Bethlehem: Biography of a Town

Nicholas Blincoe

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The town of Bethlehem carries so many layers of meaning–some ancient, some mythical, some religious–that it feels like an unreal city, even to the people who call it home. Today, the city is hemmed in by a wall and surrounded by forty-one Israeli settlements and hostile settlers and soldiers. The population is undergoing such enormous strains it is close to falling apart. Any town with an eleven-thousand-year history has to be robust, but Bethlehem may soon go the way of Salonica or Constantinople: the physical site might survive, but the long thread winding back to the ancient past will have snapped, and the city risks losing everything that makes it unique.

Still, for many, Bethlehem remains the “little town” of the Christmas song. Nicholas Blincoe will tell the history of the famous little town, through the visceral experience of living there, taking readers through its stone streets and desert wadis, its monasteries, aqueducts and orchards, showing the city from every angle and era. Inevitably, a portrait of Bethlehem will shed light on one of the world’s most intractable political problems. Bethlehem is a much-loved Palestinian city, a source of pride and wealth but also a beacon of co-existence in a region where hopelessness, poverty and violence has become the norm. Bethlehem could light the way to a better future, but if the city is lost then the chances of an end to the Israel-Palestine conflict will be lost with it.


John Lewis-Stempel, S magazine
Majestic . . . [a] book of many marvellous things
Emma Williams, Spectator
John Preston, Mail on Sunday
Blincoe proves an erudite and evocative guide to a city whose place in biblical history has proved to be more of a curse than a blessing
JACOB NORRIS, author of Land of Progress: Palestine in the Age of Colonial
An exuberant and erudite journey into the real Bethlehem. Each page leads the reader down new and fascinating tangents of history, cuisine, and personal anecdote, each time somehow finding its way back to Bethlehem and its habit of standing at the centre of world affairs
RAJA SHEHADEH , author of Where the Line Is Drawn
A book by a talented chronicler who lovingly paints the city's many contradictions and bewildering complexity. Highly readable and informative, it leaves the reader not only with a profound admiration for this city of extremes and its resilient inhabitants who have endured such hardships, but also with a deep lament at the current suffering of the people of Bethlehem
Part history, part travelogue and memoir, it reads like an extended love letter to a place on the brink . . . a highly discursive, frequently amusing, often tragic but always accessible history
Tibor Fischer, Standpoint
A thorough and entertaining account
Hala Alyan, The New York Times Book Review
Blincoe's thoroughness is nothing short of impressive . . . Blincoe offers a biography so vividly imagined that I jumped when my phone buzzed, interrupting my reverie of Nabatean temples . . . The reward is in the lush prose and personal accounts. Blincoe is a joyful writer, well suited to the task of evoking place with passages . . . transporting the reader with mouthwatering specificity. Blincoe handles his own narratives of Bethlehem delicately, like a horticulturist pruning beloved orchids, following its many iterations through the rise and fall of civilizations . . . More than anything, his love for the place leaps off the page; for all its chronicling of incursions and defeat, this is ultimately a book about hope
[Bethlehem] brings within reach 11,000 years of history, centering on the beloved town's unique place in the world. Blincoe's love of Bethlehem is compelling, even as he does not shy away from the complexities of its chronicle
PETER FRANKOPAN, author of Silk Roads
A lovely personal adventure through the history of Bethlehem from its origins up to the present day. Blincoe captures the continuities and contradictions, the myths and the history of one of the world's most famous towns with real flair
YOTAM OTTOLENGHI, co-author of Jerusalem

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