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 desert, and starring some of the most remarkable rulers who ever lived, he tells a story vivid with drama, horror, and startling achievement.
"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)
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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".
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.