A sympathetic portrait of Jewish history that is, unavoidably,
sometimes idiosyncratic in its selection of material to include or
omit; it's also purposefully careful to focus more on external than
internal Jewish life. Indeed, the Jews come off here as a focal
point of world history, so that all of civilization's story can be
told simply by following the course of Jewish history and fully
considering its background. Johnson attempts to do that with mixed,
though generally good, results. His focus is on the Jewish people's
central message - ethical monotheism - and how that message has
been heard and accepted, ignored, or increasingly attacked by a
hostile world. Johnson does have a sense that the Jews have been
one unified people hurtling their way through a tormented history;
this misleading sense of oneness is why he consistently and
incorrectly calls the Jews a "race." There are many valuable
sections of the book. The Biblical section is forthright in its
claims that Biblical persons lived, for example. But the strongest
part of the book is about the rise of modern Israel. Although the
choice of material is even here sometimes arguable, there is no
doubt that Johnson captures the spirit of Zionism and explains it
with enviable lucidity, care, and depth of feeling. Nor have the
extraordinary incidents of Jewish history been robbed of their
drama by pedestrian prose. Johnson rises to each occasion as he
needs to invoke a setting or a person. A very readable, useful
introduction, then, especially to modern Jewish history. (Kirkus
A classic study of the Jews by a best selling author. 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.
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