In the Shadow of the Sword

Tom Holland

In the Shadow of the Sword

In the 6th century AD, the Near East was divided between two great empires: the Persian and the Roman. A hundred years on, and one had vanished for ever, while the other was a dismembered, bleeding trunk. In their place, a new superpower had arisen: the empire of the Arabs. So profound was this upheaval that it spelled, in effect, the end of the ancient world. But the changes that marked the period were more than merely political or even cultural: there was also a transformation of human society with incalculable consequences for the future. Today, over half the world's population subscribes to one of the various religions that took on something like their final form during the last centuries of antiquity. Wherever men or women are inspired by belief in a single god to think or behave in a certain way, they bear witness to the abiding impact of this extraordinary, convulsive age - though as Tom Holland demonstrates, much of what Jews, Christians and Muslims believe about the origins of their religion is open to debate. In the Shadow of the Sword explores how a succession of great empires came to identify themselves with a new and revolutionary understanding of the divine. 4.0 out of 5 based on 10 reviews
In the Shadow of the Sword

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History
Format Hardback
Pages 544
RRP £25.00
Date of Publication April 2012
ISBN 978-1408700075
Publisher Little, Brown
 

In the 6th century AD, the Near East was divided between two great empires: the Persian and the Roman. A hundred years on, and one had vanished for ever, while the other was a dismembered, bleeding trunk. In their place, a new superpower had arisen: the empire of the Arabs. So profound was this upheaval that it spelled, in effect, the end of the ancient world. But the changes that marked the period were more than merely political or even cultural: there was also a transformation of human society with incalculable consequences for the future. Today, over half the world's population subscribes to one of the various religions that took on something like their final form during the last centuries of antiquity. Wherever men or women are inspired by belief in a single god to think or behave in a certain way, they bear witness to the abiding impact of this extraordinary, convulsive age - though as Tom Holland demonstrates, much of what Jews, Christians and Muslims believe about the origins of their religion is open to debate. In the Shadow of the Sword explores how a succession of great empires came to identify themselves with a new and revolutionary understanding of the divine.

Millennium by Tom Holland

Reviews

The Independent

Barnaby Rogerson

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.

30/03/2012

Read Full Review


The Observer

Anthony Sattin

Brilliantly provocative … The lives of some people who have dared to question the historicity of the prophet Muhammad and the Qur'an have been ruined, even ended. We must hope that Holland is spared their wrath and that his excellent book will be lauded, as it should be, for doing what the best sort of books can do — examining holy cows.

05/04/2012

Read Full Review


The Spectator

Philip Hensher

Tom Holland is a writer of clarity and expertise, who talks us through this unfamiliar and crowded territory with energy and some dry wit. He should remind himself of the meaning of the word ‘oblivious’, and avoid the expression ‘beg the question’ altogether. But 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.

31/03/2012

Read Full Review


The Times

Simon Sebag Montefiore

It takes courage and intellect to confront such complexity and sensitivity. 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. The book is unputdownable but I doubt that Holland will be touring the Middle East.

31/03/2012

Read Full Review


The Sunday Times

Christopher Hart

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.

25/03/2012

Read Full Review


The Daily Telegraph

Dan Jones

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.

05/04/2012

Read Full Review


The Sunday Telegraph

Michael Scott

... difficult reading for an Islamic audience ... This is a handsome volume, tackling an important question from a novel perspective, backed by useful notes and written in an accessible and fluid style. But, as I am sure Holland would accept, in part because of the charged nature of the material and issues on which it dwells, and in part because of the vast developments and arenas it attempts to encompass, it is also bound to encounter the full spectrum of critical reaction.

03/04/2012

Read Full Review


The Financial Times

Richard Miles

... an exhilarating read ... At times, Holland’s ultra-sceptical line on the genesis of Islam means that he undercuts his own argument ... My fear is that in taking such a sceptical and confrontational approach there is a danger that In the Shadow of the Sword will merely end up preaching to the converted and that its important message about the shared roots of three of the great world religions will otherwise fall on deaf ears.

07/04/2012

Read Full Review


The New Statesman

Ziauddin Sardar

It is revisionist ideology masquerading as popular history … I find Holland’s total dismissal of Muslim scholarship arrogant (which I know he is not), insulting (which I know he does not mean to be) and based on spurious scholarship (though his scholarship is usually sound). His message is tailor-made for a time when Islamophobia is a global fashion, and everything that is labelled “Islamic” or “Muslim” is looked upon with suspicion. Not surprisingly, this book has already been feted in certain right-wing circles.

25/04/2012

Read Full Review


The Guardian

Glen Bowersock

I have not seen a book about Arabia that is so irresponsible and unreliable since Kamal Salibi's The Bible Came from Arabia (1985) ... 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.

05/05/2012

Read Full Review


©2013 The Omnivore