- Paperback: 560 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (February 12, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307473651
- ISBN-13: 978-0307473653
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 188 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire Paperback – February 12, 2013
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Praise for Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword
“Elegantly written. . . . A veritable tour de force.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“A brilliant tour de force of revisionist scholarship and thrilling storytelling with a bloodspattered cast of swashbuckling tyrants, nymphomaniacal empresses and visionary prophets. The book is unputdownable. . . . An important work based on respected scholarship. It takes courage and intellect to confront such complexity and sensitivity. Written with flamboyant elegance and energetic intensity.”
—The Times (London)
“Accessible but delightful . . . as fun to read as any thriller, and with far richer intellectual nutritional content. . . . Those unwilling to struggle through academic texts have long needed a guide to the story of Islam as it’s understood by those with the fullest access to the latest linguistic and archaeological evidence. Now at last in Tom Holland’s In the Shadow of the Sword, they finally have it. . . . Holland—author previously of Rubicon and Persian Fire—is about as exciting a stylist as we have writing history today.”
—The Daily Beast
“[Holland’s] prose is shot through with wit and empathy. The result is a portrait of a lost world that is complex, contradictory and populated by people in thrall to ideas future generations would dismiss as ridiculous. Much like our own, in other words.”
—Dallas Morning News
“[An] elegant study of the roiling era of internecine religious rivalry and epic strife that saw the nation of Islam rise and conquer. . . . Holland confronts questions in the Quranic text head-on, providing a substantive, fluid exegesis on the original documents. Smoothly composed history and fine scholarship.”
“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.”
—The Spectator (London)
“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 writes with a contagious conviction that history is not only a fascinating tale in itself but is a well-honed instrument with which we can understand our neighbours and our own times, maybe even ourselves. 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.”
—The Independent (London)
“This is a handsome volume, tackling an important question from a novel perspective.”
—Sunday Telegraph (London)
“Holland tells a complex story, dotted with names and places leagues beyond the realm of popular recognition. Yet he makes it unmistakably his own. He is one of the most distinctive prose stylists writing history today, and he drags his tale by the ears, conjuring the half-vanished past with such gusto that characters and places fairly bound from the page. In the Shadow of the Sword may reach provocative conclusions, but it is also a work of impressive sensitivity and scholarship.”
“An exhilarating read because Holland succeeds in capturing much of the excitement, strangeness and importance of a long past age. It is difficult not to be bedazzled.”
—Financial Times (London)
“An ambitious and important book. . . . His excellent book will be lauded, as it should be for doing what the best sort of books can do—examining holy cows.”
—The Observer (London)
About the Author
Tom Holland is a historian of the ancient world and a translator. His books include Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, Persian Fire, In the Shadow of the Sword and The Forge of Christendom. He has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for the BBC. In 2007, he was the winner of the Classical Association prize, awarded to “the individual who has done most to promote the study of the language, literature and civilization of Ancient Greece and Rome.” He lives in London with his family.
Visit the author's website at www.tom-holland.org.
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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. 6, "More Questions that Answers,"--"When?" [Loc 5030], "Where?" [Loc 5423] "Why?" [Loc 5779]), his answers are obscure. His answer to "Where?" was especially disappointing, since it is a question I myself have thought about a good bit. I was hoping he would give a clear, even if tentative, answer.
The Persian history was for me an eye-opener. In general, Holland excels at painting a picture of the fevered apocalypticism that coursed through Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian religiosity in the sixth and seventh centuries. That, along with the fact that he brings the contemporary literature on Islamic origins into popular historiography, is probably his greatest contribution.
But after reading it I had decided to buy it to own it.
In my opinion, there are multiple reasons making this book special for people who love history.
1. It tells the story of the 4 centuries of the Persian history right before the rise of Islam - rarely presented to us, Westerners.
2. It tells the story of the 4 centuries of Byzantine history right before the rise of Islam. This history is usually well known, but ...
3. It shows historical developments in Persia, Byzantine and Arabia interconnected and inducing each other.
4. It tells the story of the first 2 centuries of Islam.
5. Author is a great story teller and history becomes alive on the pages of this book.
And last, but not least...
Author claims amazing, practically shocking things and unfolds very convincing arguments in defense of these claims.
When you finish reading this book, you left with the very serious doubts that the commonly and widely known biography of Mohammad and the first decades of Islam is indeed a historical story and not just a myth of a very shaky historical foundation.
I highly recommend this book.