Image: A stack of books, with flowers and an apple. (congerdesign /Pixabay)
“What’s a good book about Jewish history, Rabbi?” I get that question several times a year, and the answer is, there is no single definitive history but there are a lot of good books out there. Here are some books I recommend to my students:
Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. This is a comprehensive history of the Jewish People, written in a very accessible style. It’s probably the most exhaustive one-volume history currently in print.
Potok, Chaim. Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews. Potok is a master novelist, and this very readable history is a good introduction to Jewish history. It’s available as a used paperback.
Schama, Simon. The Story of the Jews, Vols. 1 “Finding the Words” and 2. “Belonging.” These volumes (with a third volume expected in the near future) are a cultural history of the Jews written by an art historian and scholar. These are companion volumes to Schama’s PBS and BBC series. Schama tells this history differently than a rabbi would tell it — and I think that’s the strength of this series.
Scheindlin, Raymond. A Short History of the Jewish People: From Legendary Times to Modern Statehood. This history is brief and very readable, by a distinguished scholar who is also a Reform rabbi. Used copies are easily available online and sometimes in local used bookstores.
Mack, Stan. The Story of the Jews . This history is written in graphic novel format. Reviewers have pointed out a few historical inaccuracies in it (for example, the specifics of Hitler’s rise to power are incorrect.) On the plus side, it does a good job of describing a lot of the Jewish story and putting things into a chronological framework. This one is a very easy read, but it still has lots of good information.
Not a history per se, but a great resource:
Barnavi, Eli. A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People from the Time of thePatriarchs to the Present. This is an excellent historical resource, especially if you are drawn to pictures, time lines and graphics.
Is there a book you recommend that isn’t on this list? I’d be delighted if you’d share it in the Comments.
5 thoughts on “Books about Jewish History”
“Here All Along: finding meaning, spirituality, and a deeper connection to life–in Judaism” is a relatable, comprehensive book by former Michelle Obama speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz.
It’s on my pile of Read Soon books! I have heard wonderful reviews.
I’ve read the first two and my non Jewish but history loving father-in-law loves Johnson’s book.
Max I Dimont’s “Jews, God, and History” is a great read as well.
The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD
The Story of the Jews Volume Two: Belonging: 1492-1900 Hardcover – October 24, 2017,
both by Simon Schama.