In the Shadow of the Sword

In the Shadow of the Sword

The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire

Book - 2012
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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.
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, c2012.
ISBN: 9780385531351
Characteristics: x, 526 p., [16] p. of plates :,col. ill. ;,25 cm.


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Oct 08, 2019

Tom Holland’s “In the Shadow Of the Sword” is one of those deep dive popular histories, that grabs you and opens up worlds and experiences that often don’t find their way into other texts. Holland brings light to the world between 300 to 800 CE, a time period often forgotten or shrouded in mystery. Holland details the rise and recession of Christianity during this period, their fortunes tied to the New Roman Empire (Byzantium). The disappearance of the old world orders in the Middle East and the rise of the Arabs and Islam. The chapters I find the most interesting in Holland’s text are the ones on the Persians and Zoroastrianism and the evolution and continued survivability of Judaism. He also occasionally highlights the stories of old style pagans who survived the rise of monotheism staying out of the light, the old Babylonian cult of Sin, worshipping under the noses of the Caliph. The last of the worshippers of Amun Ra in the Libyan desert who met their end when a Bishop in Alexandria went with the Roman Army to close it. Holland goes into great detail in naming the reaction of the various sects and heresies that sprang up in those turbulent times. Well worth a read I would recommend this to anyone looking to expand their understanding of the late classical early medieval period.

Sep 19, 2019

I was looking forward to reading this book and was much disappointed: the topic in the very subtitle of the book is only covered in the last 100 pages (roughly from 600 to 750), most of the other 300 pages is background. All the other empires and kingdoms are given descriptions of their leaders and given accounts of their tribulations; there is little or no social history, economic history, or even technological development; the accounts for the background conditions are all over the place, for example, about Byzantium, it starts off in the 500s, then goes back and spends most of the chapter in the 300s, and then quickly jumps forward again to the late 500s; the tone for the work is all wrong - there is a smug suggestiveness in much of the book; its awkward to pinpoint where it goes bad, for from one sentence to the next it reads well, its just terribly disorganized. Long bibliography, index, and chronology (the best parts of the book!).

The title is derived from a saying attributed to Muhammad: “Do not look for a fight with the enemy. Beg God for peace and security. But if you do end up facing the enemy, then show endurance, and remember that the gates of Paradise lie in the shadow of the sword.” This is another huge (527 pp) tome by this widely admired, brilliant professional British historian who has written about the end of the Roman Republic, the origins of Christianity, and the Persian Wars. While written in an engaging style, it is nevertheless a dauntingly detailed, and consequently very rewarding treatise.

May 04, 2017

This is challenging reading. The style of writing makes it very hard to follow. Although, I was hoping to learn more about this period of history there were a few interesting nuggets.

Jun 08, 2013

Badly written, very long run-on sentences, multiple clauses. It is hard to tell what is "fact" and what is "fiction" from the way the author writes. The author provides endnotes for quoted (but not unquoted) material, giving the impression this is an academic book, but it most certainly is not.

A case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. The author includes every detail, no matter how trivial or irrevelant, but gives no summary, and never discusses ideas. Reminds me of everything that I disliked about high-school history lessons. A real struggle to read.

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