Independent scholar and award-winning author Holland (Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic) asserts in this engaging work that most of Western morals and ethics find their origin in Christianity, even where the influence is unacknowledged. Rather than offer a continuous narrative, Holland takes key moments in history and illuminates the role Christianity played in these epochal periods, both for good and for ill. Connecting topics and time periods—e.g., "Belief: AD 177: Lyon," about the struggle to define Christian doctrine; and "Love: 1967: Abbey Road," which speaks of the Christian origins of the love and peace movement of the 1960s, even as many of those promoting the movement rejected religious belief—Holland exhibits a wide and deep historical knowledge, placing each of these periods in the context of Christian and Western history. Each chapter begins with a telling vignette that illustrates the topic, as Holland then shows how this event mirrored those in other places. VERDICT Even readers who might not agree with Holland's thesis will enjoy his take on key periods of Western history.—Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ
Novelist, playwright, and historian Holland (Rubicon), whose scholarly pursuits include Greek, Islamic, and Roman history, brings all of that to bear in this cultural history of how “a cult inspired by the execution of an obscure criminal in a long-vanquished empire came to exercise such a transformative and enduring influence on the world.” In the period stretching from pre-Christian Athens in 479 BCE, when the Persian Artayctes lost his battle with the Athenians, to Germany in 2015, when Angela Merkel had an emotional encounter with a teenage Palestinian girl, Holland traces Christendom’s philosophical, ethical, political, and even linguistic legacies in the West. Sophocles and Aristotle appear, as do Solomon and Moses, who “brought something without parallel: legislation directly authored by a god.” Luke writes, so does Muhammad, and Luther publishes his 95 theses; later Holland weaves in Voltaire, Darwin, and even de Sade. He does not lose sight of political events—Charlemagne reigns, Columbus sails, the West fights WWI, and Hitler rises to power. He also wrestles with the theological disputes, inconsistencies, and recurring questions within Christianity, and the faith’s intertwined but often hostile relationship with Judaism and Jews. Entertaining is too light a term and instructive is too heavy a term for a rich work that is enjoyably both. (Oct.)
"A sweeping narrative.... [Holland] is an exceptionally good storyteller with a marvelous eye for detail... excellent fun." The Economist
"Christianity may not be on the march, but its principles continue to dominate in much of the world; this thoughtful, astute account describes how and why... Holland delivers penetrating, often jolting discussions on great controversies of Western civilization in which war, politics, and culture have formed a background to changes in values... An insightful argument that Christian ethics, even when ignored, are the norm worldwide." Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"An exhaustive, demanding and hugely impressive interpretation of our past, bursting with fresh ideas and perspectives on every page." The Sunday Times
"What in other hands could have been a dry pedantic account of Christianity's birth and evolution becomes in Holland's an all-absorbing story.... It takes a master storyteller to translate the development of a philosophical notion into a captivating story, and Holland proves to be one.... Holland offers a remarkably nuanced and balanced account of two millennia of Christian history intellectual, cultural, artistic, social and political. The book's scope is breathtaking." The Literary Review
"An engaging book." The Times (UK)
"A masterpiece of scholarship and storytelling, Dominion surpasses Holland's earlier books in its sweeping ambition and gripping presentation.... Dominion presents a rich and compelling history of Christendom." The New Statesman
"This is popular history and readable. It has passages of striking writing and...lots of substance. It's imagery and points of modern comparison often have the vividness that makes excellent broadcast documentary. So there is a good read here." The Church Times
"An engaging work...Holland exhibits a wide and deep historical knowledge...even readers who might not agree with Holland's thesis will enjoy his take on key periods of Western history." Library Journal (starred review)
"Terrific: bold, ambitious and passionate." Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
"Tom Holland is fun to read, monstrously erudite, wickedly joyful, and ahead of the established consensus, on average, by 4 years, three months, and 2 days." Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan
"This extraordinary book is vintage Tom Holland: history boldly and elegantly retold, with fascinating interconnections traced to create a narrative that cannot fail to stimulate, for it leads to a never-ending question." Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of The Reformation: A History and Christianity: The First 3000 Years
"At a moment when popular debates over 'faith' and 'reason' have become fashionable, Tom Holland brilliantly reminds us that the most essential values claimed by all sides arise from a long and complex cultural history of Christian moral imagination one we would do well to remember." David Bentley Hart, author of The Experience of God
Christianity may not be on the march, but its principles continue to dominate in much of the world; this thoughtful, astute account describes how and why.
This is not a biography of Jesus or a history of the church, writes Holland (Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar, 2015, etc.), an award-winning historian of the ancient world. His aim is to "study Christianity for what it can reveal, not about God, but about the affairs of humanity. No less than any other aspect of culture and society, beliefs are presumed to be of mortal origin, and shaped by the passage of time." He accomplishes this with 21 isolated chapters (in three parts: "Antiquity," "Christendom," and "Modernitas") that proceed chronologically, beginning when the ancient world, which featured a live-and-let-live attitude toward the gods of every nation, became aware of the Jewish God, who insisted that He reigned alone. Leaping forward centuries and then decades at a time, Holland delivers penetrating, often jolting discussions on great controversies of Western civilization in which war, politics, and culture have formed a background to changes in values. Thus, Christ taught that slavery was offensive in God's eyes. Christians accepted this idea until they became the establishment, when practicalities took priority. Radical Christians fumed and skeptics sneered, but the author points out that when abolition finally became a political force in the 18th century, it was almost entirely Christian based, and no other world religion participated. So it has been with issues from women's rights to genocide to evolution, and Holland looks at the work of Julian the Apostate, Mohammad, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Hitler, and countless other relevant historical figures. Readers may squirm, but even a humane concept such as human rights "was far likelier to be signed up to if its origin among the canon lawyers of medieval Europe could be kept concealed."
An insightful argument that Christian ethics, even when ignored, are the norm worldwide.