James Carroll’s urgent, masterful Jerusalem, Jerusalem uncovers the ways in which the ancient city became, unlike any other in the world --- reaching far into our contemporary lives -- an incendiary fantasy of a city.

In Carroll's provocative reading of the deep past, the Bible’s brutality  was a response to  the violence that threatened Jerusalem from the start. Tracing the richly intertwined threads of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim history, Carroll illuminates the mounting European fixation on a heavenly Jerusalem as spark of both antisemitism and racist colonial contempt. The holy wars of the Knights Templar burned apocalyptic mayhem into the Western mind. Carroll's brilliant and original leap is to show how, as Christopher Columbus carried his own Jerusalem-centric world view to the West, America too was powerfully shaped by the dream of the City on the Hill  --  from Governor Winthrop to Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan. The nuclear brinksmanship of the 1973 Yom Kippur War helps prove his point: religion and violence fuel each other to this day, with Jerusalem the ground zero of the heat.

    To the standard set by Constantine's Sword, here again is a "rare book that combines searing passion . . . with a subject that has affected all our lives" (Chicago Tribune).

named a BEST BOOK OF 2011 by kirkus   reviews and publishers’ weekly.

“From the bedrock of the biblical literature, in one historical era after another, James Carroll explores the cultural layers that settled on the holy city --- also what’s settled on Western culture because of the way Jerusalem, and that word “holy,” have been imagined. Carroll’s city is a window into what makes people yearn---and therefore what makes them dangerous. I dare you to read this book and see Jerusalem, or yourself, the same way.”

        - Bernard Avishai


THE BOSTON GLOBE, MARCH 13, 2011   “A Masterful Look at the Paradoxical City on a Hill.” By David Shribman. Read it here

THE JEWISH JOURNAL, MARCH 29, 2011   “Provocative and Illuminating.”  By Jonathan Kirsch.  Read it here

THE ECONOMIST. MARCH 17, 2011   “City on a Hill: The Prize of Empire builders and the Seat of Quarrels.” Read it here

NBC NEW YORK WEEKEND, APRIL 16, 2011 “A vast synthesis...heartfelt, brilliant.” By Bill Goldstein. Watch it here.

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, APRIL 17, 2011   “Ambitious...Provocative...The book brims with splendid insights.” By  Stanley Meisler.      Read it here

THE JERUSALEM POST, APRIL 21, 2011 “As profound as his previous...masterpieces.” By Rabbi Ron Kronish. Read it here

HAARETZ, MAY 15, 2011 “James Carroll captures the connection...” By Benjamin Balint. Read it here

STARRED Publishers Weekly, 2/14/11

 Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World

James Carroll. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-0-547-19561-2 

“Oh Jerusalem, how often have I wept for you!” laments the psalmist. And well we should weep. For millennia, Jerusalem has been the meeting point of religion and culture, traditionalism and modernity, and the seemingly inevitable violence that erupts from a particular faith’s exclusive claim to the city. Carroll, author of the critically acclaimed Constantine’s Sword,
has given us one of the broadest and most balanced accounts of the city of King David in recent years—one centered on the concept of “sacred violence” as a path to redemption, a vision long engendered by Jerusalem and all that it represents. But he has another agenda—to analyze and interpret the intersections of history, theology, philosophy, and popular culture in a way that offers hope of an emerging religion that “celebrate[s] life, not death.” Given the long history of violence and death surrounding both the physical Jerusalem and the “imagined” city (e.g., America as a “city on a hill”), is this even possible? The former Catholic priest remains optimistic that humanity will find a way to resolve the conflicts that are so much a part of its story. Conceptually profound, richly detailed, and wonderfully realized, this book brings to life the dynamic story of the Divided City. (Mar.)


Read the Publishers Weekly Profile with James Carroll

Booklist, 2/15/11

Carroll examines the enigma that is Jerusalem—the holiest and most blood-soaked spot on earth—with insight and candor. He begins at the very beginning: Homo erectus become Homo sapiens become Homo sapiens sapiens. He who knows he knows soon becomes aware of death. Death leads to ritual, and ritual leads to religion. And while various religions flourished all over the ancient world, it was in Jerusalem that God emerged. Not just a god, but God, one who recognizes how both the need for violence and the hatred of violence reside within the human spirit. These conflicting impulses are the subthemes that propel Carroll’s story across the ages, through Jerusalem’s wreckages and rebirths, as the three Abrahamic religions claim the city as its own. Carroll’s writing is so compelling, so beautifully constructed, that, ironically, the book can be a very slow read. There is something on almost every page that makes the reader want to stop and contemplate. For those meeting Jerusalem for the first time, this volume makes a stunning introduction. For others, who have struggled with the city’s conundrums, either its symbolic meaning in the history of civilization or its place in the modern world, Carroll’s reflections will add clarity if not closure.

— Ilene Cooper



KIRKUS – January 1, 2011
A sound, deeply felt study of Jerusalem as the “cockpit of violence” for the three Abrahamic religions.

An American Catholic who has long been “infected with Jerusalem fever,” Carroll (Practicing Catholic, 2009, etc.) is fascinated by the role of violence in forging mankind’s early spiritual urge. Ritual sacrifice was a component of early religion, an acting out of the “collective effervescence” of the hunt, perhaps, and an antidote to further violence by the use of a scapegoat. The author draws heavily from anthropologist René Girard, but especially from his own deep readings of the Bible, first in showing how the God of Abraham was both the scourge of man and the repudiator of human sacrifice. Jerusalem became the locus of monotheism (a term not coined until the 17th century). For Jews, it was the absence held dear during the Babylonian exile and later the forced diaspora by the Romans (a “remembered” Jerusalem); for Christians, it was the place where Jesus went to cleanse the Temple, where he was scapegoated by the rabble and where the “True Cross” was later discovered by Constantine’s mother; for Muslims, it was toward Jerusalem that Mohammed originally faced in prayer. It became a place of “fierce longing,” setting up the bloody conflicts of the Crusades and Reformation. Carroll makes an interesting segue into the Puritan separatists’ founding of the New World as the New Jerusalem, “an understanding that would serve as a permanent pillar of the American imagination.” The author moves more gingerly through the modern era, with the founding of the state of Israel and the perpetuation of violence through politics and war. Carroll ends sagely with some ways “good religion” can push out “bad religion,” such as in a celebration of life, not death; a respect for plurality; a concern with revelation over salvation; and a repudiation of coercion and injustice.

Another winner from a skillful writer and thinker of the first rank.


“James Carroll’s Jerusalem, Jerusalem should be required reading for all: it is a lucid, calm, deeply compelling history of the literal and symbolic significance of that city, at the heart and origins of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. From Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac through Spinoza to Adolf Eichmann and Billy Graham, Carroll marshals an extraordinary range of sources to illuminate the interwoven violence and redemption that define Jerusalem in the world entire, up to this day.
                                                                         - Claire Messud