In Crossing Jerusalem, Nicholas Woodsworth sets out to satisfy a lifetime’s curiosity - the true nature, beyond the headlines and the clichés, of this troubled city. Jerusalem is an unusual setting, and it is not long before Woodsworth, a former foreign correspondent for the Financial Times, comes to an unusual conclusion - Jerusalem, he believes, is not susceptible to the analytical tools we usually employ to build a sense of place.

In a region where history, politics and religious conviction are considered key elements to understanding, he becomes skeptical of them all - he sees each as a filter so heavily used for partisan purpose that in the end they cloud rather than clear our vision. Countering conventional wisdom, he relies instead on his physical senses. The result is a book which, unlike standard historical treatments, reveals a Jerusalem with a recognizable face.
It is a face, he contends, which resembles our own faces.

How can we hope to explain a heavenly Jerusalem, he asks, if we cannot explain the human world that surrounds and makes it what it is? Taking his cue from the Jerusalem Cross, an old Christian symbol which places the city squarely at the center of the world, he travels to the cardinal points surrounding the city. He visits Galilee with an Orthodox monk. He spends time in the West Bank with a pro-Palestinian Jewish militant. In Tel Aviv he comes across a musician who has survived a suicide bombing. In the wastes of Negev desert he meets a young German consumed by the guilt he feels for the Holocaust. But central to all these encounters - each one revealing something of the divided nature of Jerusalem - is a meeting with an extraordinary character in Jerusalem itself. Combining in his personal background elements of all three religions, it is a professor of Jewish philosophy - a man with a Muslim father and a Christian mother - who shows the author that, despite all, reconciliation is possible. It is not abstract theologies, but people as thinking, communicating individuals who are the real hope of Jerusalem.

At the same time a travelogue and an examination of the beliefs that have sustained Jerusalem’s populations through centuries of conflict and division, Crossing Jerusalem offers a penetrating perspective of the city. A personal recounting, it tells not only of the author’s discovery of place; in asking the same simple, searching questions we all ask about Jerusalem - but often feel too vulnerable to pose - he also discovers the human spirituality we all share. At a time when both Jewish attitudes and the West’s foreign policy options on a Middle East solution are rapidly evolving, Crossing Jerusalem is now especially relevant.

From Crossing Jerusalem:

 “A Etanè waha nyo a lè a loo
 Joo joo li bè la ebegè
 Likanyè joo li so
 Nsom woo a bonbe a si aka a lè a loo

So begins the Lord’s Prayer in the language of Mpoo. And as I stand there reading it in the Church of the Pater Noster it lightens my mood. Mpoo, to judge by its short, trip-along monosyllables, kicky consonants and long, smooth vowels, is a happy and serendipitous tongue. The people who speak it, I get the feeling, are not the kind to be naturally filled with the dread and recrimination of patriarchally-revealed religion, wherever they live. Unless they were taught it by misguided missionaries, I doubt they could conceive of any cosmic menace as dark and foreboding as a Judgement Day. Leave them be, I think, in their dugout canoes – let them go on worshipping lava-spewing volcanoes, headless chickens or whatever it is they bow down before in their own small corner of the world. They’re better off with it. Nothing could be as bad as taking your daily marching orders from a lunatic deity who promises humanity the death of the universe should it put a foot wrong. Personally I’d as soon be thrown into a cannibal’s iron pot as hurled by God off a high bridge into a lake of fire. It’s a shorter drop. And, nutritionally speaking any rate, at least you’d be doing somebody some good.”