Sonia Halliday

ON THE COVER: The mountain fortress of Masada towers hundreds of feet above the barren landscape near the barren landscape hear the southwest shore of the Dead Sea, nearly inaccessible to attackers except by way of a spur on its west side. The desert stronghold was built by Herod in the first century B.C. and contained sumptuous palaces with beautifully decorated rooms. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., which effectively rendered the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, a band of 967 rebels retreated to Masada and refused to surrender. According to the first-century A.D. historian Josephus, the Romans captured Masada only after constructing a massive earthwork on Masada’s west side that allowed them to haul a battering ram up to the top of the fortress. Modern historians have described the Roman effort as a massive engineering feat. But was it? In “It’s a Natural,” author Dan Gill examines the geology of Masada and its surrounding region and concludes that the Roman engineers had much less of a challenge than usually thought—and that the siege of Masada was much shorter than usually assumed.