Tom Holland (author)

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Tom Holland
Born (1968-01-05) January 5, 1968 (age 51)
Wiltshire, England
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge, Queens' College, Cambridge
GenreLiterary fiction, Nonfiction, History
Notable worksPersian Fire
In the Shadow of the Sword
RelativesJames Holland

Thomas "Tom" Holland (born 5 January 1968) is an English writer and popular historian who has published several works on topics including classical and medieval history and the origins of Islam. In addition to his writing, he has worked with the BBC to create and host historical television documentaries.


Early life[edit]

Holland was born in Oxfordshire and brought up in the village of Broadchalke near Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. He was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge,[1] where he studied English.[2][3].


In 2004, Holland was awarded the Hessell-Tiltman Prize, awarded to the best work of non-fiction of historical content, for his book Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic.[4]

In 2005, James Buchan reviewed Persian Fire positively for The Guardian newspaper,[5] while Paul Cartledge, a professor of Greek history at Cambridge University recommended it for The Independent thus: "If Persian Fire does not win the Samuel Johnson Prize, there is no justice in this world."[6] Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, historian Dominic Sandbrook reported it as "riveting" and praised the "enormous strengths" of the author.[7]

In February 2011, he presented and wrote Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters, a BBC Four television programme exploring the influence of fossils on mythology.[8]

Holland's book on Islam, In the Shadow of the Sword, was called "a work of impressive sensitivity and scholarship" by The Telegraph[9] and "a book of extraordinary richness...For Tom Holland has an enviable gift for summoning up the colour, the individuals and animation of the past, without sacrificing factual integrity" by The Independent.[10] But it was criticized by Glen Bowersock of The Guardian as being written in "a swashbuckling style that aims more to unsettle his readers than to instruct them...irresponsible and unreliable".[11]

In August 2012, he produced and presented a documentary for Channel 4 television entitled Islam: The Untold Story,[12] which provoked what Holland described as "a firestorm of death threats" against him for questioning Islamic doctrine that maintains Muhammad founded the religion in Mecca in the 7th century. Holland argued that the first mention of Muhammad does not appear in historical records about Islam until 60 years after his death, and the claim that Mecca was his home does not appear until a century after he died. He concluded that descriptions of Muhammad's home more closely resemble a city in what is now southern Israel and stated that Islamic scholars in the Arab Empire may have chosen Mecca instead in order to have the birthplace of Islam be Arabian and disassociate it from Jewish or Christian heritage.[13] The programme generated more than 1,000 complaints received by Ofcom and Channel 4.[14][15] A planned screening of Islam: The Untold Story before an audience of historians was cancelled, due to security concerns raised from threats received by Holland as a result of the documentary. Iranian State media called it an insult to Islam and the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA) accused Holland of making “baseless assumptions” and engaging in “selective scholarship”.[16][17]

In 2017, Holland and Channel 4 aired a new documentary titled Isis: The Origins of Violence which drew similar criticism from some in the Muslim community for its contention that the militant terror group ISIS has its origins in Islamic teachings from the Quran. But The Guardian praised the documentary, saying "Isis: The Origins of Violence will start many arguments, but we should be grateful for having broadcasters brave and thoughtful enough to make them."[18]

In 2016, Holland was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[19]



In August 2014, Holland was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.[20]


In March 2015, Holland published a piece entitled "We must not deny the religious roots of Islamic State" in the New Statesman. It argued that the jihadis of ISIS call themselves Islamic and people like Mehdi Hasan ought not to deny it, as he had in the previous week's issue. Holland wrote that "It is not merely coincidence that ISIS currently boasts a caliph, imposes quranically mandated taxes, topples idols, chops the hands off thieves, stones adulterers, executes homosexuals and carries a flag that bears the Muslim declaration of faith."[21]

