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In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World [Hardcover]

Tom Holland
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 April 2012

In the 6th century AD, the Near East was divided between two venerable empires: the Persian and the Roman. A hundred years on, and one had vanished forever, while the other seemed almost finished. Ruling in their place were the Arabs: an upheaval so profound that it spelt, in effect, the end of the ancient world.

In The Shadow of the Sword, Tom Holland explores how this came about. Spanning Constantinople to the Arabian desert, and starring some of the most remarkable rulers who ever lived, he tells a story vivid with drama, horror and startling achievement.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408700077
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408700075
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 138,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Historian Tom Holland has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for BBC Radio. Rubicon was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History 2004, and Persian Fire won the Anglo-Hellenic League's Runciman Award 2006.

Product Description


'A compelling detective story of the highest order, In the Shadow of the Sword is also a dazzlingly colourful journey into the world of late antiquity. Every bit as thrilling a narrative history as Holland's previous works, In the Shadow of the Sword is also a profoundly important book. It makes public and popular what scholarship has been discovering for several decades now; and those discoveries suggest a wholesale revision of where Islam came from and what it is' (Christopher Hart Sunday Times)

A brilliant tour de force of revisionist scholarship and [with] thrilling storytelling with a bloodspattered cast of swashbuckling tyrants, nymphomanaical empresses and visionary prophets . . . Unputdownable (Simon Sebag Montefiore The Times)

Tom Holland is a writer of clarity and expertise, who talks us through this unfamiliar and crowded territory with energy and some dry wit . . . The emergence of Islam is a notoriously risky subject, so a confident historian who is able to explain where this great religion came from without illusion or dissimulation has us greatly in his debt' (Philip Hensher Spectator)

This is a book of extraordinary richness. I found myself amused, diverted and enchanted by turn. For Tom Holland has an enviable gift for summoning up the colour, the individuals and animation of the past, without sacrificing factual integrity . . . He is also a divertingly inventive writer with a wicked wit - there's something of both Gibbon and Tom Wolfe in his writing. In the Shadow of the Sword remains a spell-bindingly brilliant multiple portrait of the triumph of monotheism in the ancient world (Barnaby Rogerson Independent)

Book Description

* Tom Holland, author of Rubicon and Persian Fire, gives a thrilling panoramic account of the rise of Islam

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
81 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Book 17 Nov 2012
When I set out to understand a bit more about Islam, my first port of call was Karen Armstrong's book 'Mohammed'. I came away from that with a portrait of Mohammed as a really rather impressive character - charismatic, compassionate, in many ways a couple of centuries or even millennia ahead of his time. I wasn't converted, but i was certainly made to think.
Now after reading Tom Holland, I realize that Armstrong's book is quite probably, in great measure, essentially a work of fiction. I say probably because, as Holland is the first to point out, the whole origin of Islam is shrouded in uncertainty, with far more unanswered questions than firm answers. If I was impressed by Mohammed, there's a simple reason for that - the first chroniclers of his life wanted me to be impressed, and that's how they presented him. I'm embarrassed now at the way in which I swallowed Armstrong's friendly portrait quite so uncritically.
Tom Holland picks up on the (once you see it) glaringly obvious problems and inconsistencies of the 'standard model' of Islamic origins and ruthlessly examines them. He writes with great confidence and considerable persuasive powers. My first reaction on reaching the end is 'I need to know more!' I need to know just where Holland stands in line with other scholars of the subject - is he mainstream or a maverick - I'm not sure.
I listened to the audio version of the book. I think reading in print might have been hard work. As audio it's great. Strongly recommended.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting..... 6 Dec 2012
I had been looking forward to this book for ages, and it seemed the publication date was subject to continuous revival backwards!
So finally having grabbed a copy of it and then awaiting an opportunity to actually read it, I have rather mixed responses to it.
Firstly, hats off to Tom Holland for grappling with what is not an uncontroversial field with few sources and those contradictory and politically laden- the evolution of great monotheistic discourses whose framework informs so much of the world we inhabit today. If you like, you could call it the 'other-half' of the story as opposed to the classical traditions Holland talks about in Rubicon and Persian Fire.
I actually agree with other reviewers here, and say that Holland's famously elegant prose can sometimes seem to muddy the waters here, especially when the narrative veers off into what was for this reader at least very unfamiliar territory. For some reason it seemed to work against the subject matter rather than enhance and clarify it- none of which made for an easy read.
What is very interesting and carried really well, was how, contrary to the whiggish perception of Byzantine and Middle-Eastern history, the period can be seen as more than the flat and depressing decline of Classical greatness but a period of unparallelled ferment and psychological freedom, when everything was changing and no one really knew what would happen next. The other thing that came over for me was how each tradition- Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, Pagan, and the various denominations of each, actually owed a good deal to each other indeed, their narratives still being created and still unfinished during the period covered by this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
Tom Holland is one of my favorite authors and I am also fascinated by the rise of Islam. I was therefore very excited when the publicity started for this volume. It was hyped as some sort of daring expose of Islam's roots - a dangerous and exciting topic.

