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In the Shadow of the Sword is a history book charting the origins of Islam. The author, Tom Holland, had previously written two works on ancient history:Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, which charted the fall of the Roman Republic, and Persian Fire, which is an. In the shadow of the sword: the birth of Islam and the rise of the global Arab empire / Tom Also by Tom Holland down to the very edge of the Red Sea. Editorial Reviews. Review. "Elegantly written A veritable tour de force." The Wall Street Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Buy and send eBooks Kindle $ Read with Our Free App; Audiobook . Historian Tom Holland is the author of several nonfiction works of history.


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In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland. Read an Excerpt Buy the Ebook: . Now at last in Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword, they finally have it. Listen to "In the Shadow of the Sword The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire" by Tom Holland available from Rakuten Kobo. Narrated Start a free day trial today and get your first audiobook free. Also available as: eBook . Kobo App - Get it on Google Play; Kobo App - Download on the App Store. In his sprawling new book Tom Holland undertakes to explain nothing less than the origin of Islam. This is a subject as relevant to today's world.

I n his sprawling new book Tom Holland undertakes to explain nothing less than the origin of Islam. This is a subject as relevant to today's world as it is controversial within it. How Islam began was obscure right from the start, above all to the surprised Christians who first succumbed to the Arab armies that surged out of the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century. They had seen themselves as confronting a different threat. After all, the Persians had captured Jerusalem in and soon moved into Egypt. At that moment they appeared to be the principal antagonist of the Byzantine empire based in Constantinople. No one could have imagined that a little over two decades later the Persian empire would be in its death throes and that the Patriarch of Jerusalem would be turning over the city to an Arab caliph.

Historian Glen Bowersock , also writing in The Guardian , gave a highly critical review of the book, calling it "irresponsible and unreliable" and saying that Holland's "cavalier treatment of his sources, ignorance of current research and lack of linguistic and historical acumen serve to undermine his provocative narrative. In the Shadow of the Sword seems like an attempt by author, agent and publisher to create a very different account of early Islam, but fortunately the quality of the book stands in the way.

But this review, which is targeted not just at me but at an entire efflorescence in contemporary scholarship, is unworthy of him. Far from it being inappropriate to place the rise of Islam in the context of 'languages and ideas floating around in the Near East', the truly inappropriate thing, I would suggest, is to veil an important trend in scholarship from the gaze of the general public, and to scold those who would seek to lift it.

Barnaby Rogerson , writing for The Independent , said that though the book had a few "slight flaws" it remained "a spell-bindingly brilliant multiple portrait of the triumph of monotheism in the ancient world. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. In the Shadow of the Sword: The Guardian. The Telegraph. A New Translation". Voltaire and Islam. Litwin Books, LLC. The Dallas Morning News. The New Statesman. The Independent. Retrieved from " https: History books about Islam non-fiction books British non-fiction books.

Hidden categories: Pages to import images to Wikidata. Namespaces Article Talk. Otherwise, clear writing, entertaining presentation of complicated historical material and rich depiction of a place post-Roman Near East and centuries 7th and 8th that aren't exactly on most people's immediate radar screen.

Worth reading for the explanation of the plague's effect on geopolitical balance in that region alone. Devastation on a scale that left the Arabs, formerly bandit clients buffering two mega powers of East and West, blinking in the dust as they realized the Roman and Persian empires were eviscerated by disease and now little more than rotting corpses and roads covered with weeds.

Makes you read of novovirus threats today with a freshly minted fear. Despite its length, this book was the read of a very enjoyable week. Thanks, Tom Holland and bravo! Holland is really good with his narrative, but just as in Millenium I have not read his other books so far I think this book shows that he struggles slightly with "the big picture". The scope of this book is very broad - Holland attempts to show the links early Islam has with the other religions it came into contact with: Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity in particular, and how these religions influenced the hadith and the Qu'ran itself.

