The Historical Atlas of Judaism, by Dr. Ian Barnes and Josephine Bacon
Despite the very English-sounding names of the authors of this atlas, the book feels like it was written by someone who knew English as a second language and had an imperfect grasp of prepositions. Additionally, there is a lot of repetition (there is a lot of text in this 400 page atlas) of material. Despite these flaws in readability, and the fact that the authors appear to have a very shaky grasp of ancient history and the best work of biblical archeology, the book is a sobering and worthwhile read.
What makes this book of worth is its very thorough treatment of Judaism around the world and the gloomy and melancholy history of anti-Semitism. The book could be made shorter (and better) by cutting out extraneous material on the spread of Christianity (which these authors have a less-than profound grasp on), and focus on what they know best, and that is the practice and experience of Judaism throughout the world during the time after the Babylonian captivity. This is where the bulk of the book’s material is and where the strongest historical analysis is located.
Additionally, this book would be greatly improved by being organized in a fashion that would make it less redundant–it is not necessary to read about the Grand Mufti or the laws that banned discrimination against Jews in the French colonies over and over again. It feels like this book could use a very good editor, as that would turn what is a good book (albeit a hard one to read, partly because its material is so unremittingly depressing, and partly because its text is not written all that smoothly) into a great atlas. Some areas that are of interest to the cultural historian–like kosher laws, for example–do not have atlases, and so are rather pointless in a historical atlas. One feels that the authors used the atlas as an excuse to write their own textual essays on Jewish history, rather than seeking to make the best and most effective atlas possible.
As a result of the book’s flaws in flow and grammar, it is possible that some readers who would get a lot out of the book in terms of an understanding of the Jewish experience (especially in Europe and the Middle East) over the past two thousand years will be turned off by the difficulties presented in reading the book or following its somewhat wandering train of thought. The book has useful insights, and some of the maps are simply chilling (as is much of the text that surrounds it), which makes one wish that the authors had written a companion work of Jewish history and let the maps do more of the talking in their atlas. While that would have been a better solution, the book that remains is still worth a read, especially for students of Jewish history, even if it is not a particularly enjoyable one.