There was a long delay before the hardback came out and when my pre-ordered copy arrived I dived in straight away. What I found was an excellent telling of the decline of the Byzantine empire. Very much continuing the story of the classical world which started with Persian Fire and was followed by Rubicon. Read all three books in order, there is no question that Tom Holland truly makes history accessible and entertaining. What I did not find was a revisionist view of Mohammed and the early Arab conquests. If you want that story can I recommend The Great Arab Conquests by Hugh Kennedy.

There probably is enough in the book to slightly upset a few fundamentalist Shiites and or Sunnis, but I don't think Mr Holland needs to fear a Fatwa.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and readable history 19 April 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Do not be put off by those who have treated this serious and readable history of late antiquity as an attack on Islam. It is far from that and much more. It describes the decline of the Roman and Persian Empires and the ascent of the Arab Islamic domination of the Middle East, North Africa and southern Europe in a period of little more than 100 years. It shows how the three great monotheistic religions, including Islam, evolved over the same period of time. The book is a highly entertaining and informative account of the time and place.
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47 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating revelations about the birth of Islam 14 July 2012
By daja
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Tom Holland's fourth book charts the birth of Islam. The chronology is a little confusing: we open with the defeat in battle and death of the king of a Jewish kingdom in what is now the Yemen. Holland then takes us back to the recent histories of the Persian Empire and Constantinople. When we are back up to date we rush through Mohammed and on into the Ummayyads finishing with their annihilation by the Abbassids.

His thesis seems to be that this was the time when people of this region began to write down their religious beliefs; possible to protect them since they lived largely in the border area between the continually feuding Persian and 'Roman' empires. So he shows how the Zoroastrian priests of Persia start to write things down and then the project is enthusiastically taken up by the Jews of the area who develop the Torah. Justinian writes his laws, carefully based on scholarship to demonstrate their ancient provenance. The Bible is collected as a way of imposing orthodoxy on the feuding Christian sects of Constantine's empire although the hadiths amplifying the Koran (largely developed in a town thirty miles from the centre of Jewish learning) seem to be rather an attempt by the religious community to have an authority separate from the say-so if the Caliph.

What I found far more interesting (and frustrating) was the way he challenged the conventional view of Islamic history. Thus is a footnote on page 304 he claims that the concept of their being only a single version of the Koran dates back to 1924; before then it was largely accepted that there were seven 'readings'. The first mention of Mecca outside the Koran was in 741 (Mohammed died before 634).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Real insight into the Middle East history of conflicts
This is a very insightful and journalistically researched book. It gives you a real insight into the reasons for the many of the conflicts in the Middle East today and their... Read more
Published 1 month ago by An observer
1.0 out of 5 stars Miss this one
Irritating written in a style that flirts around never getting to the point. The information is there but boy could it have been written better. Read more
Published 2 months ago by R. Hampson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Want to know about religions and the strife caused by same,read this book.A worthwhile publication.
Published 2 months ago by Xmatelot
5.0 out of 5 stars Islam made easy.
A great book of staggering intellectual proportions. How anyone can take such a complex subject and render it intelligible is mind boggling. Read more
Published 3 months ago by jack russell
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating History
Why was History not taught like this in school? Some of my preconceptions reinforced, others decimated. Read more
Published 3 months ago by wessexboy
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable work. will open your mind and put you on course to...
Tom Holland deserves much wider recognition
I have listened to audio versions of all his work and he has the gift of seeing the ancient world through the eyes of our ancestors... Read more
Published 4 months ago by N E Body
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating history of the beginnings of Islam
The victors write history. Holland argues that is exactly what happened with Islam. To understand the context for this. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ian Riley
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and will be referenced forever
The dark ages is my favourite era of History and Tom Holland's book is so detailed and builds up a picture of a world where empires are crumbling and religion is written and... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Old Trafford kid
1.0 out of 5 stars Very poorly researched and written. More concerned with making money...
This is an appalling book. There is no structure, no timeline, and the author just jumps about with his biased, anti-Islamic ramblings. Avoid at all costs. Read more
Published 4 months ago by GoneToTexas
4.0 out of 5 stars Not holiday reading
Tom Holland specialises in large meaty tomes featuring the late medieval period. If this is your thing, go for it. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Patricia Malone
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