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 from Constantinople to the Arabian dessert, and starring some of the most remarkable rulers who ever lived, he tells a story vivid with drama, horror, and startling achievement.
©2012 Tom Holland (P)2012 Hachette Digital
"An unequivocal argument for the relevance of ancient history . . . Holland never strains for modern references; they are implicit in the stories he tells with such scholarship and flair.” (Geraldine Bedell, Observer)
“Brings this tumultuous, epoch-making period dazzlingly to life.” (William Napier, Independent on Sunday)
“Tom Holland has a rare eye for the detail, drama and the telling anecdote . . . A vibrant, bloodthirsty history, told with a rich sense of irony and irresistible narrative timing” (Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph)
I've read and listened to four of Tom Holland's books, he has the ability to capture a lot of historical fact and put into a way of making it understandable.
"I've struggled with this but my fault"
I assumed from Tom Holland's books Persian Fire and Rubicon this would be a kind of politically and culturally explained geopolitical, military history.
But I have struggled to get through the book, which in a way is my fault and shows the author has an interesting and different thesis. The simple premise of the book is that two ancient superpowers get blindsided by random mounted desert tribesmen uniting under a rehash of Judaism/Christianity, which themselves were mere constructs (I see he won a lot of friends from all three faiths there) which made their conquest easier. But there is not much military/geopolitical history but more of a religious history of early Islam, Christianity, Rabbinical Judaism and Gnosticism/Ahura Mazdism (the latter of which I still have no understanding of). Though it was an unusual insight into what our religious leaders now portray as eternal religions which the author says at that stage were being made up as they went along, was a long way from the real life "Game of Thrones" I'd been hoping for and means after several months I am only half way through - though the book does fill a valuable gap in explaining what the hell happened to Persia and Byzantium (before it became the rotting apple ready to be plucked by the Ottomans).
Does what it says on the tin in terms of explaining what happened to the ancient world, except instead of having "Sword" in the title and a helmet in the sand on the cover, it should have been called "A slow, religious history of the sixth Century or how one hocus pocus beat two other hocus pocuses with minimum swordplay".
"Rubicon in the desert......I think not...."
my knowledge of world history comes to an end with the Romans and picks up with 1066 and all that. I was so looking forward to picking up all that happened with the great Islamic empire. Instead of which I find this to basically be a study of how Islam as a religion came to be. Missed my interest by 90 degrees unfortunately. Very well written and excellent for those interested in this topic. However given Tom Holland previous works I think this book should come with a warning.
this book is a fascinating journey through the origins of Islam, and because the muslim sources are so few in regard of the actual birth of Islam, the author looks to the other civilizations surrounding it's cradle at the time to find clues as to what is true and what is fictional addition from later periods.
great narrator, thorough research. An intricate narrative that fits the complex cultural currents clashing at that time in that place.
highly recommend it!
The content of this book was absolutely fascinating but I did have trouble maintaining concentration. There was something not quite solid enough in the structure for me, but I do struggle to explain what!
"Epic. And bloody."
A vast and epic account of the blood-soaked centuries that saw the fall of the ancient Zoroastrian and Christian empires, and the rise of Islam. I found the book quite difficult, but I think this was due more to the audio format - where it is more difficult to keep track of the names of people and places - than to the writing itself. However, it was very interesting and the tales from that era are certainly full of drama. And blood.
As a narrative it did not work. I expected a "rubicon" of the east, I did not get it.
"Excellent overview of an important period"
Rome did not die in the fifth century. As this excellent historical work demonstrates through the conflicts, struggles and intrigues of the world's two great empires on the cusp of the Middle Ages- Byzantine Rome, and Sassanid Persia.
Much detailed information, presented in a manner that was not dull. dry and boring. Also raises some fascinating and intriguing possibilities about the growth of Islam and its relationship to Christianity.
Clear, understandable narration, which made for enjoyable listening.
At nearly 18 hours its not one to be read in a single sitting, but long enough for several days commute
"I didn't want it to end"
I've got the hardback copy too, which is a joy to read but because of the length of it and my busy schedule it got the audio version to help me along..
No, its long and demands all of your attention but its definitely worth it.
I've been a fan of Tom Holland for a while and this book has only cemented my admiration of his qualities as a historian and writer even further.
I had long suspected much of what was written about Islam. It is apparent from reading the Quran and a knowledge of the contemporary history. In an eloquent well researched and never insulting manner this book expands this history. You will delight in the weaving of middle eastern and tribal history to make the development of Islam contemporary and not as mysteriously isolated as it seems.Listened to this book twice.
"Myths, Legends, Religion and History"
A fascinating narrative, blending history, myth and religious texts into a biography of the people's of the book (books!).
Perhaps my only criticism being that it was often difficult to tell if you were being told a myth, or a historical fact. Maybe that's the point.
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