It’s been a bit since my last book review: https://www.reddit.com/r/Judaism/comments/eyy18d/book_review_the_quest_for_authenticity_by_michael/
And I finished Schama’s book a while ago and wanted to write something up but I have been putting it off.
I was excited to read this book as a large encompassing volume on Jewish history is difficult to find, or at least one that is written from a historical standpoint. I was rather disappointed with this book overall, and I am not sure I want to read the second.
Overall the book was interesting and had many facts in it there were fascinating, sadly the citations on many of them were hard to find or non-existent.
Schama clearly has a reason for writing this book, and that reason is really anti-Orthodox. The reviews on the cover speak to this, and it seems many of the driving points are specifically picked to discredit points he feels are Orthodox.
For example, when he is speaking of the Cairo Geniza, which is a really amazing trove of documents with tons of really amazing discoveries (a good book on this is Sacred Trash) including some documents in Rambam’s (and his son’s) own hand.
However, the one example he picks is a letter a man wrote to his wife on Ever Shabbat saying how he missed her. He then goes on to ponder if the man “violated Torah” on Shabbat.
There are many other examples of this, and overall this book was a large disappointment. I felt like overall he is crafting a narrative more than being a historian.