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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.
22 of 22 people found this review helpful
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.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful