Self-isolating encourages you to read those big, serious books you always meant to but hadn’t the time for. Now you do. From yard sales, eBay and your own shelves, you pick well-regarded works a few years old and see how they still apply.

One of my latest is Simon Sebag Montefiore’s 2011 “Jerusalem: The Biography,” a sometimes bewildering overview of three millennia. Montefiore, a British historian who earlier wrote on Stalin, combs vast sources, many little-known. Colorful characters — most profane, few spiritual — crowd his pages.

Historians like to amass facts, anecdotes and quotes but leave readers to wonder what it all means. As Kant observed, percepts without concepts are meaningless. You need frameworks to make sense of a confusing welter of detail. Political scientists do the opposite: build conceptual frameworks — often refuted — and use history selectively to construct meaning. So, forewarned, here are one political scientist’s simplifications of Montefiore’s complex study.

Jerusalem — indeed, the whole region — is drenched in blood. Royal heirs murdered competitors, even close relatives. Challenges by enemies and rebels had to be put down with unblinking coercion. Anything less showed weakness (hmmm). Armies routinely massacred civilians. Christian crusaders butchered Jerusalem’s Muslims and Jews until the streets ran red with blood. One exclaims “OMG!” not in devotion but in horror.

Massacres span human history: Athens’ slaughter of the Melians, Rome’s pacification of Britain (“We made a desert and called it peace”), crusaders, Mongols, Bosnia and the Holocaust. The Middle East is bad but not the worst. The 1850-64 Taiping Rebellion, based on a warped version of Christianity, killed perhaps 20 million Chinese. Mao supervised an estimated 40 million deaths in his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Mao is the mass-murder champ of all time. Many Chinese know it but under Xi no longer say it.

Religious hatreds and rivalries underlay Middle East travails, but the political acts of building and preserving empires brought mass slayings. Fearful of getting conquered, kings embraced brutal imperial expansion and mistreatment of minority faiths. Egyptian, Syrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Ottoman and British empires expanded insatiably until they overexpanded; then they decayed and fell. No empire rested secure; there was always one more threat that had to be eliminated.

Movements, dynasties, nations and religions tend to split, sometimes over doctrine but more often over rival claims to leadership; wars follow. Succession is often contested. Ottoman sultans solved the problem by murdering their brothers. Leaders fear being overthrown. Chiefs with absolute power, even those who start out normal, turn bizarre and paranoid and wreak havoc (hmmm).

Jerusalem draws people who think they are biblical characters or hastening the Second Coming — the “Jerusalem syndrome,” which has a special mental ward. Jews, Christians and Muslims proclaim their sacred books give them Jerusalem eternally. Entwining religion and politics creates rigid hostility (hmmm). Grudges are long remembered.

Foreign powers crave Jerusalem. Motivated partly by religion but mostly by geopolitics, they repeatedly aspire to take Jerusalem. Crusaders, Saladin, the Ottomans and British made it their great prize. Russian pilgrimages to Jerusalem sparked the 1853-56 Crimean War, but Moscow’s aim was Russian expansion. Putin channels tsars and Soviets in seeking Russian influence in the Middle East, but he is getting wary of the Syrian imbroglio. Good.

Most of Jerusalem is relatively new. The sacred spaces — the Temple Mount, the Holy Sepulchre and Dome of the Rock — are ancient, but for centuries Jerusalem’s ruins held a small, impoverished population. Western visitors noted how it stank. Modernization and economic growth began in the 1860s when Europeans — chiefly British and Russians — bought land mostly on the west of the walled Old City to build their consulates and pilgrim hostels. Even American missionaries founded an American Colony just north of the Old City. From 1948 to 1967, Jordan held the Old City while Israel held the newer, larger western part of Jerusalem. I spent the first half of 1961 there. I wish I’d had the Montefiore book as a guide.

No heavenly signs favor claimants to Jerusalem. Sacred books do not guarantee ownership. Accordingly, the masters of Jerusalem turn over every few decades or centuries. The crusaders held Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187, the Ottomans (nominally) from 1517 to 1917, the British from 1917 to 1948. Internal dissension fractures and paralyzes possessor regimes.

The long Israel-Palestine struggle reiterates Montefiore’s episodes. Reading him, no one should be surprised that peace is far off, perhaps impossible, and violence is always ready to erupt. No optimism is warranted.

Individuals may yearn for Jerusalem, but we need to figure out how closely to tie the U.S. to a region perpetually on the brink of war. With ill-defined policies, we could stumble unplanned into the next war among Israel, Saudi, Syria and Iran. Can we still broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace? Should evangelical expectation of the Second Coming influence U.S. policy? One wonders if Montefiore could be updated to include the present-day United States.