Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: A History of the Jews

A History of the Jews
A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not just a history of the Jews. It is a history of Western Civilization. It covers so much, it is at times overwhelming. It is hard to sum up one’s response to a book that covers nearly 5000 years and every major event in the West. I can do no better than quote Johnson from his Epilogue: “It seems to be the role of the Jews to focus and dramatize these common experiences of mankind, and to turn their particular fate into a universal moral” and “The Jews believed they were a special people with such unanimity and passion, and over so long a span, that they became one. They did indeed have a role because they wrote it for themselves.” These lines succinctly and accurately sum up the book and Johnson’s approach on the history of Jews.

Johnson’s take is sympathetic and admiring. He is fascinated by the history he is telling and so the reader is fascinated as well. I do wish the parts where broken up in to chapters or sections to facilitate reading. This is not a book one reads in a sitting. Each part is a small book in itself, and so more natural breaks in the text would have helped. Johnson does an amazing job of integrating the history, of tracing lines from ancient Baghdad to modern Tel Aviv. Like any good long book, I am glad to have finished it, but I will miss it.

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