Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire” as Want to Read:
In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,427 Ratings  ·  186 Reviews
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 d
Hardcover, 560 pages
Published May 15th 2012 by Doubleday (first published 2012)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about In the Shadow of the Sword, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about In the Shadow of the Sword

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Tariq Mahmood
Jan 25, 2016 Tariq Mahmood rated it it was amazing
Shelves: islam
What a controversially exciting book for the Muslims of the world. Its an honour to get a serious scholar like Tom Holland actually researching the history of the Muslims and presenting theories that help fill out many gaps in the known Muslim history. Read on if you are slightly concerned about the various claims put together by the Ulema about the authenticity of the Quran
guaranteed by Allah; read on if you want to know why there is a period of almost 200 years of literacy silence after the de
A more apt title would be A Chronological Recitation of The History of the Abrahamic Religions, With Multitudinous Minutiae Relating To Christianity and Judaism, With Perhaps An Eventual Arrival At the Religion Mentioned in the Title (But Not Guaranteed).

Get to the effin' point already.

My patience couldn't bear it out beyond the halfway point.

Other nit to pick: Holland loves parenthetical expressions and he diagrams his sentences in a way that doesn't trip off the tongue (or the brain). The sect
Steve Love
Dec 18, 2012 Steve Love rated it liked it
After hearing an interview with the author, I decided to read this, not out of any particular interest in Islam, but because of my curiosity for the origins of things. In that respect, In the Shadow of the Sword did not disappoint. As best I can tell, Tom Holland deserves to be commended for his research. His writing, on the other hand, leaves a little to be desired.

The book spans thousands of years, and in presenting his history, Holland often weaves together events that occurred many, many yea
Paul Pensom
I've read all of Tom Holland's books to date, but this one has proved the most controversial by far. It recounts the birth of the three great Abrahamic religions in late-antiquity, but predictably, given the current intellectual climate, it's his musings on the third, Islam, that has attracted the most ire. I read one review in particular, from a distinguished scholar that derided Holland's book in such excoriating terms as to make me take particular notice.

That review struck me at the time as h
Simon Jones
Nov 11, 2012 Simon Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book of two halves, both equally compelling. The opening chapters give us the overview of the Roman and Persian worlds in the closing centuries of antiquity, told with Tom Holland's usual flamboyant narrative style which few history writers can match. It seemlessly blends big picture analysis with fascinating detail to give a highly enjoyable romp through the period. The conventional history of Islam's origins is laid out in similar style along with a valuable insight into the Jewish experienc ...more
Paul Pessolano
May 08, 2012 Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it
“In the Shadow of the Sword” by Tom Holland, published by Doubleday.

Category – History

Tom Holland takes on a daunting task of tracing the rise of Islam. He traces the beginning from antiquity to the present. It is far reaching in scope and gives new insight into present day politics and religion.

The book starts with the founding of Rome and how it was able to rule the known world to the how and why Rome failed. It takes on the rise of the Muslim world with the teachings of Muhammad to its presen
Dinah Küng
May 18, 2013 Dinah Küng rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant and highly recommended reading for anyone interested in Islam and its true origins. One quibble, I wish the author wouldn't introduce really important characters by backing into them, so to speak, so only after three paragraphs, do you get an aha! moment when you recognize the historical figure entering the scene.
Otherwise, clear writing, entertaining presentation of complicated historical material and rich depiction of a place (post-Roman Near East) and centuries (7th and 8
Endre Fodstad
Holland is really good with his narrative, but just as in Millenium (I have not read his other books so far) I think this book shows that he struggles slightly with "the big picture". The scope of this book is very broad - Holland attempts to show the links early Islam has with the other religions it came into contact with: Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity in particular, and how these religions influenced the hadith and the Qu'ran itself. It works well...but not perfectly. He builds up w ...more
May 02, 2012 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think the marketing for this book was a little misleading, I was expecting the focus to be on the collapse of Roman and Persian power in the near east in the face of the Arabs, but the book actually focuses little on this event. Instead the book focuses on the interplay between religion and empire and how it shaped the events we now mark as the end of antiquity, as well as their aftermath.

There is also tantalising and very well researched scholarship in here about the historicity of the Koran,
May 27, 2012 Mankey rated it really liked it

Popular histories of Christianity and Jesus have been abundant and accessible for decades now, modern scholarship dealing with the origins of Islam and its prophet Muhammad, not so much. Holland remedies that with this exhaustive look at the forces that helped to create modern Islam. Holland focuses much of his attention on the Roman and Persian empires, but also writes about the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, and their role in the brew that would create Islam.

