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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  2,070 Ratings  ·  257 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 ...more
Paperback, 560 pages
Published February 12th 2013 by Anchor (first published 2012)
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Tariq Mahmood
May 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
2nd Attempt Review:
There's a wealth of information here, and the second time (via audio) was the charm to get through the dense chronological meandering tour of Late Antiquity history. I know the lengthy first 2/3rds about Judaism and Christianity was to give context to the rise of Islam as a pastiche of its sister Abrahamic religions & pretty much a product of its time in an era of upheaveal, but I think Holland could have chosen his context more judiciously instead of dumping all his resea
Steve Love
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
"In the Shadow of the Sword" by Tom Holland is an overview of the predecessors of Islam and Islam's first hundred years. The first 75% of the book covers the centuries immediately before Islam (up to about the year 610) and the last 25% covers Mohammed, the Quran, and the first century of Islamic expansion. Holland's premise is that Islam's birth was more of an evolution than a revolution - that Islam was in continuity with what went before and around it.

Given his premise, Holland focuses on th
Simon Jones
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“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
Richard Thomas
Mar 03, 2015 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.
Dinah Küng
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 01, 2012 marked it as wish-list
Recommends it for: susanna, GeeVee

Voltaire: Often quoted advocate of freedom of expression.

Historian Tom Holland was one of those who tweeted Charlie Hebdo's cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in the wake of the deadly attack on the magazine's office. Here he explains the ramifications of defending free speech.
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
Apr 16, 2012 rated it liked it
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,
Jan 16, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Христо Блажев
В сянката на меча се гради нова религия върху основите на старите:

Записките са налице… но смислен разказ не мога да изградя – историческото платно на Том Холанд е мащабно и много подробно, особено в историческото изследване на чудовищния сблъсък между Рим и Персия, в който се изковават условията за появата на исляма и арабската експанзия. Затова и по-скоро ще се оттегля и ще ви оставя с някои от ключивите места от книгата, като задължително имайте предвид
May 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Paul  Perry
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 26, 2012 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
Oct 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alice Meloy
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
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 21, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I only finished the first 20% of this, but I had already read several other books about the middle east and religious developments in that area from 4000-2000 years ago. Another goodreads reviewer perfectly summed up my thoughts by saying the book could be retitled:

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).

If yo
Omar Ali
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book, but you will likely learn much more about pre-Islamic Persia and Byzantium than about early Islam...this is not Tom Holland's fault, there is just less material out there (or at least, less material that is not part of the official hagiographical and semi-mythical accounts written by Abbasid era Muslim historians), but it does mean that some of the riddles about early Islam (what was it really like in the beginning, where was the beginning, who did what in the beginning, etc ...more
Steve Cooper
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I agree with the people who complained that this book is a difficult read. Complicated sentence structures and numerous digressions make you feel like you’re wading through a swamp. Exasperation is bound to set in…

And yet, I don’t know of any other place to find such a rigorous historical examination of Islam’s roots and early years. While I was never comfortable with the book’s style (by far the most difficult yet of Holland’s wonderful books), the wide-ranging information he manages to pull to
Mari Biella
Examining the origins of a religion as a historical (as opposed to a spiritual) phenomenon can be a controversial activity. In the modern West, of course, it is a time-honoured and eminently respectable pursuit, and Christianity in particular has become used to its occasionally uncomfortable results – so much so that Christians, and the devotees of other religious traditions, often freely exercise it themselves. It can be both thrilling and problematic to see one's faith of choice as a part of s ...more
Apr 12, 2014 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
Ayan Dutta
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The book gives a fabulous and exhaustive account of the forging of Islam and the Life and times of the Prophet himself. The exposition is scholarly yet what captivates a general reader is the wit in his writings. Never boring ( yes a history book ) ! The end notes are extremely helpful to the reader.

This is an illuminating, well-researched, and historically-fascinating book on the empires and religions of the near-east and Mediterranean in Late Antiquity. There is a wealth of information on the Romans/Byzantines, the Persians, and the Jews, but the main focus is, of course, the foundation, birth and progression of Islam and the Umayyad Caliphate.

Shadow is a gem of 'popular history' for people, like me, who are really interested in this period. I studied Byzantine history (as I, but not Tom
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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
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“Whatever else it may be, the Qur’an is no work of history. Startlingly, were it not for all the commentaries elucidating its mysteries, all the biographies of the Prophet, and all the sprawling collections of hadiths—none of which, in the form we have them, pre-dates the beginning of the third century after the hijra—we would have only the barest reason to associate it with a man named” 2 likes
“Winners are the favourites of heaven.” 1 likes
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