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Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-18 Paperback – 18 Jun 2007
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'Packs as much punch as one of Lawrence's train-blowing explosives' Sunday Times 'Barr puts the story of the Arab revolt and Lawrence's heroics in a wider context. This broad canvas takes in two extraordinary years of war and scores of significant characters ... Barr has been diligent in his research' Sunday Times 'Barr's cogent, vividly written book puts Lawrence centre stage but does not lose sight of the uprising's larger historical context' Financial Times '[Barr] introduces fresh materials to give new context to Lawrence and the present difficulties in Iraq' The Times
About the Author
James Barr graduated from Oxford with a first in Modern History, went on to write leaders for the Daily Telegraph and now works in the City.
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Top customer reviews
It took me a while to get to this book and actually start reading it, but once I did I couldn't put the thing down! The author does a magnificent job of vividly, accurately, and fairly portraying the events of that war and the British involvement with the Arabs at that time. The author makes clear all his references to the reader and the book is very well researched and well written.
After reading this book, I now realize that the movie was your typical Hollywood version of any great story... WRONG!
I think that, being in the Middle East, this book should be part of every schools history curriculum!
A truly magnificent book and a must read for any one with the slightest curiosity about that war, period, or characters.
The book really succeeds in showing the desert campaign in its context. This is no hagiography of Lawrence; Barr manages to see past Lawrence to all the other British officers involved, and also to the Arabs themselves, more usually seen as a picturesque backdrop to daring Public School escapades behind enemy lines. Equally, this is no revisionist history, attempting to cut Lawrence down to size. It is clear that he was a major figure, and a fascinating one, but not the only man involved. He shows Lawrence as a complex character; difficult, self-publicising, occasionally unreliable and troubled, but brilliant and the right man in the right place. It is also clear from the original sources quoted that there was an element of dashing amateurism in the Arab revolt; the raids are often described as 'stunts' and so on. Barr is good on allowing these sources to speak for themselves, while explaining the context and thus allowing the readers to judge for themselves how much credence to give to them.
Another strength is the recurrent theme of the contradictory statements issued by the British government at the time; in particular the Sykes-Picot agreement (imperialist and pro-French), the Balfour Declaration (pro-Zionist and one of the founding documents of modern Israel) and the various more or less explicit undertakings given to the Arabs concerning their self-determination after the war. The changes in opinion, the rival camps with different aims reflected in the three different policies alluded to above, the view from the British Raj in India and US statements condemning imperialist war aims are all dealt with clearly and comprehensively. Barr shows how these competing aims led to confusion and acrimony, but also how later generations have made more of these rather vaguely worded diplomatic formulae than was probably intended at the time.
In all, an excellent book which is deeply readable and well balanced. It has achieved some degree of objectivity in an area obscured by all kinds of myths, both personal and political. One small complaint, however: more maps accompanying the text, in the same manner as the original editions of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, would have been helpful.
Barr has a fine historian's judgement, which he uses to good effect to provide sound analysis of events and motivations. A seriously good addition to the literature, and an interesting and timely focus on the Arab War.
My only complaint is that, whilst reading this on holiday in Greece, I discovered that the cover wilts and bubbles when the temperature rises above 40. Somewhat ironic for a book about the desert...
An excellent read and one I highly recommend.
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