“Jewish History” is a huge topic. The Jews have been around a long time — more or less 3000 years — and we have lived everywhere on the globe. Jewish history is an enormous tapestry of ideas, people, and events.
So when a student asks me, “What’s the best history book, rabbi?” I usually ask, “What did you have in mind?” Some people are looking for an overview to orient them in the Jewish timeline. Others have something more specific in mind. Here are my suggestions:
Overview of Jewish History:
Givertz, Gila. Jewish History: The Big Picture. This book is adapted from the two-volume The History of the Jewish People by Professors Jonathan Sarna and Jonathan Krasner.
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. While it is not a scholarly history, it does a good job of describing the Jewish story and putting it into a chronological framework. It 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.