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In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire Paperback – 1 February 2013
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Praise for Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword
"Elegantly written. . . . A veritable tour de force."
--The Wall Street Journal
--The Times (London) "Accessible but delightful . . . as fun to read as any thriller, and with far richer intellectual nutritional content. . . . Those unwilling to struggle through academic texts have long needed a guide to the story of Islam as it's understood by those with the fullest access to the latest linguistic and archaeological evidence. Now at last in Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword, they finally have it. . . . Holland--author previously of Rubicon and Persian Fire--is about as exciting a stylist as we have writing history today."
--The Daily Beast "[Holland's] prose is shot through with wit and empathy. The result is a portrait of a lost world that is complex, contradictory and populated by people in thrall to ideas future generations would dismiss as ridiculous. Much like our own, in other words."
--Dallas Morning News "[An] elegant study of the roiling era of internecine religious rivalry and epic strife that saw the nation of Islam rise and conquer. . . . Holland confronts questions in the Quranic text head-on, providing a substantive, fluid exegesis on the original documents. Smoothly composed history and fine scholarship."
--Kirkus Reviews "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."
--The Spectator (London) "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. In the Shadow of the Sword remains a spell-bindingly brilliant multiple portrait of the triumph of monotheism in the ancient world."
--The Independent (London) "This is a handsome volume, tackling an important question from a novel perspective."
--Sunday Telegraph (London) "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."
--Telegraph (London) "An exhilarating read because Holland succeeds in capturing much of the excitement, strangeness and importance of a long past age. It is difficult not to be bedazzled."
--Financial Times (London) "An ambitious and important book. . . . His excellent book will be lauded, as it should be for doing what the best sort of books can do--examining holy cows."
--The Observer (London)
About the Author
Tom Holland is a historian of the ancient world and a translator. His books include Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, Persian Fire, In the Shadow of the Sword and The Forge of Christendom. He has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for the BBC. In 2007, he was the winner of the Classical Association prize, awarded to "the individual who has done most to promote the study of the language, literature and civilization of Ancient Greece and Rome." He lives in London with his family.
Visit the author's website at www.tom-holland.org.
- Publisher : Anchor Books; Reprint edition (1 February 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 526 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307473651
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307473653
- Dimensions : 13.13 x 2.77 x 20.14 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 335,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Check out the following links for opinions by University academics:
Professor Glen Bowersock wrote,'But Holland is at his most irresponsible when he turns to the Meccan origins of Islam. After reasonably supporting Patricia Crone's argument against the tradition of Mecca as a mercantile centre, he goes on to ask whether the place itself might not be an invention in the story of Muhammad. He raises the possibility that the Qur'anic pagans, called mushrikun, might be confederate tribes simply because the word is constructed from the Arabic root for "sharing". He looks for these tribes in southern Jordan and not only thinks of placing Muhammad among them but proposes that his own Meccan tribe, the Quraysh, took its name from the Syriac word qarisha, which, according to Holland, would have been "duly Arabised". This jaw-dropping idea depends on Holland's mistaken view that the Syriac word could allude to a confederation. What it means is to clot or congeal.'
He has a hypothesis that the Quran was manufactured by Abdul Malik. The following proof destroys that hypothesis:
Experts have recently studied three samples of a fragment of a Qur'an, which has been in the University Library in TÃÂ¼bingen since the end of the 19th century. Their conclusion is that the parchment with a 95.4% statistical probability can be dated to the period between Ad 649 -675. It thus seems to have been written 20 - 40 years after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Such an early date is really a world record. The date has been established through modern C14 - radiocarbon - analysis at a lab in ZÃÂ¼rich.
An academic refutation of these old expired ideas by a professional historian are to be found in chapter 3 of the book 'Discovering the Quran: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text by Neal Robinson.'
Top reviews from other countries
But then the clouds of grandiloquence did not clear into any kind of lucid narrative, of the sort that thrilled in “Rubicon”. It seemed Holland had just fallen in love with his own voice, and couldn’t stop his compulsive, generalised fancifying of what people were thinking and feeling 1,600 years ago. Ornate and convoluted sentences notwithstanding, the tone was of cheap, florid historical fiction. He seemed to cluck with self-satisfaction at the sheer immensity of the paragraphs.
I got a refund.
For me, the one let down in this book is that Tom Holland is very selective about his choice of examples from history and is extremely erratic in his selections from history. This is confusing for the reader and even encourages one to believe that he is simply picking examples that support his various arguments - true or not. Tom Holland knows well that there are many people keen to pick holes in his beliefs and therefore he should be alot clearer and more honest in his presentation.
That said, I recommend this book for a different view on an extremely interesting and influential part of history which still has consequences on our lives today.
The received tradition of the origins of Islam being born in the full light of history is certainly false. The first histories about this vague figure called Mohammed were wrote between 200 - 300 years after the life of this figure, hence there is no certainty as to who he really was.
There was some sort of Mohammed but the recieved tradition as to who he was is very much open to doubt. The koran only mentions the name Mohamed 4 times. Mohammed means the praised one. "This praised one" could even of been referring to Jesus, it's hard to know. We cant be certain about the begging of Islam because its seems that the histories concerning Mohammed have been revised by later Arab scholars.
Tom Holland in his English way describes what we know of the origins of islam from a historical academic point of view. His history and his conclusion may scare some people but if truth is what you want then be brave and read this book.
Islam is about to experience what the Christian world did over 150 years ago, a total unrelenting sceptical criticism of its truth claim and its origin. If you are interested in either history generally or the origins of Islam specifically then Tom Holland's book is a good place to start your journey.
However, the whole middle section - from page 60 to 300 - I found a bit of a slog. It's just a mess really. A strange combination of things that are too broadly sweeping mixed randomly with overly detailed accounts of things that don't go anywhere.
The material itself is interesting enough and covers a neglected period but it just isn't well told or made into a coherant structure. If it suits the story you're telling you can jump around with the timeline but be clear about it and have a purpose
This is an incredably deeply researched scholarly work, the middle section is littered with references, and the depth of background undderstanding is testified to in the wealth of footnotes (I lose track with a Kindle but it looked like two or three endnotes a page through the middle part). Unfortunately that research hasn't always translated into a tale worth telling. A lot I ploughed through like reading a chronicle. What was good was a joy to read; what wasn't, wasn't.
I wanted to mention the scholarship particularly given a previous reviewer's comments below. King attacks the one point where Holland really is unassailable. If you want a story, if you want a fun read then this probably isn't the book for you. Yet you can't complaint the author doesn't know his material. He's steeped in it. I guess King has his reasons for wanting to believe that - & wanting other people to believe it - just like I guess he has his reasons for that gratuitous swipe at the Hindoos. Though that can't make it true. Holland knows the primary texts, I just wish he could have translated that into something better for the long middle section