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Setting the Desert on Fire : T. E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918
Greed and intrigue combine explosively in this gripping tale of how the mercurial Lawrence of Arabia changed the Middle East forever.
It was T. E. Lawrence's classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom that made the Arab Revolt a legend and helped turn the British intelligence officer into the mythical "Lawrence of Arabia." But the intrigue behind the revolt and its startling consequences for the present-day Middle East have remained a mystery for nearly one hundred years.
James Barr spent four years trawling declassified archives in Europe and crossing the hostile deserts of the Middle East to re-create the revolt as the international drama it really was. A colorful cast of Arab sheiks, British and French soldiers, spies, and diplomats come together in this gripping narrative of political maneuvering, guerrilla warfare, and imperial greed. Setting the Desert on Fire is a masterly account of a key moment in the history of the Middle East, and a portrait of Lawrence himself that is bright, nuanced, and full of fresh insights into the true nature of the master mythmaker. 31 photographs, 3 maps.
British historian Barr re-examines World War I's " 'Great Arab Revolt' " led by the legendary "Lawrence of Arabia" in this exhaustively researched and vividly narrated history. Thomas Edward Lawrence was a young British intelligence officer when he undertook to organize Arab resistance to the Ottoman Empire, a German ally. The Turkish (Ottoman) sultan was also the caliph-spiritual leader of Muslims worldwide-and the British feared that his call for jihad "threatened their eastern empire." To secure Arab support against the Turks, the British offered them "a hazy declaration" of future independence. Led by Lawrence, "an eccentric amateur" who adopted the flowing robes of his desert allies, the Arabs began a guerrilla campaign against the Hijaz Railway, "the Turks' supply line" between Damascus and Medina. Lawrence's "driving obsession" was to capture Damascus and "foil French ambitions in Syria." As the war in Europe was ending, the Arabs occupied Damascus and Lawrence installed an Arab government. Upon the war's conclusion, "Middle Eastern matters were peripheral." Britain then yielded Syria to France, denying Arab independence and initiating "a new legacy, of increasingly bitter relations." Barr expertly navigates an intriguing landscape of shifting alliances and labyrinthine politics peopled with eccentric characters to demystify a fascinating legend. illus. (Feb.)
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W. W. Norton & Company
February 17, 2008
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