It works well He builds up w Holland is really good with his narrative, but just as in Millenium I have not read his other books so far I think this book shows that he struggles slightly with "the big picture".

He builds up well in describing the struggles of Zoroastrian Persia and Christian Roma, and the minority faiths, Judaism as well as others. He also does good work on the little we know of early Islam and the arabs, and is good at presenting the different hypotheses on the origins of the Qu'ran and its relation to the other religions.

But at the end, he loses track ever so slightly as he keeps the narrative going, and the book peters out rather than ends with a bang. I think the marketing for this book was a little misleading, I was expecting the focus to be on the collapse of Roman and Persian power in the near east in the face of the Arabs, but the book actually focuses little on this event. Instead the book focuses on the interplay between religion and empire and how it shaped the events we now mark as the end of antiquity, as well as their aftermath.

There is also tantalising and very well researched scholarship in here about the historicity of the Koran, I think the marketing for this book was a little misleading, I was expecting the focus to be on the collapse of Roman and Persian power in the near east in the face of the Arabs, but the book actually focuses little on this event.

There is also tantalising and very well researched scholarship in here about the historicity of the Koran, early Muslim historiography, etc, but while the author presents these very compellingly he doesn't weave it well into the overall direction of the book.

Overall a grand sweep of the late antique near east and what became of it, very well researched and entertainingly told, though in the end the narrative lacks focus while the conclusion felt weak and abrupt.

But well done to Holland for venturing off the beaten path. This is an illuminating, well-researched, and historically-fascinating book on the empires and religions of the near-east and Mediterranean in Late Antiquity. Shadow is a gem of 'popular history' for people, like me, who are really interested in this period. I studied Byzantine history as I, but not Tom This is an illuminating, well-researched, and historically-fascinating book on the empires and religions of the near-east and Mediterranean in Late Antiquity.

I studied Byzantine history as I, but not Tom Holland, call it in university and am endlessly fascinated by the Byzantines and the world around them. I also always wanted to know more about the Persians of Late Antiquity and just how the Arabs became Muslims and Islam spread and developed, from more than military perspectives.

This book does not disappoint in those areas. Holland's explanation for the rise of Islam, built on the backs of preceding religions and empires and heavily influenced by them is fascinating and deeply-researched. Likewise, his delving into the nitty-gritty of the Quran and its relation to Hadiths , and the forging of Islamic law and religion by lawyers and bureaucrats versus the aspirations and actions of worldly autocrats is very interesting, albeit lengthy.

I learned that Islam, like pretty much everything, did not just appear out of a void, and that the history of its early empires was just as full of in-fighting, religious debate, good and bad leaders, controversy, betrayal, disaster and blind luck -- just as full as the empires and religions around and before it.

Shadow , despite being a 'popular history', and despite the wonders it conveys, may not hold everyone in its sway. It certainly lost my attention various times. Holland has crafted a well-researched tome here and a tome much closer to an academic text than anything 'popular' and well-paced. This book can drag on, and the chapter-spanning deep forays into the minutiae of religious debate, not to mention the constant use of 'And yet While exciting battles and intrigue are mentioned, they are given a tiny fraction of the space that topics like possible Rabbinical views of aspects of Islamic thought are.

In sum, if you are someone patient, quite interested in history and interested in this period of history, or specifically in Islam, Persia, Judaism, or Byzantium probably in that order , this could be the book for you. There are almost no reliable sources for the founding and early centuries of Islam - Pg Partial book thesis: Perhaps because of how much it owed to ancient empires, cultures, religions etc?

He doesn't really finish the book on this note. I didn't know much about the Sasanian Persians before this book. Holland teaches that ancient Parthian dynasts still held considerable power during Sasanian and even later into the Muslim conquest days, and Persian 'Shahansha's were forced to treat them with respect. In Zoroastrian religion, there is a constant war of good vs evil, truth vs lie, and in the end everything will cataclysmically finish, like Ragnarok, The Flood, etc.

