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Philby of Arabia: St.John Philby [Paperback]

James Craig , Elizabeth Monroe
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: £14.95 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

16 April 1998
Harry St John Philby was for the most part of his career at odds with the British Government over broken promises to the Arabs. And it was out of admiration for the Arab king, Ibn Saud, that he chose to earn his living in Arabia. He saw nothing incompatible in adopting the Muslim faith and the way of life while maintaining his British home and his links with British politics and institutions or, when in Palestine, in furthering both the Jewish and Arab causes. But he was in his element in the desert, and there were few travellers who surpassed his map-making skills or is Arabian discoveries.

Product details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Ithaca Press; New edition edition (16 April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0863722393
  • ISBN-13: 978-0863722394
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 571,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must for the Arabist 17 Nov 2006
A single reading of this book does not suffice. Monroe, a scholar of modern Middle Eastern history and a master researcher, went to extraorinary lengths in her search for the real St John Philby. Her portrayal does justice to this complex, intriguing, idealistic, arrogant, genius of a man. Philby went where no other Englishman had been, not simply in terms of his travels across the Rub' Khaali (the Empty Quarter) but also in terms of winning the confidence, respect and protection of the Arabs at a time when the British Empire was carving up the remnants of that left by the Ottomans.

Philby much respected greatness, and quickly took to the astonishingly intelligent chieftain Ibn Sa'ood, founder of what is now known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and father of the present day ruler King Abdullah. Until this point Philby had been an outspoken, yet fiercly loyal, civil servant; however soon his insight into British foreign policy and aspirations for the region, and his friendship with the soon-to-be king created an inner turmoil requiring all of his skills as a diplomat to resolve. Monroe skilfully shows how succesfully (or not) he worked to resolve these issues, and the suspicion he aroused from both parties. The situation was further exasperated by Philby's conversion to Islam, a move that caused waves in the Civil Service and added to the complexities and contradictions of Philby's life and charachter.

This book is a must for any budding Arabist, or anyone with an interest in the contemporary Arab world. It was a time of great intrigue, the last days of Mesopotamia and a time in which actors such as Cox, Bell, Leachman, Shakespeare and Lawrence each took influential and history defining roles.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading! 13 Mar 2002
By José Saavedra - Published on Amazon.com
St John (Jack) Philby, father of the famous -or infamous- Kim, got to know Ibn Saud during World War I as a British civil servant based in Baghdad, working for Sir Percy Cox. From their first meeting, Philby was enormously impressed with Ibn Saud, then struggling to affirm himself as one of several princes in Central Arabia. He took an instant liking to him, and this was the beginning of a life-long association. Over the ensuing years,Philby developed the feeling that the British Government was not treating the Arabs fairly and in addition was supporting Ibn Saud's rival, Sherif Hussein of Mecca and his sons, mainly through the support that one of these derived from T. E. Lawrence, in some ways Philby's rival. This eventually led Philby to resign from the civil service and establish himself in Arabia as one of Ibn Saud's senior advisers.
The book is well researched and well written. It takes you through the birth pangs of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Irak and covers a span from World War I to the reign of Ibn Saud's successor, King Saud. It also tells in a riveting way about Philby's desert exploration ventures, most notably in South Arabia's Empty Quarter and its borders with Yemen and the British Protectorate of Aden.
The author brings to life Philby's character, his peculiar family life and, most interestingly, his conversion to Islam.
I have found this book essential for a better understanding of Arabia and of Islam.
On the negative side, the printing of this edition -in a non-English-speaking country- leaves much to be desired: there are far too many typos which take away some of the reading enjoyment. Also, the maps are succint and could have been somewhat more generous. These two factors account for my holding back the 5th star!
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and illuminating 6 Nov 2005
By David W. Nicholas - Published on Amazon.com
Harry St. John Bridger Philby is perhaps best known as the father of the British intelligence agent and traitor Harold Adrian Russell "Kim" Philby, who defected to the U.S.S.R. in the early 60s and spent the rest of his life there. St. John Philby was, in his own right, and interesting, intelligent, opinionated, and charismatic figure, a typical British eccentric who converted to Islam but had enthusiastic interests that were particularly British anyway. He was closely allied with Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia and its first king, right up until the monarch's passing, and was in some ways perhaps the most influential non-Arab in the formation of Arabia after World War I. This book is the only biography available in English of this interesting bundle of contradictions.

Monroe is an interesting writer, and takes an even more interesting view of Philby and his world. The author adopts the attitude that if Philby doesn't know about something, or it doesn't happen within his view, then she leaves it out of the account of his life. So, as a for instance, Philby was, according to the author, very close to the British Arabist of the teens and 20s Gertrude Bell. However, when they fell out of touch, she leaves the narrative without another mention of her. Her tragic suicide isn't mentioned. The same goes for T.E.Lawrence, who was more of a contemporary than a friend; as long as he has a part to play in the narrative he's there, but his decade-long exile isn't mentioned, nor his death in a motorcycle accident in 1935. Philby's son, Kim, is only mentioned as working in the Foreign Office, when in fact he was a relatively senior figure in Britain's intelligence community: in the early 1950s, he was MI6 Chief of Station in North America, a post that was usually assigned to those who would next be the chief of British intelligence. Instead, suspicion he was a spy led to his retirement, and ultimately defection. Beyond mentioning the retirement (amid "rumors" of his disloyalty) the author mentions none of this in the book, apparently thinking that it has no bearing on Philby's life itself. The strange thing, of course, is that when the son's defection occurred, the father's eccentricities were put forward as a possible explanation. Apparently there's some recent scholarship that suggests that Kim was originally recruited by the Soviets to spy on his father, who was at that time at the height of his influence in Saudi Arabia.

This is a well-written, valuable book, in spite of the blinders the author adopted when viewing Kim's treason and the facts surrounding it. Since it's the only book on Philby available in English, it's a surprise it's not more available, though I suppose that his obscurity makes this inevitable: I guess part of my point is that he shouldn't be so obscure in the first place.
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