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4.8 out of 5 stars
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4.8 out of 5 stars


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on 27 April 2017
I've watched the 1960's classic film "Lawrence of Arabia" many times and wanted to know more about what happened to the Middle East before, during and after WWI. This book pretty much covers the campaign during the period 1916-1918, with all the subterfuge, political in-fighting and military battles that happened at the time. Highly recommended.
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on 4 October 2010
It all started when I first saw Lawrence of Arabia (the movie) on TV and was really taken by the production, I soon followed up my interest by reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence but both still left me with unanswered questions and gaps for me to fill.

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.
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on 11 July 2006
A good book on a perennially popular theme; it is scholarly and thorough, without being bookish or dull. James Barr writes compellingly and well, while still including plenty of original material and quotes from authentic sources. Crucially, he does not commit the cardinal sin of making his book less interesting or more serious than the events he explores, and manages to tread a fine line between writing a dry analysis of governmental policy and a 'boys' own' adventure story of romantic warfare in the desert. He discusses both aspects in an appropriate register, dealing lucidly with the complex political and strategic issues, while still injecting excitement into his narrative of the raids on the Hijaz railway, but without trivialising them.

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.
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on 24 July 2006
This is a very well-written book which throws a welcome light on the development of the relationship between the West and the Arab peoples. Compellingly paced and constructed, the book brings to life a lively and larger than life cast of characters, of whom TE Lawrence is just one. Barr's forceful narrative drive is enhanced by his appealing device of weaving in his own research trips through the region and the archives. Whether navigating wadis, photographing castles and train wrecks, or using CSI techniques to re-examine Lawrence's diaries, this adds a whole extra dimension to the book. It also adds a depth of understanding that helps readers who, like me, may not have a detailed knowledge of the region.

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.
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on 21 September 2006
I have to confess that, not being well-versed in the military or political history of the Middle East, I approached this book with a certain degree of trepidation. I couldn't have been more wrong. After only one chapter, I was absolutely hooked and couldn't wait to read on. Barr's narrative is at the same time both intelligent and accessible and his pacy prose combined with personal anecdotes engage the reader from the outset. His ferreting out of previously unknown evidence about Lawrence's diaries adds a sense of intrigue and excitement frequently missing from non-fiction.

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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on 17 July 2006
I came to this book with only the sketchiest knowledge of the Arab Revolt, gleaned solely from one viewing of David Lean's 'Lawrence of Arabia'. Having read James Barr's interesting account of the Bow Group a number of years ago, I wanted to see how he would tackle a completely different field such as this. The result is a considerable enhancement of my understanding of the period, prompting a return to the film in the light of what I have just read.

The book's great strength for me was Barr's evident interest in the various characters, whether British, Arab, French or German, who light up his pages. The onward thrust of a tightly researched and closely written history is enlivened with numerous character sketches that give the story the feeling of the best kind of journalistic reportage. This feeling of engagement is further heightened by Barr's many references to his own travels in the region, and the clear sense that he was impelled to write his story from a fascination with the Arab world and the way its history has interwined with that of the West. Many of the events are, of course, thrilling enough in themselves, but Barr does not rely on this alone to grip the reader. As well as an excellent grasp both of the onward thrust of events in the Great War and the ambivalence of British policy towards the Arabs, he is good at going into the details of particular military offences or strategic discussions.

Current problems in the Middle East are also enlightened by Barr's take on these events, giving fascinating background to political dramas still unfolding there. It is not surprising that the name Osama Bin Laden makes its way into the index. Barr has also selected some interesting photographs to illustrate his text, as well as providing excellent maps: both were very helpful in enabling the reader get a proper hold on the narrative. I would thoroughly recommend this readable and scholarly work to anyone who wishes to know more about British involvment in the Arab Revolt and who wants to go beyond the standard, Lawrence based approach more familiar to most readers.
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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.
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on 18 November 2010
A comprehensive overview of the guerilla warfare in the Desert during WW1, placing Lawrence squarely in the bigger picture and introducing many of the commanders and other personnel involved in the events.

The print in this paperback volume is rather small which is a pity - and even smaller when the author is quoting, and in the notes at the back. The photographs could be a little clearer, too.

The author has put in a lot of painstaking research and has also travelled in person to many of the sites where the exciting incidents detailed in the book took place.

Lawrence's amazing stamina and boldness throughout the Revolt is drawn very clearly, together with the tremendous pressures that were on him at the time.
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on 1 August 2013
No dislikes really - would recommend to anyone interested in learning about T.E Lawrence but be aware that if you have seen the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" you will be in for a lot more facts than shown in the film with far more people involved in that particular era of events. Lawrence,in my opinion,was the right man in the right place at the right time. Depending on your viewpoint he was also a man "used" for greater means by governments involved.
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on 25 July 2015
This book tells the history of this part of the First World War in a fairly straight forward narrative - this means lots of details, names and dates. For me it is at its best when it is giving insight into the characters that were involved, and unfortunately it does this infrequently. My biggest issue with it, is that there is lots of detail but little analysis or reflection. At the end of the book we know a few more facts but don't understand much more about the key people involved or what their motivations were. Disappointing.
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