They were, compared to Rome etc, generally well-treated and sometimes rose to power though some Shahs would decide to crack down on them from time to time - Pgs Interesting section on the founding of Constantinople emphasizing its insecurities and need to be legitimate in the face of the long pedigree of Rome.

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Nice section on the origins of Bishops. They began as record-keepers, scribes, bureaucrats and organizers. Eventually they became abnormally holy leaders and quite powerful. Arianism explained. Justinian closed the schools of philosophy in Athens as incompatibly pagan. Good section on those crazy religious extremists: Their main home, before the Muslim conquest, was the deserts of Syria and Palestine.

Belisarius is mentioned and painted as flawed In case you didn't know, the plague that hit the Med and Near East in the s and continued to smite it decades later was a major factor in the weakening of both the Persian and Eastern Roman Empires. The plague and new invasions of barbarians the Avars, Slavs and Lombards all lead to prophecies of doom and the end of days - Pg Polo is Persian. After further research, it seems it was invented by the Ancient Persians. More insight into Heraclius' great campaign.

His was a desperate, all-in offensive against a seemingly-triumphant Persia. Heraclius' victory and strategic abilities seem even more amazing than they did before, and it's even more tragic that the Arabs trounced the east soon after. Holland does a good job of showing how they could have, except for the battles involved, which he glosses over though which seem to have little to no sources to describe them anyway.

The Arabs, long-accustomed to dealing with, working for, or raiding the 'Romans' and Persians, now had strong, competent, leaders under the uniting force of a birthing religion and they took advantage of lands absolutely decimated by years of plague and warfare to 'overcome incredible odds'.

In short, though very capable warriors and tough cookies, and although shrewd, they got really, really, really lucky -- so lucky with their conquests that they themselves did not believe it for a long time.

Mani was a progressive 'prophet' who combined Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism -- and the leaders of all three faiths absolutely hated him and had him crushed. He even seems to have followed some Buddhist principles.

He was a progressive Zoroastrian priest who became a religious activist and 'proto-socialist' who espoused communist ideals and was thus crushed.

Good quote on the survival of imperial bureaucracy, whatever the empire. Kind of like today: Vast and implacable, like a kraken of the deep undisturbed by storms raging across the ocean surface, the apparatus of empire still coiled its prodigious tentacles, ready to flex and squeeze its victims tightly, as it had ever done.

This is crazy and I need to do more research, but, what I get from Holland is that al-Malik: He also re-minted Imperial coins in Arabic instead of Greek and had Arabic become the defacto language of administration. He seemed to be the first Caliph of a united Islamic Empire.

Martin a plot for the siege of King's Landing by Stannis I expected much better from Tom Holland! I don't have enough background in history to comment upon the exact coloring of the text but I got the feeling that the author was not entirely objective in the historical account.

I found that the author was too critical of the actions of Muslims. He Heraclius descended from the mountains of Media, and scythed a bloody course across the open mudflats of Mesopotamia, leaving canals, roads and villages polluted with corpses.

Their overseers were taken captive; the animals in the royal parks, from ostriches to tigers, barbecued and fed to his soldiers; the silks, and carpets, and bags of spices in the treasuries put to the torch.

These are but a few examples that hint a more biased account than one would come to expect from a renowned historian. The author is quick to denounce the claimed miracles of Islam or any other non-Christian faith in the book. However, the story of the seven Christian sleepers is presented in a different light. The author does not claim the story to be true, but just presents the story as a popularly known fact in those times. Clear bias would have come out if the author would have provided clear comments supporting the story.

There is a more implicit bias here. By not critiquing the story, the author gives an impression of accepting the story to be true. Apart from the obvious flaws of spending too much time in setting the stage than in actual perusal of early years of Islam the real fault of the book lies in the biased presentation of the stories of different faiths.

