The evolution of the Arab empire is one of the supreme narratives of ancient history, a story dazzlingly rich in drama, character, and achievement. In this exciting and sweeping history - the third in his trilogy of books on the ancient world - Tom Holland describes how the Arabs emerged to carve out a stupefyingly vast dominion in a matter of decades, overcoming seemingly insuperable odds to create an imperial civilization.
With profound bearing on the most consequential events of our time, Holland ties the exciting story of Islam's ascent to the crises and controversies of the present.
©2012 Tom Holland (P)2015 Tantor
"Elegantly written.... A veritable tour de force. (The Wall Street Journal)
I should say first of all that this book is dazzling in terms of its scope and breadth, and it is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Islam. That said, I was just a little bit disappointed to find that the author does not really dig deep into that history until the last third of the book. It seems as if the preliminary material which sets the stage for the emergence of this particular form of imperial monotheism in 7th-century Arabia takes up most of the space, and the purported subject of the book gets short shrift. Don't get me wrong, the material on Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and early Christianity is incredibly interesting, but it seems that a book with a subtitle like "The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire" would begin tackling those subjects much earlier in the narrative. To be sure, all of those earlier monotheisms form a necessary context and background to the rise of Islam, but the emphasis on those earlier forms seems out of proportion to the emphasis on Islam. All that aside, I recommend the book to anyone interested in the subject. Holland's writing style is lively and engaging; refreshingly free of academic cant and jargon, and in some ways his prose style is reminiscent of classic historians like MacCaulay or Gibbon. And it works well as an audiobook; Steven Crossley's narration is flawless. I will definitely be listening to/reading this one again.
This tale sparkles with personalities, beliefs, collisions, and richly-staged history, moving seamlessly between these different levels. The author is a great storyteller (in wonderful sync with the narrator's style), not so much an exhaustive expositor of various possible views of these things. It starts a bit awkwardly, I thought, as it veers off for quite awhile into the unreliability of sources for modern verifiable historical details on various prophets and prophetic religions of antiquity. This is repeated as needed when a new religion or sect is introduced. But suddenly, these issues are mostly shelved, and we are immersed in the main mode of storytelling which is vivid and virtuoso. I am happy to hop on for the ride, vowing to return to more placid, plodding scholarly explanations another time. Meanwhile, I feel as if I was in the times alongside the people, and my sense of all these peoples' origins is brought to shimmering life. Islam through most of the story is merely anticipated, as we spend much time in other regions of the near- and middle- east and among non-Arab peoples and their sects. The portrait of Constantinople and particularly its Roman overlords was fantastic. Here are Jews, Christians, Pagans, Zoroastrians, yet others, and of course, Arabs as their civilization gathered itself and quickly took amazing flight.
Maybe if I had a hard copy of the book it would all flow in a decent way, but the narrative as I followed it was full of sidesteps and jumped about chronologically. I understand that for a full understanding of the background, one must actually follow the background.... presented as it was it felt more like a Tarantino film than a history, in that it seemed very out of sequence and hard to follow.
Frankly I almost returned the book.
Two thirds of the book are a history of all of the cultural events leading up to the birth of Islam. It describes well the vacuum of power that existed in the 5th and 6th century that allowed Islam to expand, almost at will. It says nothing about how the split between Sunni and Shia occurred. It tells nothing about the conquest of Constantinople. It tells nothing of how Islam was finally stopped in eastern Europe. I was primarily interested in Islam, not the other "children of the book"
No. I have to be more careful reading reviews.
It was a great read.
It was a great review of the history of Christianity, Judaism and the empires of Europe and East Asia. I wasn't looking for that in such detail.
I really wanted to love this book. I'm a big fan of Tom Holland's work in written and audio format, but this book was difficult to follow. I could not tell what the presentation style was because it did not seem to follow a thematic progression and it certainly wasn't a narrative history. It just seemed to meander through time and place. While the minute to minute listening was classic Holland, I had no idea how anything fit with what I had heard previously or would hear subsequently.
this book's author does a good job not revealing his religious biases, as he talks a bit condescendingly about all three monotheistic religions. judaism actually comes out smelling best, though not by much. he does tie together some fascinating conjectures and makes mountains out of the molehills of information he was able to find regarding the development of islam. he has made some very intersting points based on his original document research, in particular regarding whether mecca was always central, and the interesting inclusions in the quran from judaism, christianity, and zoroastrianism. this is one of the looongest audiobooks i've listened to. good luck!
A wonderful narrative history that deals with the rise and, later influence of Islam. Also, Holland's other works are wonderful as well.
This history of the rise of Islam, was fascinating, though the language was way too thick and difficult to follow. Due to its educational value, something like this book is a worthwhile alternative to fantasy books like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones - because the story in this book really happened. The first two-thirds of the book tells the background that led up to Islam. I never realized that a horrible plague around 500 AD demolished the Christian Roman empire as well as the Persian, making way for the Arabs to step in and spread Islam. Over time, Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastranism, Islam, and others, all rose and fell in dominance and popularity, each success or failure being attributed to God, Allah, Jesus, or what-have-you, each group thinking God was on their side against the others. And it continues to this day. We are often still very medieval in our beliefs.
This book is not really about the rise of Islam so much as the interplay between Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Muslims in the Middle East around the time of the fall of Rome and rise of Islam. There are some controversial claims that need to be taken with a grain of salt, but the story as a whole is the best overview of the world's major monotheistic religions as they were shaped for the modern world that I have been able to find.
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