The most
Apr 27, 2013 DoctorM rated it really liked it
I've given this 4 stars, but I wish my rating could've been a bit more nuanced. The writing is excellent, and there are parts of "In the Shadow of the Sword" that are fascinating--- Holland's account of the controversies about the first century of Islam, the account of the first intrusions by the new Arab power into Byzantine and Persian territory. Holland does highlight how little we actually know about the early 600s in northern and northwest Arabia, and how very, very few contemporary account ...more
Richard Thomas
Mar 04, 2015 Richard Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
I found this an invaluable account in a single volume of how the monotheistic religions on the Middle East developed and inter-related. Each influenced the others but each retained and retain their own view as being the right passage to eternity. Theologians and ancient history specialists may quibble about the book or parts of it but this general reader liked and likes it.
Jan 28, 2016 James rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
An interesting if somewhat frustrating account of the 7th century rise of Islam which seeks to explain how the Arabs exploded onto the map and established a global empire in the span of a generation.

Tom Holland is known for covering classical history with a deft talent for simplification and drama thereby making them accessible to the broader public. Throughout the book this deft touch splutters in and out in a somewhat maddening way. We start with an account of a Jewish ruler in Yemen losing h
Nov 07, 2015 Sean rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, ancient
A history of late antiquity with a heavy emphasis on the birth of Islam and the rising tide of Islamic power. Holland does a really nice job of setting the scene, discussing at length the relationship between Rome and the Parthians & Sassanids, and later the Byzantines and the Sassanids. He writes about the origins of Judaism and Christianity, and more importantly, he gets into the development of Jewish and Christian orthodoxies during the early part of the first millennium.

All of which sets
Jul 29, 2012 Elgin rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Not what I expected but I enjoyed it very much, even though, (because of work needs) it took me five weeks to get through it. I expected the book to focus on the history of Islam from its inception, then get into how the religion and Muslims have come to be what they are in the twenty first century. However, most of the book was a detailed history of Christianity, Judeaism, and some other minor religions from about 100 AD through the 8th or 9th centuries, a few hundred years after the time of Mo ...more
Alice Meloy
Sep 17, 2012 Alice Meloy rated it liked it
This book has an unfortunate title, and I would not have picked it up unless someone had recommended it to me. My fear was that it was some diatribe by a right-wing Orientalist, but it isn’t that at all. It is, in fact, a very readable survey of the Middle East and Fertile Crescent in the first eight centuries A.D. Holland’s ability to juxtapose the political, religious, and cultural milieus of the several empires that existed simultaneously in the area gives readers a broad picture of their int ...more
Sven Nomadsson
May 31, 2012 Sven Nomadsson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
The mists of history leave a lot of questions unanswered for those brave souls who seek the source where everything comes from. Humanity throughout its history has left bits of information scattered across the world through all sorts of environments and in a variety of forms and mediums. Within the last 2000-3000+ years the written word has become as ubiquitous as the wheel, but that doesn’t mean that there are still large swathes of history that are with record.

The time of Muhammad, Prophet of
Martin Lake
Jun 13, 2012 Martin Lake rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Per Ardua ad Astra: 'In the Shadow of the Sword' by Tom Holland

The RAF's motto is Per Ardua ad Astra, 'Through struggle to the stars' and I have chosen this as the title for the review for two reasons. One is that it may well have been on the lips of RAF crew as they bombed the descendents of the people Tom Holland writes about in his newest book. The second is that Holland has engaged in a five year struggle to bring this complex and epic story to fruition.
Interestingly there are two titles to
Ernest Spoon
Oct 01, 2015 Ernest Spoon rated it really liked it
A well written history is far more entertaining than a well written novel...thats my take on it...and this is a well-written history.

I am sure Tom Hollands sweeping history of the end of the ancient world of Rome and Athens and the rise of Baghdad and Mecca has it harsh critics, especially those whom take the writ of the third and last of the monotheistic religions as immutable truth. However in history, as in contemporary politics, there are no good guys, villains to be sure but no white hats.

Oct 26, 2014 Patrick rated it really liked it
A very readable account of what Holland describes as the end of the 'Classical' world: the collapse of the Persian Empire and the relative marginalisation of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Woven into this is the story of the emergence of Islam as the religion of the Arab conquerors of Persia and much of the old Roman Empire. I'm aware that Holland's version of events has not been universally accepted by scholars of the period, but unless he has been systematically ignoring large chunks of available e
May 11, 2014 Tellus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
¡Qué ganas tenía de echarle el guante al último libro del señor Tom Holland!

Desde que cayó en mis manos, hace años, aquel brillante y rompedor ensayo sobre el fin de la República Romana que tituló Rubicón, he sido fiel seguidor de este historiador y novelista inglés.