The book fails, not due to the facts that it purports to present, but due to the questionable intentions of writing the book. View 2 comments. Jan 16, James rated it liked it Shelves: An interesting if somewhat frustrating account of the 7th century rise of Islam which seeks to explain how the Arabs exploded onto the map and established a global empire in the span of a generation.

Tom Holland is known for covering classical history with a deft talent for simplification and drama thereby making them accessible to the broader public. Throughout the book this deft touch splutters in and out in a somewhat maddening way. We start with an account of a Jewish ruler in Yemen losing h An interesting if somewhat frustrating account of the 7th century rise of Islam which seeks to explain how the Arabs exploded onto the map and established a global empire in the span of a generation.

We start with an account of a Jewish ruler in Yemen losing his life suicide potentially to an Ethiopian christian invasion. Than move briskly to an account of the Persian Empire their battles with the Romans, followed by an account of the Late Roman Empire and their battles different ones with the Persians and how this impacted the whole middle east.

In both accounts the politicization of religion and vice versa are discussed in depth, with more insight in the case of the Romans than the Persian. Finally after roughly or pages or so he turns to the emergence of Islam and the Arab empire.

He makes the very uncontroversial point that at this stage destructive fighting of the two existing global empires, the Romans and the Persians, against eachother, through civil war and against the barbarian hordes led to hollowed weak entities based on scorched earth and ripe for the plucking.

There follows more controversial points, having demonstrated the evidence that both the Bible and the Talmud were heavily shaped by the preoccupations of the 6th century he argues the same holds true for the Koran and that little that is believed to be true about the origins is backed with evidence and that much which is practiced today was retrofitted much later.

Its all rather interesting in a snippet kind of way but in terms of dramatic arc the whole not sure if it really happened this way and there is little we really know is a bit lacking. All the more so because either you believe the holy texts are holy and therefore this all apostatic rubbish or you believe they are man made constructs and therefore this all obvious. I guess now i know I dont know. Apr 19, DoctorM rated it really liked it Shelves: I've given this 4 stars, but I wish my rating could've been a bit more nuanced.

The writing is excellent, and there are parts of "In the Shadow of the Sword" that are fascinating Holland's account of the controversies about the first century of Islam, the account of the first intrusions by the new Arab power into Byzantine and Persian territory.

In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland – review | Books | The Guardian

Holland does highlight how little we actually know about the early s in northern and northwest Arabia, and how very, very few contemporary account I've given this 4 stars, but I wish my rating could've been a bit more nuanced. Holland does highlight how little we actually know about the early s in northern and northwest Arabia, and how very, very few contemporary accounts there are of the first generation of Islam. Despite how much the narrative of the life of the Prophet and the formation of an Islamic state seems to be clearly historical, Holland reminds us that, in the end, we can't even be sure that today's Mecca was the Prophet's hometown and later capital and that we have very little evidence for how the Qu'ran in its present form came to be.

Holland presents those mysteries questions originally raised by scholars like Patricia Crone very well. He can be equally casual about Byzantium, the Rome-in-the-East that still ruled the eastern half of the old Empire, and he does sometimes settle for very superficial explanations of events. Though in Holland's defense, he is trying to do two things discuss the development of early Islam and present a political history of the Near East from c. I'll stand by the 4 stars, but I will say that Holland's book is an introductory sketch that often falls back into narrative that should have far more analysis behind it.

It's worth reading, though except for the material on the new issues and controversies about the origins of the Qu'ran and Islam its political and military history still can't match what Sir John Glubb did half a century ago.

Aug 03, Aleks rated it it was ok. It was not a terrible book.

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I found it lacking in facts and very heavy on the author's own opinions. I felt the huge claims he was making it the book were not supported by evidence at all times. I felt most of the time it was supported by the author's own prose. Was it a history book? It was mostly a history of religion. Was it opinion? If it was, it wasn't very interesting.

