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Too little detail about the people
on 28 October 2011
I've rated the book 3* (314 pages of small fonts with reasonable maps and poor photos) because, though it gives interesting perspectives ... it says too little about people.
Barr's book is at it's best when explaining the contradiction that underlay British policy ... that HMG had pledged to the Arabs things which conflicted with the Sykes-Picot treaty (between the British and French); in that context the book makes clear how important and unexpected it was that the Arab Revolt extended north (beyond the Hejaz) into Iraq and Syria. The book is interesting when explaining the religious dimension of policy across the region, including the role of India and it's Moslems (Indian troops on the ground e.g., in Iraq and the Moslems affecting the likelihood of which groups in which countries would do what e.g., affecting the independence movement in Egypt) and the rise of Zionism.
But it says too little about people. Most strikingly Lawrence was a fascinating man the book says too little about and, if we didn't know from other sources, we'd wonder why David Lean made a film about him. James Barr doesn't make clear that it was Lawrence's education (e.g., his interest in the Crusades), his time in Carchemish, but above all his subtle brilliant intelligence, that made him the right man at the right time. Barr doesn't explain (as mentioned by Frank Stirling in his memoir "Safety Last") how amazing it was that Lawrence influenced (the senior soldiers around him) by force of character, including in the inner (and of course Arabic in language and culture) circles of Sharif Feisal. The Arab war strategy was shaped and courageously implemented by Lawrence, and you can get an impression of his originality from "The Strategy of Indirect Approach" by Liddell Hart (available on the Internet Archive) who knew Lawrence well.