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A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle That Shaped the Middle East [Paperback]

James Barr
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 April 2012
In 1916, in the middle of the First World War, two men secretly agreed to divide the Middle East between them. Sir Mark Sykes was a visionary politician; Francois Georges-Picot a diplomat with a grudge. The deal they struck, which was designed to relieve tensions that threatened to engulf the Entente Cordiale, drew a line in the sand from the Mediterranean to the Persian frontier. Territory north of that stark line would go to France; land south of it, to Britain. Against the odds their pact survived the war to form the basis for the post-war division of the region into five new countries Britain and France would rule. The creation of Britain's 'mandates' of Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq, and France's in Lebanon and Syria, made the two powers uneasy neighbours for the following thirty years. Through a stellar cast of politicians, diplomats, spies and soldiers, including T. E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, A Line in the Sand vividly tells the story of the short but crucial era when Britain and France ruled the Middle East. It explains exactly how the old antagonism between these two powers inflamed the more familiar modern rivalry between the Arabs and the Jews, and ultimately led to war between the British and the French in 1941 and between the Arabs and the Jews in 1948. In 1946, after many years of intrigue and espionage, Britain finally succeeded in ousting France from Lebanon and Syria, and hoped that, having done so, it would be able to cling on to Palestine. Using newly declassified papers from the British and French archives, James Barr brings this overlooked clandestine struggle back to life, and reveals, for the first time, the stunning way in which the French finally got their revenge.

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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: 13.4 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'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.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cynicism and raison d'etat 5 April 2012
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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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars La gloire and the oil - the last colonial gasp 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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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
This excellent work is extremely well researched and throws an amazing and distressing light on the creation of the modern Middle East. Barr points out that during the First World War, in between the wars, and during the second World War Britain and France were more concerned with their own rivalry than with any of the esablished peoples of the region. The cynical power stuggle between the two after the Sykes Picot agreement illustates why the area is still in such disarray.The creation of the State of Israel had little to do with Britain's support of Zionism but rather was a sop to the US and a means of Britain keeping the French out of Palestine. T.E.Lawrence comes out of it in a much better light, supporting as he does the local Arab cause throughout. Lloyd George emerges as a coniving manipulator.
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81 of 87 people found the following review helpful
Simply put, a good read and I recommend it.

I've wandered about the Middle East a bit and done a fair amount of reading about the area particularly, WW1 through WW2. And I have a fascination with the predominately British characters who haunted the area, for self and Empire. In my simplistic script, the French were the Bad Guys, holding the Arabs back. So did the Brits, but I was inclined to forgive them. After all, they had TE Lawrence in his flowing robes.

And that certainly didn't endear them to the French!

The French are still the Bad Guys - not that the Brits were always the Good Guys. Both were out for what they could get, damn the torpedoes - or rather, the Arabs. And James Barr's latest work is about the over the thirty-four year competition between the two countries to obtain/retain supremacy in the Middle East.

It isn't just that the French resisted freeing Syria after WW2, but the way they went about revenging themselves on the British who seemed one step ahead in the Intelligence game. . But then there was the equivocations of the British government; their failure to draw "a line in the sand" as it were - and mean it! It was in Palestine where the French got theirs back, supporting in one way or another, both Irgun and Stern terrorist gangs Even the US got into that act with well meaning and, hopefully, unknowing citizens paying into those particular Jewish coffers (much as occurred later, during the Irish Troubles).

Barr documents this all in a well written history and thoroughly documented history of the time. While I knew the ending, the journey was memorizing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative and enlightening book. Certainly explores the middle...
Very informative and enlightening book.Certainly explores the middle east background in detail throwing light on a very complicated political and religious issue.
Published 14 hours ago by Gerald Stacey
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
Great Book which no doubt some people across the channel may take issues with. (The French are shown to be the duplicitous people they were in the war, half of whom backed the... Read more
Published 9 days ago by David L
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story, bit heavy in places
Having lives and worked most of my life in the Middle East, I know that the cause of the many its problems are wide and varied but, if there is one good starting point, it has to... Read more
Published 17 days ago by Lamu Hermit
4.0 out of 5 stars History is politics
A well written expose of political machinations between Britain and France in the Middle East during the first half of the 20th
century. Read more
Published 20 days ago by Malcolm S Hindmarsh
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 21 days ago by T N G ABBOTT
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Once again a satisfied customer.
Published 23 days ago by Ray Vella
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good if one wants to understand what's going on in the Middle East, I strongly recommend this book.
Published 29 days ago by Rosa Guerreiro
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Needs to be read by all who are interested in Middle East problems.
Published 1 month ago by J F Gardner
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Anyone needing to understand the Middle Eastern problems should add this book to their library.
Published 1 month ago by mel williams
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
fascinating & explains how the present situation came about.essential reading for anyone interested in the middle east
Published 1 month ago by scminkstein
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