This is true mainly for earlier parts of the book (after a few hours I almost decided to stop listening); I found the later actors and events, which are dealt with at greater length, easier to remember.
I listen to audiobooks - most of them intellectually quite challenging - while painting; somebody who does nothing else while listening may find the whole of the book easier to absorb.
So, my advice is: if your eyesight and lifestyle allow it, read it instead of listening to the 25 hour audiobook.
* "In “Jerusalem: The Biography,” Simon Sebag Montefiore unleashes so many kings, killers, prophets, pretenders, caliphs and crusaders, all surfing an ocean of blood, that the reader may begin to long for redemption, not from the book, which is impossible to put down, but from history itself." - Jonathan Rosen in a review of the book in the NYTimes, Oct. 28, 2011.