The best books to grasp the conflict over Jerusalem

Why am I passionate about this?

Exploring what is hidden beneath our feet has been a long-time obsession of mine, a passion has taken me into subterranean Syrian tombs, Kurdish caves, Thai grave pits, and buried Assyrian palaces. Since I break things, I let others do the digging and I do the writing. I'm particularly drawn to places that can help explain why humans became the urban species we are today. What did they believe, think, eat, drink, and dream about? And I'll take a dusty and nearly vanished mudbrick Sumerian sanctuary in a remote Iraqi desert to a crowded Egyptian stone temple any day.


I wrote...

Book cover of Under Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World's Most Contested City

What is my book about?

How did a dusty and mid-sized Middle Eastern town set in desolate hill country turn into the world’s most contested city? It began in 1863, when a French politician arrived to dig up biblical relics. In the century and a half since, this search for sacred artifacts—including, of course, the famed Ark of the Covenant—has drawn a colorful cast of fortune seekers, missionaries, and archaeologists. Their efforts to extract ancient Jewish heritage from beneath the city spawned efforts by European nations to control the city, inspired Zionists to claim it as their own, and turned Jerusalem into today’s battleground. This is the tale of how those seeking treasures beneath the city forever changed the world above. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Nine Quarters of Jerusalem: A New Biography of the Old City

Andrew Lawler Why did I love this book?

There are many sweeping histories of Jerusalem, but this book tells the intimate stories of people and places that often get short shrift.

Teller takes us into the Arab as well as Jewish worlds of the Old City, and he serves as a gentle guide in the passionate and fraught politics of a city that, as he writes, “wears its history like a teenager wears a school uniform – joyless.”

By Matthew Teller,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Nine Quarters of Jerusalem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Original and illuminating ... what a good book this is' Jonathan Dimbleby

'A love letter to the people of the Old City' Jerusalem Post

In Jerusalem, what you see and what is true are two different things. Maps divide the walled Old City into four quarters, yet that division doesn't reflect the reality of mixed and diverse neighbourhoods. Beyond the crush and frenzy of its major religious sites, much of the Old City remains little known to visitors, its people overlooked and their stories untold. Nine Quarters of Jerusalem lets the communities of the Old City speak for themselves. Ranging…


Book cover of Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths

Andrew Lawler Why did I love this book?

It is impossible to grasp the hold that Jerusalem has on billions of people on the planet—Jewish, Christian, or Muslim—without understanding what Armstrong, a religious scholar but a popular writer, calls its sacred geography.

This is a great one-stop shop to appreciate the religious pull that the Holy City has had on so many for so many generations—and how that pull has launched bloody wars as well as dramatic innovations of faith.

By Karen Armstrong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jerusalem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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Book cover of O Jerusalem!: Day by Day and Minute by Minute the Historic Struggle for Jerusalem and the Birth of Israel

Andrew Lawler Why did I love this book?

If you want a gripping account of one of Jerusalem’s most critical moments, read this nonfiction tale that is paced like an action novel.

Collins and LaPierre piece together a coherent story with compelling characters—British, Jewish, and Arab—drawn from Israel’s chaos and the war that followed. You find yourself perched on a parapet on the Old City's ancient wall with Jordanian fighters, or creeping through the darkened streets with an Israeli combat unit. This is Jerusalem history at its most personal, violent, and nitty gritty.

By Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked O Jerusalem! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture, this remarkable classic recounts, moment by moment, the spellbinding process that gave birth to the state of Israel.

Collins and Lapierre weave a brilliant tapestry of shattered hopes, fierce pride, and breathtaking valor as the Arabs, Jews, and British collide in their fight for control of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem! meticulously re-creates this historic struggle. Collins and Lapierre penetrate the battle from the inside, exploring each party's interests, intentions, and concessions as the city of all of their dreams teeters on the brink of destruction. From the Jewish fighters and their heroic commanders to the charismatic…


Book cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

Andrew Lawler Why did I love this book?

This is the go-to history of Jerusalem, an easy read that makes the city’s vast past digestible. It won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed with dates and names.

This is a fine effort to tell a complicated story in a single volume, with the caveat that it lends more weight to the Jewish and Christian points of view, and less to Arab and Muslim perspectives. 

By Simon Sebag Montefiore,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Jerusalem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new, updated, revised edition of JERUSALEM: THE BIOGRAPHY, the wider history of the Middle East through the lens of the Holy City, covering from pre-history to 2020, from King David to Donald Trump.

The story of Jerusalem is the story of the world.

Jerusalem is the universal city, the capital of two peoples, the shrine of three faiths; it is the site of Judgement Day and the battlefield of today's clash of civilisations. How did this small, remote town become the Holy City, the 'centre of the world' and now the key to peace in the Middle East? Drawing…


Book cover of A Tale of Love and Darkness

Andrew Lawler Why did I love this book?

Oz’s moving tale of growing up in the conflicted city of Jerusalem is a welcome antidote to all those thick history books that put the gritty truth of the city at a safe distance.

For him, memory is “like ripples in water or the nervous quivering of a gazelle's skin in the moment before it takes flight.” This is the personal story of a boy trying to make sense of the collision of cultures in which he is raised, amid bad jokes and bombings, struggling to come of age amid violence and loneliness. Lyrical, sad, and tender.

By Amos Oz,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked A Tale of Love and Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tragic, comic, and utterly honest, this bestselling and critically acclaimed work is at once a family saga and a magical self-portrait of a writer who witnessed the birth of a nation and lived through its turbulent history. It is the story of a boy growing up in the war-torn Jerusalem of the forties and fifties, in a small apartment crowded with books in twelve languages and relatives speaking nearly as many. The story of an adolescent whose life has been changed forever by his mother's suicide when he was twelve years old. The story of a man who leaves the…


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Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

Book cover of Rip Current

Sharon Ward Author Of In Deep

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Even as a kid, I was intrigued by the underwater world, so as an adult, I learned to scuba dive. I took to it like a fish to water, and my husband and I spent the next several years traveling to tropical islands to experience the local dive conditions whenever possible. I loved learning how every island had a different culture and a different undersea environment. Since I love tropical islands, scuba diving, mysteries, and adventure stories, these books really hit my sweet spot.

Sharon's book list on mysteries set on a tropical island

What is my book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.

Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary. When a young internet influencer…

Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

What is this book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.
Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary.
Soon after a young internet…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Jerusalem, Jewish history, and childhood?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Jerusalem, Jewish history, and childhood.

Jerusalem Explore 40 books about Jerusalem
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