Jerusalem: City of the Book

Co-authored with Merav Mack; photography by Frédéric Brenner
(Yale University Press, 2019)

A captivating journey through the hidden libraries of Jerusalem, where some of the world’s most enduring ideas were put into words.
In this enthralling book, Merav Mack and Benjamin Balint explore Jerusalem’s libraries to tell the story of this city as a place where some of the world’s most enduring ideas were put into words. The writers of Jerusalem, although renowned the world over, are not usually thought of as a distinct school; their stories as Jerusalemites have never before been woven into a single narrative. Nor have the stories of the custodians, past and present, who safeguard Jerusalem’s literary legacies.
By showing how Jerusalem has been imagined by its writers and shelved by its librarians, Mack and Balint tell the untold history of how the peoples of the book have populated the city with texts. In their hands, Jerusalem itself—perched between East and West, antiquity and modernity, violence and piety—comes alive as a kind of labyrinthine library.



The three great monotheisms of the world share an obsession both with sacred texts and with Jerusalem. Seizing upon this double passion, Mack and Balint had the brilliant idea of exploring the city though its libraries. With the help of Frédéric Brenner’s haunting photographs, they have created a riveting chronicle of holy bibliomania.
Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University
In their exquisite and brilliant exploration of the intricacies of Jerusalem’s libraries, Merav Mack and Benjamin Balint provide us with one of the most intimate and beautiful portraits ever written of Jerusalem. In unraveling the written treasures of Jerusalem, the overlapping maps of the sacred of the three Abrahamic religions unfold before our eyes, constituting Jerusalem as a simultaneous space of sublimity, rivalry, rupture and return.
Moshe Halbertal, Hebrew University

An unforgettable journey through the world of books in Jerusalem, and an unparalleled portrait of one of the world’s great cities.

Matti Friedman, author of The Aleppo Codex

Traveling across Jerusalem and beyond, two humanist flâneurs find shame and pride, secrecy and sacredness, and a palimpsest made of innumerable religious and secular texts and libraries. A wondrous journey.

Cyrus Schayegh, author of The Middle East and the Making of the Modern World
For those who love Jerusalem, Jerusalem: City of the Book will be a welcome treat. But all those interested in what religions share, and how they may co-exist, will also learn a great deal from this lively, and often surprising book.
Miri Rubin, Queen Mary University of London
A marvelous book which brings alive the history over many centuries of Jerusalem’s books, libraries, and the librarians who have been—and still are—their guardians. Sensitively and thoughtfully making links between the contested and controversial past and the present, the authors illuminate how books and libraries can bridge divides and shape the future.
David Bates, former Director of the Institute of Historical Research in the University of London

That rarest of books: an academic work that fuses dense scholarship with the surreal intrigue of a Borgesian story... a scholastic thriller stuffed full of ghost scrolls, forgeries, buried texts and thieving bishops.

The Spectator

A first-rate scholarly work written for a general audience... a lively visual and engaging experience.... A successful attempt to present the literary palimpsest of the city as an interesting philological, linguistic, and social phenomenon.

Journal of Semitic Studies
Enlight­en­ing and fascinating.... This schol­ar­ly yet acces­si­ble book will pro­vide Jerusalem enthu­si­asts with a dif­fer­ent side of the city; it makes acces­si­ble pre­vi­ous­ly hid­den gems and show­cas­es a deep respect for the preser­va­tion of the writ­ten word.
Jewish Book Council

The Jerusalem of reality, as Mack and Balint disclose in their mesmerizing narrative, is every bit as vivid as that of the imagination, often even surpassing it.... Mack and Balint clearly relished the task, and they transmit that relish to the reader.... Intriguing issues emerge at every turn in this book. What has Jerusalem signified, to whom, and why?"

Lewis Glinert, Dartmouth
Mack and Balint's book is eminently readable, full of lovely descriptions and evocative writing, fluid and discursive in equal measures.... Jerusalem's libraries loom like a vast textual necropolis to which Mack and Balint have given us a handsome and gripping Baedeker.
 Jordan Finkin, Hebrew Union College
Mack and Balint write beautiful (reflective and understated) prose and they have been fortunate to collaborate with a photographer, Frédéric Brenner, and a publisher, Yale University Press, whose striking images of Jerusalem’s manuscripts and libraries, impeccable editing, and creative design have helped to make Jerusalem: City of the Book a piece of book art in its own right.... Lucid and nuanced.... Their prologue opens with a motto from Jorge Luis Borges. The first endnote of the introduction refers to Umberto Eco. These great bibliophiles would certainly have loved it.
Libraries: Culture, History, and Society
Is there anything new that can be said about Jerusalem, the most contested city on earth, where three religions coincide and, indeed, collide? And yet this book, by a pair of Israeli writers, does precisely that: it creates for the reader a new landscape of the mind, and it reminds us why, even though we may feel we have heard enough of the Holy City, it remains a place of marvels.... This wonderful book combines the excitement of a detective quest with the joys of rummaging through a chest of jewels.
Catholic Herald