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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not really the book it was hyped up to be but nonetheless excellent
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...
Published 9 months ago by W Greenhalf

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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting.....
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...
Published 20 months ago by Gerald T. Walford


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as Rubicon, 11 Sep 2013
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This review is from: In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (Kindle Edition)
This book is not half as entertaining or as well written as Rubicon and as such left me a bit confused as to the socio political climate in the region at the time which the book was looking at
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars TWO BOOKS, 3 May 2012
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This is a rum mix of a book. The first two thirds relates the convulsions of power politics and religion in the Christian and Zoroastrian age. The cast of characters is fabulously weird and Holland has great fun with them. It's a rollicking good read, though some Zoroastrians might be offended by the tone, which is droll, even mocking.

Then the rise of Islam makes Holland take a much more circumspect line. (I wonder why?)

But it's pretty plain in the end that Mohammed's revelations from God were a sophomoric mash-up of ideas and faiths widely held in the Fertile Crescent. But muslims continue to insist that God chose an illiterate camel wrangler from a place noone had ever heard of to take dictation from an angel that nearly everyone had already heard of. Some glitch in the Divine Mail delivery service perhaps. I'd have preferred Holland to have been less mealy mouthed about it, because his understandable reticence makes for an uneven tone over the book as a whole.

But Holland is a master of the droll reference, the telling anecdote and the spectacular set piece. So as with his other works, this is largely an enjoyable read. And you'll be grateful you weren't there at the time.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening...., 28 April 2013
Tom Holland has presented us with a very good colourful overview of the protracted power struggle between the Christian Roman Empire and the Persian Sassanian Empire, and their internal problems, continuing on into the period leading up to the Arab Conquest commencing circa AD 634. He covers the signifant political, religious and military interactions of that period in a fast moving, forthright and entertaining style and gives us an insight into the thinking of the key protaganists of the period. Given the scale of the activities across the two major international empires of the day this can of course be only a selective overview of key events. However we are given a credible understanding of the period supported by a wealth of references and supporting evidence to verify his findings.

It helps for the reader not to be a novice in this period of history, and helps if he has a previous understanding of the timelines, and the main players and characters of that age. Holland's Timelines and Glossary are a useful tool in achieving this.

Of particular interest is the development of the Christian theology of Monotheism from the Council of Nicea and the divisions in the understanding of the Trinity and Divinity of Christ which followed it, and the subsequent migration from New Roma of differing interpretations of Monotheism from what came to be the accepted Orthodoxy, into the border regions and into the Arabian Peninsular. We are also acquainted with the relationships that were developed by both New Roma and Shahiran with the Arab clans, the foederati, who were paid as mercenaries to police both Empires' borders.

The scene is thus set for understanding the historical setting for the Arab Conquest. Tired and weary, decimated, lacking treasure and manpower, ravaged and decimated by plague, both the Roman and Sassanian Empires after centuries of conflict between themselves, are declining in power and authority. Opportunities for booty for the taking in fertile lands then present the nomadic Arabs, largely unaffected by plague, and militarily strong as foederati, with irresistible temptation. Thus the Conquest can be seen as the normal progression of the worldly cycle of declining and rising empires. Holland poses the theory that the prophet Mohammed, the Quran and the birth of Islam was a necessary requirement for the unification and cohesion of this new Arab Empire, rather than the generally accepted traditional Islamic view that the Arab Empire resulted from the Prophet, the Divine Revelations and the spreading of the Message.

Hollands scrutiny of the Quran suggests that there is some doubt about the Quran's Divine origins, and that it was developed in the years after Mohammed's death by the Arab leaders and Umayyad Caliphates as a tool to unify what would otherwise have dissolved into a dismembered Arab Empire of feuding clans and chieftans. He poses that the Quran was developed from and inspired by a mixture of Jewish and Christian traditions, early scripture and legends that were extant at that period in time, and which reflected Monotheistic interpretations contrary to the New Roma Orthodoxy.

Holland's investigations into the Hadiths, and biographies of Mohammed suggest that these were written well after the death of Mohammed and show considerable signs of additions and development to suit contempory political expediency. Investigation of the Sunna shows signs of it reflecting and adopting earlier Jewish and Zoroastrian origins. Indeed if one doubts the Divinity of the Quran's origins then the foundation rock on which these documents were raised turns to sand, and the Hadiths and Sunna, however well meaning, can only be considered as the works of mortal man influenced by Judaic Christian and Zoroastrian traditions, contempory events, and little more.

Holland quotes the Quran, "Religion in God's eyes is submission" (Quran 3.19), and that Islam is "The religion of truth" (Quran 61.9). What we do not see in Holland's analysis is little if anything of God's love. Rather we see mercenary war bands of foederati, the search for booty and plunder, the oppressive jizra taxes on non Muslims, organised slavery of the conquered peoples including the abuse of women, unwillingness to share the new faith with the conquered peoples, and continual fitna (civil) war. Surely the truth of Islam should be exemplified in the formative years of Islam and in the birth pains? If this then is the truth, the full truth is not only in what we see in Holland's analysis, but is also in what is not there to be seen. "In the Shadow of the Sword" can be seen as an apt title, if this is indeed the truth.