The author's style isn't bad but it wasn't a credit to the story either. The book moves along well in the beginning and middl It was not a terrible book. The book moves along well in the beginning and middle.

It is best when it is supported by maps, names, and years. The ending is really the weakness because you eventually realize that the book isn't building to anything noteworthy. The author ends the book summed up the book as if he was telling a story of how empires crumbled and gave way to another.

But that really wasn't the point of the book. Any facts or history I picked up on were mostly incidental. I felt the book mostly revolved around the history of the three big religions, their influence on each other, and the relationship between religion and state.

The only reason I give this two stars instead of one is this book helped buttress my knowledge of the era between the fall of the western Roman empire and medieval times.

I especially lacked knowledge of the near east during this time. So I was grateful for that but this book was wholly inefficient in that regard. I did also enjoy learning about Islam and the hadiths. I was always under the impression that Islam had a detailed history unlike Judaism and Christianity.

I learned that's not completely true and that much of Islam was invented after the fact. Would I recommend this book?

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Probably not. Despite the things I learned, It just wasn't worth it. May 27, Mankey rated it really liked it. Popular histories of Christianity and Jesus have been abundant and accessible for decades now, modern scholarship dealing with the origins of Islam and its prophet Muhammad, not so much.

Holland remedies that with this exhaustive look at the forces that helped to create modern Islam. Holland focuses much of his attention on the Roman and Persian empires, but also writes about the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, and their role in the brew that would create Islam. The most Popular histories of Christianity and Jesus have been abundant and accessible for decades now, modern scholarship dealing with the origins of Islam and its prophet Muhammad, not so much.

The most "controversial" part of the book deals with modern thinking on the prophet Muhammad. Holland doesn't dispute the historical personage of Muhammad, but he does move the Prophet's base of operation out of Mecca which makes complete sense.

While this part of the book is fascinating, it feels glossed over, as if Holland was worried about a substantial backlash and decided to downplay the information. Holland is a skillful writer, and while I was mostly unfamiliar with this period of Western History I never tended to get too lost.

Jan 21, Omar Ali rated it really liked it. An interesting book, but you will likely learn much more about pre-Islamic Persia and Byzantium than about early Islam And when it comes to the conquests, there are better books out there that cover the same territory "In God's Path" and "The war of the three Gods" for example. The Persian section was specially enlightening for me. Someday, I have to read more about Persia.

Worth a read. Dec 18, B. I have been looking for a book that will present a relatively unbiased look at the real history of Arabia and the rise of Islam on to the world stage. Unfortunately, it seems like I must keep looking. When it comes to a history of Arabia from the sixth through eighth centuries there are really only two options available to us. There is the Muslim mythology created whole cloth in the mid 8th century or later and there is a deconstructionist critique that demonstrates how this mythology purporting to be history cannot possibly be true.

I was hoping that this would be the popular narrative that can square what we do know of the history of that time with what we are far more certain of in the centuries that followed. To be fair, Tom Holland does provide hints of this. His forte is the decline of the late Roman and Persian empires and we receive another telling of this time with the specific outlook on how it impacted the Arabian Peninsula.

Unfortunately, the second half of this book was not a cut and dry narrative of the historical events that saw Islam come into existence and take over huge swaths of the known world of that time.

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Instead it was just a dry commentary on a timeline he seems to assume everyone already knows and a bit of speculation on how the core elements of Muslim faith the biography of Muhammed, the pseudo history of Mecca and Medina, and the creation of the Quran, the Hadiths, and the Caliphate might possibly have fit in. This style might have worked well for Rubicon because everybody knows the history of Rome at the time of Julius and Octavian Caesar.

That is an integral part of Western culture. The early history of Arabian Peninsula and the elements of Muslim faith most certainly are not.

There is some good stuff here and definitely food for thought for those very familiar with traditional Muslim history, but I can't think of a single English speaking friend to whom I would recommend this book. The mists of history leave a lot of questions unanswered for those brave souls who seek the source where everything comes from.