En A la Sombra de las Espadas, Holland se centra principalmente en los siglos V, VI y VII de nuestra era, es decir aquellos siglos un tanto indefinidos que quedan a caballo de la Edad Antigua y la Edad Media, como si de una especie d
Matt Brady
I've always found Tom Holland's writing very entertaining and readable. He has the ability to take long and complicated pieces of history and explain them in an engaging narrative manner. In the Shadow of the Sword is at it's best when Holland does just that, taking the reader through the history of Late Antiquity, specifically of the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia and leading up to the birth of Muhammad. His close investigation of the Quran, and various speculations about the true birthplace/h ...more
Dec 18, 2014 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, religion
I wish Tom Holland had written the book peeking tantalisingly out of this one -- a history of ideas about the birth of 'religion' as a modern concept in late antiquity's melting pot. Instead, the zomgsotopical! focus on Islam felt forced (a drinking game could be played with the number of anachronistic buzzwords chucked in -- a C9th 'terrorist nation', really?!), and Holland's approach often wincingly (and unavoidably, given his academic and linguistic background) orientalist. The humour (anothe ...more
Jun 04, 2012 H. rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Holland is here addressing a basic conundrum of Islamic history—despite the massive amount of writing (eventually) produced by a very literary people (ultimately leading to a body of hadiths regulating almost every conceivable facet of human existence), none of that writing, except the Qur’an, was written within 150 years of Muhammad’s death. Left without primary sources, Holland goes backward instead of forward.

Interestingly, Holland sees the early Arab Empire as being in the tradition of Late
Oct 07, 2013 Hamid rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well-written but ultimately founded on poor scholarship and shrill tabloid-style faux 'revelations', this is a complete disappointment from Tom Holland, who has, on occasion in his writing, shown brilliance. This is the latest in a raft of 'scholarship' from scholars who neither speak Arabic nor who have a familiar grasp of the entire historiography of the subject and it is a shameful orientalist show. Everything from the existence of Muhammed to the ability of Arabs through the centuries to pre ...more
Abhishek Sundararajan
An excellent over view of the Levant in the late antiquity, and absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with a global Arab empire.

Okay, maybe a little, when Holland finally gets to it in the last 100 pages.
Jul 23, 2013 Jonathan rated it really liked it
Very good look at not only the rise of Islam but also of the state of the Christian, Pagan, and Jewish religions at the time period and how they all intertwined and mingled with each other more than their prospective religious leaders would have liked. Holland does a good job of presenting the convoluted mess that is the origins of Islam as well as the hypocritical views of the Christian and Jewish faiths. The intro/first chapter was sort of plodding to me and had me worried about the rest of th ...more
Jul 02, 2012 Jeremy rated it really liked it
Fills in some important gaps and opens up a few more.
Holland has two outstanding talents- his ability to present the past as a continuum with no beginning and no end is once more brought to the fore, nothing comes of nothing. A Darwinian historian whose second attribute is a style that is contemporary, witheringly pointed and cheeky all at the same time. With a curt phrase, not so much tongue in cheek as needle in balloon,he manages to deflate zeppelin scale bags of hot air without missing his s
Andrew Tollemache
Dec 01, 2015 Andrew Tollemache rated it it was amazing
The big buzz on this fascinating and highly informative book by Tom Holland was that at its core was a pointed challenge to the historical roots and founding of Islam, even going so far as to say that Mohammed was not from the area around Mecca (he was basically an IraqI) and that Mecca itself was not originally sited where its been for centuries (also somewhere in Sumeria). On these points I thought Holland made some interesting arguments, but aside from the matter of pre-Islam Mecca not being ...more
Sep 17, 2015 Bill rated it liked it
Shelves: history, religion
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades
  • In God's Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians
  • A History of the World
  • City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire
  • Islamic Imperialism: A History
  • Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire
  • Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire
  • The Great Arab Conquests: How The Spread Of Islam Changed The World We Live In
  • Games Without Rules: The Often Interrupted History of Afghanistan
  • Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood
  • God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215
  • Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
  • The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land
  • Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse
  • Babylon: Mesopotamia And The Birth Of Civilization
  • The Caliph's Splendor: Islam and the West in the Golden Age of Baghdad
  • A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East
An acclaimed British author. He has written many books, both fiction and non-fiction, on many subjects from vampires to history.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Holland was born near Oxford and brought up in the village of Broadchalke near Salisbury, England. He obtained a double first in English and Latin at Queens' College, Cambridge, and af
More about Tom Holland...

Share This Book

“Winners are the favourites of heaven.” 1 likes
“that there existed no earthly empire so great or overweening that it might not one day be dashed to pieces” 1 likes
More quotes…