In summary this book is a must for all thinking Christians, Muslims and Jews who are interested in discovering, investigating and understanding the truth behind the Arab Conquest and the Birth of Islam in today's Age of Enlightenment. Research too into the many references should be a serious undertaking.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ABSORBING, 2 July 2012
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WH Johnson - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (Kindle Edition)
You might liken Tom Holland's book to a great canvas of dark landscapes on which great swathes of lightning reveal grim images of slaughter; here, 10,000 corpses butchered in Samaria and 20,000 dead at another place and yet another time 50,000; a bishop burns in a fire of martyrs' bones; a Persian king humiliates a Roman emperor, using him as a mounting block before despatching him; elsewhere the newly slaughtered are covered with carpet to serve as a gruesome banqueting table. It is painted, this portrait, in blood for these are the convulsions of two nations. The Western Roman Empire, in barbarian hands, is ailing though the world still bears such wonderful cities as Alexandria and Antioch, Damascus and Constantinople.

But if the two great empires, the Persian and the Roman, had made their mark on the Ancient World they were by the 7th century tired out by incessant warring, by famine, by plague.

And why all this war? Was it all about belief? About the worship of pagan gods? Or the Jewish god? Or that strange god who was his own father, his own son, and at the same time a joint Holy Spirit? Oh, the struggles in the various communities to work out the nature of their god. The scholars, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, were at work, arguing, cajoling, persuading and the emperors knew not what to make of it until Constantine came along.

Emperor Constantine could not make up his mind about whom to acknowledge as the true god - should it be Apollo or the god of the Christians? - until he had a vision (or did he toss a coin?) At a stroke, Rome - centred now in Constantinople - was declared a Christian state. Not that the declaration was accepted universally. It took more years and another emperor to brutally enforce the state religion upon the diverse peoples of the declining empire.

And then along came Mohammed and his followers, quite out of the blue it seems. And within half a dozen decades the Arabs, many of whom who had learned their trade as mercenaries in the armies of Rome or Persia, had conquered vast territories. And it seems as if in no time they came out of their deserts and had shed their pagan gods in favour of a new monotheistic belief. But it does seem at times to have been borrowed in part from the old Greek myths as well as from the writings of the Jews and the Christians. Holland points out how little is known of Mohammed until almost two hundred years after his death and certainly there is little of Islam's early years to help the historian unravel its development. Here, the author is asking the pertinent question: how much are we to believe of what we are told about that period, those crucial missing years?

What a hotch-potch. What a difficult story to tame with its roots in rumour mills and propaganda, in unsubstantiated declarations and self-serving claims. Yet Tom Holland keeps the tale going, interpreting and of course guessing as all historians must when faced with such variety of not always reliable evidence. It's a great read but one that is not easy for the detail at times is both overwhelming and vague. There are gaps, not of the author's making, but because of history's silence.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable and very informative., 24 Feb 2014
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This review is from: In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (Kindle Edition)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book which told me a lot about the Middle East. You need to read more than only this book to get a feel for how Islam developed but it's an excellent place to start.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant research, 23 Feb 2014
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This review is from: In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (Kindle Edition)
A very informative book, Nature abhors a vacuum and this book is really about the close of the ancient world of the Greco Roman Byzantines or the eastern roman empire which lasted for a thousand years after the fall of the western half we know so much about .

Its battles with the equally sophisticated Persian empire for control of the middle east and beyond in details and told like a story in chronological order , it will suit all readers even thoughs who know nothing about these events .

A truly excellent book
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rivetting, 18 Jan 2014
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This detailed but very magnetic description of the political, social and religious interplay among Romans, Christians, Jews, Persians and Arabs that befell the Middle East over many centuries opened my eyes to a hitherto sparsely known period of connected-up history. I can hardly put the book down! It is a "must read".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fascinating, 10 Dec 2013
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This review is from: In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (Kindle Edition)
I read it on the plane to Istanbul. It told me masses about the ancient power blocks of the middle east, and Iwas totally surprised by the Jewish exile in Mesopotamia. It also very revealing on what makes a church, a state, and a nation.
Also interesting on how a legal system becomes encoded. Initial 50 pages need to be worked at, but after that very rewarding. I shall return to it time and again. However it's also available in hard copy which does have some glossy illustrations. On the other hand I don't think they add much.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A difficult subject, tackled in the usual Holland way (sometimes with his tongue in his cheek?)., 9 Nov 2013
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This review is from: In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (Kindle Edition)
Concise, scholarly, should be required reading in all schools, as it is a first class example of what's needed in this age of continuing religious warfare (can only be described as such).

Val Howells.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Clear. Excellent, 4 Oct 2013
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This review is from: In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (Kindle Edition)
Very clear and lively writing. It enables the reader to relate the minds and behaviour of the actors to modern ideas but is not too anachronistic. It brings out the similarity of the period to the present day globalisation crises. Plus ca change and so on. It's good to read in conjunction with Selena O'Grady's 'And Man created God.'
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