David Mytton

Book Review (3/5) – The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words (Simon Schama)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

This is not a history book in the usual way I would expect. It does indeed explain events over the time period of the title but does so in a narrative, almost fiction-like manner. Shama’s writing style is enjoyably descriptive and personal, but tends to ramble somewhat. This makes it very much “the story of the Jews” rather than just a timeline of facts and events. I do like this approach but I think it is perhaps taken a bit too far at the expense of clear, concise explanations and analysis of history. At times I felt like I didn’t really know what or why something was happening but was immersed in intense detail about individuals participating in those events. It’s an unusual approach to history.

I learned a lot of useful information from this book but struggled at times to pick out the important bits from the writing style. It was helpful to watch the BBC TV series at the same time as progressing through the chapters. The earlier episodes track the book quite well but the book is significantly more detailed and the TV series wanders off into a different time period (covered by the next book in the series).

Also note that this is a history of the Jews, not so much a history of Judaism. The religion is of course covered but if you want to learn about the Jewish religious practice, you will need to accompany this with another title.