Jerusalem: The Biography, By Simon Sebag Montefiore

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The Independent Culture

This majestic survey of two overcrowded millennia in the Holy City will surprise as well as satisfy. Many readers may expect Sebag Montefiore's deft and vivid scene-painting and character-portraits, from Titus and the fall of the Temple through Saladin and the kings of Outremer to Napoleon and Moshe Dayan. Every conqueror, visionary and crackpot wanted a piece of this city; too many got their way. Less predictable is the amount of ribald enjoyment had along the way. The haunt of saints attracted its share of sinners. Along with the heroism and cruelty of God-mad generals or prophets we meet the playboys, courtesans and adventurers who – from Antony and Cleopatra to the Druze spy-vamp Asmahan – had fun amid the fundamentalists.