Books and Comics

In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World by Tom Holland – Book – 9 GPPs

by on 11/05/2012

Tom Holland


Little Brown 2012


Insightful, engrossing, thought provoking


Ends rather suddenly

Editor Rating
Total Score


Straight to the Point;

Books like these should be compulsory reading for all. It’s beautifully written, engaging and extremely insightful; unsettlingly so at times.

Written By:  Tom Holland


From the author of: Across the Rubicon, Persian Fire and Millennium, in the Shadow of the Sword is a narrative that chronicles the evolution and emergence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, in Late Antiquity (2nd to 8th century AD); and how: sphere of influence, politics, diplomacy, paganism and fundamentally, each other  formed the basis of these 3, world dominating religions.

What we like

Beautifully written and easy to read – every inch of the English language is stretched and explored, then moulded masterfully into digestible and unintimidating prose. Unlike many other histories whose general ethos is: “people who read these books must be uber intelligent, like us, and therefore must be hit with the biggest and most pointlessly obscure words that we can think of, or just made up, to reiterate our acumen. If they are not, well then, we must make all efforts to scare them away, least they taint our beloved subject!” Sadly for a lot of people they seem to be very good at the latter.

Hollands use of the English language, historical sources and his ability to tell a really engrossing story, encourages readers to read on. It explains who people are, what things mean and doesn’t go too over board on the hugely obscure words –  though he does have a fondness for “primordial” and “Stupefying,” a trend I’ve noticed in a few of his books-.

A minefield skilfully traversed Religion is a proverbial minefield and a book dedicated to its “evolution” and influence from other religions is bound to cause some people a few headaches, as well as probably out and out offending others (as it has). Holland tiptoes around this very well, keeping to his narrative story, all the while throwing a few historical source curve balls and anecdotes into the mix; without wading in with a full opinion himself. There are a lot of questions with historically sourced answers, but no greater ‘answer’ to the BIG question; that is left for you to make your own mind up about.

History comes to life – This is something that Holland excels at, in every book he writes. The way things are described, how characters act and what people are feeling comes across brilliantly and makes you feel like you are reading a novel, not a history book; making it a lot easier to absorb (in my opinion) what is being said.


Only one minor issue – I found the book seemed to just tail off at the end. He is in deep discussion about the Arabs, the Caliphate and Islam one moment and then it just finishes. I guess this could be put down to the fact it is just a narrative, in the end, and it has to stop somewhere, but I was disappointed all the same. Not sure what I was expecting to be honest, maybe for Holland to bite the bullet and say what he had been inferring through out the book but again that would have changed the tone of the entire thing and probably put a lot of people off.


I really enjoyed, In the Shadow of the Sword and I honestly think this sort of; active, engaging and dramatic history should be read by all. I am sure there will be some major critiques launched Holland’s way (as its not exactly comfortable reading, I would imagine for some people), but personally I found it invigorating to read and it really left me with a better understanding of the period and a need to learn more.. Definitely worth picking up!

By Matt Geary