Books of the year 2011: Lesley Chamberlain

Jerusalem - Simon Sebag Montefiore


Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25) set the stage this year for three superb cultural histories. This "bile-spattered" city, fraught with apocalyptic and political visions, is a place where indigenous people still live even as history shows "the dominating influence of western romantic-imperial culture".

In Philip Mansel's Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean (John Murray, £25), tri-focused on Beirut, Alexandria and Smyrna, the east, or the west's idea of the east, remains in search of the elixir of peaceful coexistence. David Abulafia's The Great Sea (Allen Lane, £30) describes "the Israelites" as having had a great impact on a cosmopolitanism as alluring today as the Mediterranean's land and climate. From Spain to Israel, a long history of interconnection between Christians and Muslims underpins a thriving world-vision predicated on what Mansel calls "cities . . . or the third way between states and individuals".

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