In the 6th century AD, the Near East was divided between two venerable empires: the Persian and the Roman. A hundred years on, and one had vanished forever, while the other seemed almost finished. Ruling in their place were the Arabs: an upheaval so profound that it spelt, in effect, the end of the ancient world. In The Shadow of the Sword, Tom Holland explores how this came about. Spanning Constantinople to the Arabian desert, and starring some of the most remarkable rulers who ever lived, he tells a story vivid with drama, horror and startling achievement.
'A compelling detective story of the highest order, In the Shadow of the Sword is also a dazzlingly colourful journey into the world of late antiquity. 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' -- Christopher Hart Sunday Times A brilliant tour de force of revisionist scholarship and [with] thrilling storytelling with a bloodspattered cast of swashbuckling tyrants, nymphomanaical empresses and visionary prophets ... Unputdownable -- Simon Sebag Montefiore The Times 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' -- Philip Hensher Spectator 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 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 -- Barnaby Rogerson Independent
An elegant historical synthesis. In one flourish he undermines the foundations of all of the three main monotheistic religions, possibly descending into sarcasm on p.386 where he does not develop the idea that Mecca may have been chosen for purely cynical reasons of Realpolitik.. This is not, of course, to be equated with a demonstration of atheism, which is a different issue. He challenges any christian, jew or mohammedan to present a testable statement of a fundamental belief. He also raises the issue of conversion. Of course, if religion were not a life-style choice, none of these religions would exist. A religion is not a civilization. It is also curious that the adherents of these religions, who put their implicit trust in their gods, never question this trust when they are failed and always cry help, frequently from non-believers. It is a curiosity that whilst some collapsed civilizations eventually recovered China, only to be destroyed by the cultural revolution, and Assyria, only to be reduced to a tiny rump, all others died. The only civilization that appeared to have been destroyed, but was reborn, was the civilization of Athens mediated by Rome. See Tainter, The collapse of complex societies and Rescher, Scientific progress, for the dynamics. Holland appears to have identified the tipping point, the Justinianic plague. This does, of course, beg the fundamental question, addressed many times, of why the Roman empire collapsed. Wickham nicely describes how the end of the Roman Empire was simply a reversal of the outward wave which created it, echoed here by the observation on p.398 that the Arabs recognised the risk of being swallowed. The renaissance was, of course, partially mediated by the outflow of Romans from Constantinople after its barbaric sack by the Turks, but is still the foundation of Europe. If this book cannot inspire people to enjoy history, none can. On p.334 he refers to the Quraysh caesariani or kaisarianoi just a thought? - Dr Michael Ford