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A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle That Shaped the Middle East Paperback – 26 Apr 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (26 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847394574
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847394576
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'With superb research and telling quotations, Barr has skewered the whole shabby story' --The Times

'Lively and entertaining. He has scoured the diplomatic archives of the two powers and has come up with a rich haul that brings his narrative to life' --Financial Times

'James Barr's history of imperial machinations in the Middle East offers a revelatory slant on the continuing crisis in that area... an outstanding piece of research and a damning take on what stoked current Middle Eastern woes' --Metro

'Barr plunges us straight into the mindset of two relatively junior officials, François Georges-Picot and Mark Sykes, in the maelstrom of 1915... And there he keeps us for the next 30 years, not hovering with the historians in high Olympic judgement on the fates of nations, but with the journalists and spies at the very grubby coalface of foreign policy...I found the entire book most horribly addictive, even if the ultimate picture it paints of the actions of the two Western powers is sordid, muddled and hypocritical' --Independent

'Barr describes the complexities of Anglo-French intrigues against each other and - in 1941 - outright war in Syria' --Sunday Times

'Masterful' --The Spectator

'James Barr has succeeded better than any author before him in telling the fascinating story of Anglo-French rivalries in the modern Middle East... Outstanding' --Eugene Rogan, author of 'The Arabs: A History'

'The book resembles a gripping spy thriller...an expertly researched and authoritative book that is easy to read' --Military Times

'Barr is particularly good at identifying and portraying officials and agents engaged in these tit-for-tat reprisals that blurred the distinction between patriotism and crime' --Literary Review

'Engaging and well-researched... James Barr's lively account provides some quite astounding sketches of bluster, bickering and bravado'
--BBC History Magazine

The struggle between Britain and France for mastery of the Middle East between 1914 and the late 1940s, is analysed by James Barr in his excellent new book.
It is a complex story of intrigue and skulduggery, which Barr pieces together in a deft, well-written narrative. A journalist by profession, he manages to bring the whole subject alive through a series of well-chosen details and characters --History Today

About the Author

James Barr has worked for the Daily Telegraph, in politics, and in the City, and has travelled widely in the Middle East. He is the author of Setting the Desert on Fire, a history of T.E. Lawrence and the secret war in Arabia. During the research for A Line in the Sand he was a visiting fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford.

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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By R. Pavey on 5 April 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is another excellent offering form the author of 'Setting the Desert on Fire'. Like his previous work, this book reads like a novel, with a cast of characters that would be dismissed as implausible in fiction. As well as being a first-rate read, it is also meticulously researched and clearly presented. It throws a disturbing light on the contemporary Middle East and helps to explain some of the animosities and entrenched grievances. It also partly explains why Western intervention or mediation is so often unsuccessful, unhelpful or simply ignored. Having said this, Barr avoids the temptation to make obvious but potentially misleading analogies with the current situation; this is a work of history and he allows readers to make their own connections and draw their own conclusions (why does the US maintain military bases in the Gulf for example?).

Nobody emerges from this account with very much credit. The short-sighted cynicism of the declining imperial powers Britain and France is breathtaking, and their motivations seem difficult to understand at this distance; in what way did possession of Palestine create any kind of strategic depth for vital British interests in India and the Suez canal for example? And yet, this is one of the reasons brought clearly to life by Barr in this book, and within the world he describes, it is possible to follow the logic. Likewise the Zionists emerge in a singularly unpleasant light, with the appearance of Irgun and the Stern gang, and the bloody struggle to establish the state of Israel.

In short, this book is well worth a read, especially if you happen to be one of the leaders of the free world.
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Mac McAleer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 19 Oct. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the story of Britain and France eagerly burdening themselves with mandates over the carcass of the Ottoman Empire. It covers the time from the last year of the First World War to the end of the 1940s and it describes the "30 year-long gasp of empire" and "the struggle between Britain and France for the mastery of the Middle East".

These were mandates, not colonies. US President Wilson would not have approved of the word colony and anyway, surely colonies and overt imperialism were going out of fashion in those ever more enlightened days after the First World War?

It is a story of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan and Mesopotamia and of attempts to found a Greater Syria and a Jewish homeland. For France it often seems to be a story of glory and honour. For Britain it seems to be a story of Iraqi oil, the misleadingly named (Anglo-American-French) Turkish Petroleum Company and a search for a pipeline route to the Mediterranean.

The locals dreamed of independence and a new Arab nation. On the western fringe of the area a few Zionists dreamed of their freedom in their own homeland. The British dreamed of their oil terminal for the pipeline, fuel security for the Royal Navy and a buffer zone for the Suez Canal, the gateway to India - still a colony and definitely not a mandate.

The story has an intriguing cast, both on and off stage. Mr Sykes and M. Picot and their eponymous line in the sand make an appearance, as do Churchill, Allenby, Weizmann, Balfour, Lawrence, de Gaulle, Feisal, Abdullah and a list of others less well known.

I liked this book very much. Towards the end I started flagging, but no matter, this is a book to revisit and use as a reference.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER on 14 Nov. 2012
Format: Paperback
James Barr blends academic research with journalistic flair to remind us of the shabby deals and ostrich-like expediency which led to the crises still bedevilling the Middle East. Using anecdotes and well-judged quotations, he brings alive the out-dated imperialistic wranglings of Britain and France, both scrambling to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The "line in the sand" refers to the infamous Sykes-Picot Line agreed secretly in 1916, which ran from Acre on the coast to Kirkuk near the then Persian frontier, with no regard for the Arab tribes inhabiting what appeared to be mostly useless desert. The British were interested in Palestine and Jordan south of the line mainly as a means of securing Suez and the route to India. To the north, the French demanded what is now the Lebanon and Syria to ensure they did not lose out to the British in a land which might yield rich oil reserves. Matters went awry from the outset with T.E. Lawrence's famous assault on Damascus in Syria - a blatant attempt to undermine the Sykes-Picot agreement by enabling the Arabs to gain territory in land coveted by the French.

Barr opens with his shock on discovering how, while British soldiers were fighting in World War 2 to save France, the French were supplying arms to the Haganah, the Jewish militia dedicated to creating a separate state of Israel. However, the British seem to have been equally perfidious at times - agreeing with a shameful vagueness over details to support Sharif Hussein of Mecca in his ambitions for an Arab Empire to include Syria which lay north of the fatal line. As someone observed "we are rather in the position of hunters who divided up the skin of the bear before they had killed it.
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