Humanity throughout its history has left bits of information scattered across the world through all sorts of environments and in a variety of forms and mediums. The time of Muhammad, Prophet of The mists of history leave a lot of questions unanswered for those brave souls who seek the source where everything comes from. Now many people, regardless of religion, will state that no evidence is needed as faith alone is truth.

And so enters Tom Holland, a man who seeks not to say that Muhammad never existed or anything of the sort, but to also discuss such controversies as where was Mecca originally.

His purpose and that of In the Shadow of the Sword: Rather with research and analysis he shows time and time again how much of what was occurring during the time of Muhammad, known as late antiquity, is not a spontaneous outpouring.

If anything it is the result of sustained developments by those surrounding empires — the Roman and the Persian and their falls which allowed for the rise of Arabs and Islam. Holland does this time and again by illustrating with excellent examples how the religions of the time including Judism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, their varieties and a number of pagan beliefs were all in existence before Islam arose.

Those same examples are used to demonstrate how the Arabs absorbed or were forced to take on aspects of the surrounding cultures over time as more and more people became believers.

For example, the Quran only proscribes prayer three times a day, whereas Zoroastrianism requires five. Aspects of the Roman and Persian empires were of course adopted as well, namely the bureaucratic structures, economic infrastructure and even displays of wealth. Previously Arabs were known as marauding desert nomads, but with time they came to be land holders decked out in garish adornments and smelling of sweet perfumes rather than sweat and camels.

The same can be said is true for the values associated with certain things, like books, which before had been of little use. No man is an island, and neither is a culture. For Islam and the Arab empire that arose with it to have been founded in a vacuum is a matter that even a god could handle. Holland presents a time period that I knew little about and weaves together the strands of history to provide a complex yet compelling story. Much of the book was taken up by histories of the Roma and Persian empires but all with good intentions as this book was about the rise of Islam and the Arabs.

If nothing else, it very much makes me want to read his other work and anyone interested in history should try his books as well. Copied from my blog at http: Per Ardua ad Astra: One is that it may well have been on the lips of RAF crew as they bombed the descendents of the people Tom Holland writes about in his newest book. The second is that Holland has engaged in a five year struggle to bring this complex and epic story to fruition.

Interestingly there are two titles to Per Ardua ad Astra: Interestingly there are two titles to this book, which speaks volumes for it. In hardback it is 'In the Shadow of the Sword: Whichever title you read it under you can see that the book is Olympian in its scope and ambition.

And herein lies an issue. This book is about the triumphs and disasters of three empires, four religions with their attendant spin-offs , the end of one era and the start of another and the creation of a very different kind of kingdom than had ever been known in the ancient world.

It could easily have been three or four books and Tom Holland may well have been better advised to have writing these. Had I written a review the day I'd finished it then I would have been more critical of it. Perhaps it is over-ambitious, perhaps it does not allow for the fact that many readers will have little detailed knowledge about the events, peoples and characters in the novels. Perhaps, like Ozymandias, he has reached too far this time and like the traveller in the antique lands leaves us with only lone and level sands to contemplate.

However, as I have pondered it overnight I have seen how superbly and cunningly Holland layers his multiple themes until he reveals his central one in the final bravura paragraph.

He is a master story-teller and he weaves together the extraordinary events of these extraordinary times so that we begin to realise just how intricate and connected the rival empires and faiths actually were.

And just how much they borrowed and built upon one another. Given that this subject is like a mine-field strewn with egg-shells I can only applaud Holland's aplomb in leading the reader through such a vast terrain. At times I felt he was like Heraclius, the Roman Emperor who so defeated the ancient enemy that it fell easy prey to one who was to prove an even more dangerous foe.

At others he is like Simon Stylites, obstinate and obdurate upon his pillar. Like both men, Holland reaches for the stars only to see them snatched from his grasp and then dangled again for him to stretch out to them with itchy fingers.