In May 2015, Holland gave the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Lecture at the Hay Festival, in which he addressed the subject of De-Radicalising Muhammad.[22] In an interview he gave to the literary website Quadrapheme the following month he explained that he wanted the lecture to promote discussion of the way Muhammad's life is interpreted, arguing that his "mythos lies at the core of what is pernicious in the goings-on of Islamic State and other radicals."[23] In the same interview he provided an insight into his own views, asserting that "Liberalism is essentially Christianity-lite, and you can include atheism and secularism in that bracket too—these are basically Christian heresies. The ethics involved are really New Testament ones," and adding later, when asked about resistance to his views on Islam, that "when I write about Islam my anxiety, and the reason I always pull my punches, isn’t that I’m afraid I’ll be killed, it’s that I’m afraid to be drummed out of the liberal club."[24]

Personal life[edit]

Holland lives in London with his wife and two daughters. He is a keen cricket fan and an opening bowler for the Authors XI cricket team.[25] He has written about receiving batting training from England captain Alastair Cook, and once hit a six.[26]



  • The Vampyre: Being the True Pilgrimage of George Gordon, Sixth Lord Byron (1995), ISBN 0-316-91227-1 (published in the US as Lord of the Dead)
  • Supping with Panthers (1996), ISBN 0-316-87622-4 (published in the US as Slave of My Thirst)


Short fiction[edit]


  • The Importance of Being Frank (first professional performance 1991, text published 1997), ISBN 0-9530587-1-9




  1. ^ 'HOLLAND, Thomas (born 5 January 1968)' in Who's Who 2013
  2. ^ Georges T. Dodds (June 1999). "A Conversation With Tom Holland". The SF Site. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  3. ^ Charlotte Higgins (28 August 2005). "Tom Holland interview: Caligula, vampires and coping with death threats". Guardian. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  4. ^ "Hessell-Tiltman Prize". English PEN. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  5. ^ "Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West", 10 Sep 2005
  6. ^ "Persian Fire: The first world empire and the battle for the west, by Tom Holland ", 2 Sep 2005
  7. ^ "A civilising influence - Dominic Sandbrook reviews Persian Fire by Tom Holland.", 18 Sep 2015
  8. ^ "Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters". BBC. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  9. ^ Dan Jones (5 April 2012). "In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland: review". Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  10. ^ Barnaby Rogerson (30 March 2012). "In The Shadow of the Sword, By Tom Holland". Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  11. ^ "In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland – review". The Guardian. 4 May 2012. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  12. ^ "Islam – The Untold Story". Channel 4. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  13. ^ Holland, Tom (8 January 2015). "Viewpoint: The roots of the battle for free speech". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  14. ^ Lisa O'Carroll (3 September 2012). "Channel 4 documentary Islam: The Untold Story receives 1,200 complaints". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  15. ^ Christopher Howse (29 August 2012). "Islam: the Untold Story, review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  16. ^ John Hall (11 September 2012). "Channel 4 cancels controversial screening of Islam: The Untold Story documentary after presenter Tom Holland is threatened". The Independent. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  17. ^ "Channel 4 cancels screening of Islam film over security fears". The Week. 12 September 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  18. ^ Mark Lawson (17 May 2017). "Isis: The Origins of Violence – a brave documentary that will start many a fight". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  19. ^ "Tom Holland". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  20. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". The Guardian. London. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  21. ^ "Tom Holland: We must not deny the religious roots of Islamic State", 17 Mar 2015
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Mission Impossible? An Interview with Tom Holland | Quadrapheme". Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  24. ^ "Mission Impossible? An Interview with Tom Holland | Quadrapheme". Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  25. ^ Marcus Berkmann (25 July 2013), The pen is mightier than the cricket bat: THE AUTHORS XI: A SEASON OF ENGLISH CRICKET FROM HACKNEY TO HAMBLEDON BY THE AUTHORS CRICKET CLUB, MailOnline, retrieved 21 January 2015
  26. ^ Holland, Tom (15 November 2013). "FT Masterclass: Batting with Alastair Cook". Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  27. ^ ( The corresponding YouTube Video of the topic delivered at the Rancho Mirage Writers FestivalPublished on Feb 17, 2017, at

External links[edit]