A History of the Jews

by Paul Johnson

Book, 1987



Call number

700 JOH



New York : HarperPerennial, 1988, c1987.


In this critically acclaimed book, Paul Johnson delves deep into the 4,000-year history of the Jews: a race of awe-inspiring endurance, steadfast homogeneity and loyalty and, above all, the belief that history has a purpose and humanity a destiny. With exacting precision and enthusiasm, Paul Johnson has mapped the lives of these people from their early ancestors in the House of David, through great periods of creativity and enterprise, alienation in the ghettos, Adolf Hitler's obsession to obliterate the race, up until the present day. This book is a powerful argument about the nature of Jewish genius, its strengths and contradictions, which brilliantly presents the entire Jewish phenomenon. It makes incisive though-provoking sense of the whole.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lizka
An incredible summary of the Jewish experience beginning with Abraham and ending with modern-day Israel.
LibraryThing member ffortsa
This was a very personal book for me to read, and my feelings about it vary from great interest to embarrassment. Great interest because his recounting of early history is fascinating and new to me. His investigation of archaeological and other evidence of the pre-biblical and biblical eras is
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detailed, direct and unbiased. But he seems to lean some of the more recent history, that of Jews in America, for instance, seems toward a Jewish exceptionalism that is made explicit in his short epilogue. Toynbee said Jews were fossils, inexplicably present well after their rightful time. Johnson sees Jews as leading the moral development of the world, infinitely adaptable and valuable to the continuity of civilization. I don't care for either description.

Nevertheless, the book is a valuable addition to the historical canvas. Some of it, such as the details of Jewish life during the Middle Ages, is so painful I had to put the book aside. The chapter on Israel is detailed, if perhaps more laudatory than it should be, especially in light of recent current events. I'm glad I read it. But I don't think I would read it again.
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LibraryThing member RajivC
This is an excellent book, and for anyone interested in learning about the Jews, this is an excellent book. Paul Johnson has covered the saga of the Jews in an admirable way. Having said that, it is a heavy read, and may require one or two re-readings after a space of time, to fully understand the
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book. This, I write from the perspective of an Asian who has read about the persecution of the Jews, but who's knowledge is sketchy.

The manner in which I approached the book also made it a bit confusing at first, with references to Biblical characters, as I had not realized that the Old Testament is more historical than I had realized. It is also the history of a people, and not the history of a nation: it is not the history of Jerusalem and Israel, as I soon realized. Having said this, the one gripe that I do have about the book, is that he could have divided the chapters into sections, which would have made it easier to understand the flow of the story from continent to continent.

The approach is balanced, and this is something that I like. It would have been easy to adopt a somewhat biased and hysterical stance, especially considering what the Jews have endured. That he wrote the book in a balanced and somewhat detached manner is remarkable.

It is also sad to understand how, in the name of God, we persecute people, and initiate pogroms against them due to our own ignorance and blind faith. In that sense, it is as much of a history of human bigotry and cruelty.

I read the book, and came out at the end, with considerable admiration for the Jews, as a people.

This is a book that I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member SABC
This is a powerful reminder of the Jewish achievements that covers 4000 years. It not only covers Jewish history, but the Jewish genius and imagination on the world.


Original publication date



1857993802 / 9781857993806

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