• In the Shadow of the Sword

  • The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire
  • By: Tom Holland
  • Narrated by: Steven Crossley
  • Length: 18 hrs and 11 mins
  • Categories: History, Europe
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (506 ratings)
adbl_ms_membershipImage_includedwith_altText_B076FLV3HT
adbl_ms_membershipImage_includedwith_altText_B076FLV3HT

1 audiobook of your choice.
Stream or download thousands of included titles.
$14.95 a month after 30 day trial. Cancel anytime.
Buy for $29.95

Buy for $29.95

Pay using card ending in
By confirming your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and Amazon's Privacy Notice. Taxes where applicable.

Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"Elegantly written.... A veritable tour de force. ( The Wall Street Journal)

What listeners say about In the Shadow of the Sword

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    245
  • 4 Stars
    158
  • 3 Stars
    65
  • 2 Stars
    27
  • 1 Stars
    11
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    280
  • 4 Stars
    105
  • 3 Stars
    43
  • 2 Stars
    18
  • 1 Stars
    8
Story
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    221
  • 4 Stars
    123
  • 3 Stars
    66
  • 2 Stars
    27
  • 1 Stars
    10

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A vivid, illuminating trip through late antiquity

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.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A Tour of Late Antiquity

If you've enjoyed Holland's Rubicon and Dynasty, please do yourself a favor and wander into the gorgeous landscape painting of late antiquity he creates in this work. His evocation of the Shah's disastrous expedition against the Hepthalites will dig its hooks into you, I guarantee. Be forewarned, Holland spends most of his time setting the stage, the actual Islamic conquest isn't set in motion until the final third of the book. But, if you've ever been curious about that hazy time between the fall of the western roman empire and the rise of islam, Holland will flesh it out for you in gilded detail.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Misleading title

What disappointed you about In the Shadow of the Sword?

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"

Has In the Shadow of the Sword turned you off from other books in this genre?

No. I have to be more careful reading reviews.

What does Steven Crossley bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

It was a great read.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

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.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

very confusing, not sure I know more now

Was originally assigned this in a class on Islam and the Arab nations, or some such, which I ended up dropping ... but a few years later decided that since the book was on Audible I'd get it and listen... I vaguely remember our professor had only assigned various chapters telling us the book goes WAY off topic, and boy does it. It almost feels like the writer knew a lot about Christian and Jewish civilizations of that period, and wanted to throw all that in since what we actually about about the development of the nations under the umbrella of Islam is kind of sketchy. So hard to follow, and harder to remember because there's so many details and no central storyline. its read ok

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Disjointed

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.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Good But Too Much Filler

It seems like half the book is spend setting up the background for the rise of the Islamic empire. Perhaps that's because (and I think the author has said as much) there really aren't that many source documents.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Not Holland's best work

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.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

From the Epic to the Profound to the Cheeky

Review of the Audio Book format. The study of great empires, religions and the rise and fall of both, can come in many forms. George Ostrogorsky's epic "History of the Byzantine State" does indeed chronicle the rise and fall of this empire, but also perpetually interrupted its sweeping narrative with ongoing commentaries on the latest iconoclastic controversy. Many a "history" book today, attempts to use history to prove or push the latest progressive societal desire - from gay Greeks to Cleopatra being black. What Tom Holland has done is to create a narrative of the rise of Islam, in what used to be referred to as a "ripping yarn." Great battles that turn the tide of history, the rise of fall of emperors, shahs and caliphs, and the great suffering of the masses, all are here to be read. Yet, revealed as well, is how the will of men, the curse of ingrained culture and indeed - the will of a higher power, evolved over time to create two great monotheistic religions - where once the world was nothing but pagans. We today, take the idea of a single God for granted, but it had to be forged both from war and the iron will of religious scholars, to allow it to emerge as an idea that no longer is argued. Thus, even as the reader takes in a battle that changes the course of history, pay attention to the quieter moments, when rabbinical thought or an outlawed Christian sect puts its mark on Islamic scholarship. This is just as epic, and, unlike empires, it's result still stands today. And finally, there is also the cheek. The sly commentary on the fashion sense of Persian Shahs, the notice of how desert-forged Arab conquerors quickly embraced a life of silks and palaces, or how the mighty Byzantine Romans had to deal with the fact that the desert Arabs were now their masters. History is full of amusing, if tragic ironies, because it is made by people - both great and small. Nestled also, often as bystanders to this clash of titans, are the Jews. Holland chronicles, often in small but profound anecdotes, how Judaism survives today, even as one "ite" after another disappeared into history. In closing, for me it was a revelatory reading. And I recommend it to all who wish to understand how the worlds gets from "there" to "here." I must warn, however, for whatever reason, Chapter 22 gave me fits. It is almost completely a chapter of profundity, which for me, took multiple rewinds to finally comprehend. And one final note to the narration. I know we had a revolution to free ourselves from our British rulers, but darn it, there is something about a history book being read by a Brit, that just makes it seem all-together more classy. Enjoy!

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

good but not his best

Beginning is good, end is good but the middle is like wading through a swamp. Personally I had to power through the middle few chapters where Holland left Islam to talk about the rise of Christianity. While it may have been needed for the story, I got bogged down personally on a subject he has a while other book on, which I'm about to listen to next.

Overall it's not a big enough of an issue to not reccomend the book, still listen! You shall enjoy.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Intriguing story, somewhat annoying narration

The narrator tries to invest too much cuteness in every phrase, and plays the emphasis on clever wording too hard. It makes for annoyed listening

2 people found this helpful