"The History of the Jews" by Paul Johnson (1987)
"Hence when the ghetto walls fell, and the Jews walked out into freedom, they found they were entering a new, less tangible but equally hostile ghetto of suspicion. They had exchanged ancient disabilities for modern anti-Semitism."
Paul Johnson is an English historian and politician. He's known for his conservative views. Many years ago I also read his Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830.
The History of the Jews, as you might expect, starts in antiquity and ends in the late 80s, when this book was published. It's divided into seven sections, which are: Israelites, Judaism, Cathedocracy, Ghetto, Emancipation, Holocaust and Zion. Zion, which closes the book, describes how the state of Israel came to be.
I was familiar with most of the theology, thinkers and historical incidents presented in this book, though there were a couple surprises. If you've taken a course (or read a book) on the development of religion in the ancient world you'll probably feel the same way. I didn't find much of interest in this book until the last two chapters, these dealing with the Jewish dilemma during and after World War II.
In terms of style I have nothing bad to say about Paul Johnson. He can be plodding at times, but he states his arguments clearly and offers a lot of supporting evidence. This was even more the case in The Birth of the Modern, which I found to be the more insightful of the two books.
My one complaint about this treatment of Jewish history is that it felt like it needed another chapter: Diaspora. Outlining the history of Jews in lands beyond the Middle East, the United States and Europe would have added another dimension to discussions of both the Holocaust and Israel, and would have also made the book as a whole feel more relevant to a wider number of readers. To some extent the author does do this in the Zion chapter, but his analyses of more remote Jewish communities are very brief, and obscured by a more statistical approach to the subject.
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