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In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire [Kindle Edition]

Tom Holland
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
Kindle Price: $12.13
You Save: $4.87 (29%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

The acclaimed author of Rubicon and other superb works of popular history now produces a thrillingly panoramic (and incredibly timely) account of the rise of Islam.
No less significant than the collapse of the Roman Republic or the Persian invasion of Greece, the evolution of the Arab empire is one of the supreme narratives of ancient history, a story dazzlingly rich in drama, character, and achievement.  Just like the Romans, the Arabs came from nowhere to carve out a stupefyingly vast dominion—except that they achieved their conquests not over the course of centuries as the Romans did but in a matter of decades. Just like the Greeks during the Persian wars, they overcame seemingly insuperable odds to emerge triumphant against the greatest empire of the day—not by standing on the defensive, however, but by hurling themselves against all who lay in their path.

Editorial Reviews


A stunning blockbuster -- Robert Fisk Independent 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, [it] is also a profoundly important book -- Christopher Hart Sunday Times Written with flamboyant elegance and energetic intensity, Holland delivers a brilliant tour de force of revisionist scholarship and thrilling storytelling with a bloodspattered cast of swashbuckling tyrants, nymphomaniacal empresses and visionary prophets ... Unputdownable -- Simon Sebag Montefiore The Times

About the Author

Tom Holland is the author of Rubicon, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History 2004; Persian Fire, which won the Anglo-Hellenic League's Runciman Award 2006; and the highly acclaimed Millennium. He has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for BBC Radio.

Product Details

  • File Size: 30795 KB
  • Print Length: 545 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1408700077
  • Publisher: Anchor (May 15, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,577 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an elegant read, but be careful of the details July 4, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The reviews that precede me are thorough and point out both the strengths and weaknesses of *The Shadow of the Sword*. I am largely in agreement with their comments. I *do,* however, disagree with the claim that this is poorly written. To the contrary, the writing is elegant and flows rapidly: in the parts of the history that I was acquainted with, I could consume whole pages in seconds.

The problem arises precisely from Holland's fluent prose: as he reconstructs events, his eloquent descriptions can deceive the reader into taking his formulations literally, rather than being what they are--literary reconstructions. It reminded me of a newspaper: if it misrepresents the facts that I *know* about, how can I trust those assertions that I do *not* have personal knowledge about? I want to be clear: I am not accusing Mr. Holland of historical errors. The problem is that he writes so well that the reader can be tempted to take his descriptions at face value.

Here's an example, literally at random (Kindle Loc 3333): "In 527, five years before work began on Hagia Sophia, a small boy named Simeon had trotted through the bazaars and shanty-towns of Antioch, out through the olive groves that stretched southwards of the city, and up the slopes of a nearby mountain. Its rugged heights were no place for a child, nor for anyone with a care for comfort." There are 3 facts in those sentences: that Simeon became a stylite in 527, he was a child at the time, and that he came from Antioch. Everything else is in Holland's very vivid imagination.

Much in this work I already knew about: the Jewish and Christian history, and the contemporary skeptical reconstructions of Islamic origins and history. Unfortunately, when he poses the crucial questions about Islamic origins (ch.
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128 of 145 people found the following review helpful
The book aims to explain Late Antiquity up to 600 AD, and to show how Islam developed from that up to 800 AD. Historians have much better records for Late Antiquity than they have for the first century of Islam - as this book notes and as many other historians have noted (and lamented). The bulk of the book amounts to an introductory overview; the origins of Islam takes up only the last third of it and this part reads more like an argumentary essay.

The prose is florid, yet interspersed with vulgarities. Holland is inordinately fond of the low, cant term "screwed" when discussing... tax extraction. This style felt to me like he was trying too hard to keep my interest. (He's much like Peter Heather here.)

Fortunately the book has marshaled an impressive array of facts behind its narrative. I was impressed that it had stayed so close to the cutting edge, especially in the Persia / Parthia sections.

Much of that recent material distills Parvaneh Pourshariati, "Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire"; that book came out in 2008. The reader must be warned here that Holland does not challenge Pourshariati where Pourshariati relies on mediaeval Iranian legend. For instance, Holland tells of Sukhrâ of the Parthian house Karin as avenger of the shah Peroz (pp. 83-5). Holland has this from Pourshariati `an Tabari (p. 455 nn. 47-49, 51). This is an in-house legend of the Karin and not history: Arthur Christensen, "Iran sous les Sassanides" (Copenhagen: 1944), p. 296. (Hat-tip to the review by Geoffery Greatrex, 1010.)

Where the book touches Islam, it is careful to contrast classical jargon against the way people (including Arabs) thought during the 600s.
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71 of 82 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A long and winding road June 4, 2012
If you didn't know the author, the title of this book and its cover illustration - a fallen helmet with vacant staring eye-sockets lying in the desert sand - give the impression of an epic historical novel. Distribution too; I bought a soft cover "airport edition" - a channel better known for promoting the latest books by best-selling authors. Although in its style and structure it reads like a novel - somewhat florid prose, and dramatic interruptions in the narrative to allow the reader to catch up on another part of the plot - anyone who buys the book under this expectation will soon realize that what they actually have is a hardcore history book.

It is essentially an attempt to present a historical account of Mohammed and the early history of Islam, as opposed to the idealized version subsequently enshrined in the religion that was founded in the name of the prophet. In order to achieve this, the author traces the development of the three major religions of antiquity - Christianity, Judaism and the Zoroastrianism of the Sassanian Persian empire. This forms the essential context for explaining the rapid spread of Islam on the back of the Arab conquest of the ancient east early in the seventh century. He describes how some form of monotheism was by this time already pervasive in most of what we call the middle east. And this did not exclude the Arabs; thousands had moved north, where they could make a profitable living, policing the borders of both Byzantine and Sassanian empires as mercenaries, and where at the same time they were likely to have been influenced by the winds of monotheism.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Origins of Islam
I bought this book because I enjoyed Holland's documentary on the origins of Islam. He went looking for historical evidence and could not find much. Read more
Published 2 hours ago by David Lindsay
2.0 out of 5 stars This might serve as good background (or introductory) material for an...
too much non-islam history with very little insight into the formation or characteristics of the religion. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Loren D. Acord
5.0 out of 5 stars History would have been my favorite subject
Although more likely I would have failed his class, I would have been entranced by his telling of the sweep of history and the cause and effect relationships over centuries. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Gary Mullennix
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Great book but detail is awesome. Gives more detail than wanted.
Published 1 month ago by Sanford R. Simon
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Not much about the birth of Islam!
Published 1 month ago by Robert A. Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as I had hoped
I wanted to rate it 3 1/2 stars, but opted for four rather than three. It opens with a nice historical overview of the Persian Empire and its collapse. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Delbert G. Freeman
5.0 out of 5 stars great for learning the motivations of current Middle East nations
A great history book covering the history of the Middle East, religions, and Islam..
I have learned so much about the history of the Middle East that I now better understand... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Anthony L. Poselenzny
5.0 out of 5 stars with amazing depiction of the growth of Persia
an extremely detailed and sophisticated look at the many centuries before and after the birth of Christ, with amazing depiction of the growth of Persia, and collaterally Rome, and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Peter Holzer
4.0 out of 5 stars Tom Holland is a wonderful writer and he constantly enriches the...
Tom Holland is a wonderful writer and he constantly enriches the subject with gritty metaphor. At times you feel you are reading a novel. Read more
Published 1 month ago by GeeDave
3.0 out of 5 stars There is a great deal of well researched information in this book
There is a great deal of well researched information in this book.It places the various religions of ancient and current times in good perspective as regards development, practice... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Cheeser
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