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Setting the Desert on Fire: T. E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  139 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
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 declas ...more
ebook, 400 pages
Published February 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2006)
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Setting the Desert on Fire: T. E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918 is a good 4 Star account of the WWI conflict in the Middle East, pitting the Arabs and the British against the Ottoman Empire. Despite the subtitle, T.E Lawrence is not the sole focus of the book. Barr puts Lawrence’s action in perspective, looking at how the entire theater campaign unfolded. Political, diplomatic and military events are covered in some detail. Many others had roles in the desert fighting an ...more
May 22, 2012 Jerome rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent general history of the Arab Revolt. Unlike other books on the topic, Barr puts Lawrence’s role in context, including the activities of all the other players involved: Feisal, Abdullah, the French, the deluded Turks, the rather typical Germans, and all the various Brits who were busy squabbling, interfering, and generally being a pain in the butt.

Barr is very good at providing context and background. He describes the conflicts between the British and the French, the disputes between
Jun 20, 2013 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A funny one this. It's probably more of a 3.5 as a rating, but the scope of activities and the number of personalities involved meant that I found myself constantly flicking to the list of key figures and the maps. So much is condensed into so few sentences that all names became confusing and that can be quite frustrating when you can't get into the flow of reading.

I knew next to nothing about the events in Arabia during World War One, other than the famous tale of attacking Aqaba from the dese
Nov 23, 2012 Joe rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the awful title this is actually rather a good piece of popular history. Most accounts of the Arab revolt are closely centred on T.E. Lawrence and tend to be biographical or semi-biographical in approach. However, he was one of a number of British soldiers operating behind enemy lines, with the Arabs, in the Hejaz, and the author has done a good job giving us a broader picture. Lawrence is still a fascinating and critical figure in the venture, but the wider perspective is very welcome.

Michael Morris
Written by a british scholar, so it reads accordingly. Thus 3 stars. But if you can get past the writing, the story is fascinating and still very relevant today with the wounds caused by the British "betrayal" of the Arabs still unhealed...
Jan 17, 2016 CaldoHendo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When we think of the First World War the images that come to mind tend to be those of the Lord Kitchener’s imposing face, the trenches and, after the conflict ended, the poppy fields at Flanders. Yet that conflict, which engulfed most of the most powerful nations in the world at the time, was fought over a much larger area. As well as the dividing line between the German and Russian empires, there was a third axis to this conflict in the Middle East.

T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, was the ce
Sam Norton
Certainly a worthwhile read. Where the film "Lawrence of Arabia" would lead you to believe that Lawrence was a lone British officer sent out into the desert to find and recruit the Arab tribes to fight against the Ottomans. "Setting the Desert on Fire" shows that, as with most historical films, what's on the screen isn't necessarily what actually happened.

"Setting the Desert on Fire" also seems to be symptomatic of a pattern in historical writing that I have come to notice, in particular in writ
Dec 19, 2009 Pbwritr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Fabulous book! Really went into the intricate detials of the political and diplomatic situation in the Middle East during WWI. Amazing to see how Lawrence quickly became an advocate and a mentor for some of the tribes, with 2 primary goals: to prevent the French from claiming Lebanon when the war was over, and to gain Arab help against the Turks, which would, in turn, buttress their claims for territory. Lawrence moved back and forth across the area and Egypt, negotiating with the Arabs, pleadin ...more
Aug 19, 2011 Lynne-marie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: military history buffs
After having read Hero and Gertrude Lawrence: Queen of the Desert, I was eager for more stories of the Arabian peninsula during WWI, and this seemed just the ticket. Sadly it turned out to be a military man's account of the goings on of the formal haggling of the state department, the Arab Bureau and the British intelligence, with only weak asides about Lawrence or the actual action in the desert. It was, I'll be frank, just the thing for a military buff, but not for the Arabian enthusiast or a ...more
Gareth Evans
Dec 28, 2011 Gareth Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clear, well-organised account of the war in Arabia. Other reviewers have commented that it is rather dry, and it certainly is. However, the story is so interesting that the book becomes quite compelling. It's not without colour, and there are a number of colourful and some quite moving incidents presented in Barr's understated text. Perhaps, Barr could have introduced more colour and certainly more background to the major protagonists. Nevertheless it is a compelling read. perhaps more of a 3.5 ...more
Dermott Hayes
Jan 14, 2014 Dermott Hayes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Broad but detailed account of T.E. Lawrence's role in Britain's imperial ambitions in early 20th century Arabia and the Middle East. Although ostensibly intended as another front in the Great War conflict, Lawrence's machinations gave this conflict of camel guerrilla warfare, double dealing diplomacy and downright treachery, an entirely different perspective. Anyone who wants to understand the underlying complexity of today's Middle Eastern maze of alliances, should read this.
Lee Tempest
Dec 14, 2013 Lee Tempest rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Hm. I admit, I'm drawn to historic tales of fellow Englishmen of which I resonate with, but not this one. James Barryman, as a much-vaunted historian unfortunately disappointed me. I find it so because he's one of those people who fail to make T.E. Lawrence's story a more personal one. Ah well, might as well get Lawrence's actual book, the Seven Pillars, that'll be more of an arsekicker.
Jan 06, 2014 Kent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-wwi, war
I was glad to have come across this title at the library and quite enjoyed reading it. I had known the name of T.E. Lawrence, but discovered that I knew very little of his story. This book really filled in a big gap in my knowledge of world history, particularly the history of the Middle East.
Jan 16, 2009 Heather marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history to delve into!
Feb 16, 2013 Tracy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Slow, on page 100 and still very little mention of T.E. Lawrence.
Nov 05, 2011 Libby rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Barr tells the story of T. E. Lawrence from a broader perspective than Lawrence's own. A bit dry at times. I wish he'd included more about modern day Jordan, et al.
Frank Bowley
A fantastic telling of the amazing history behind Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt during the First World War.
Sep 27, 2012 Luke rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) figures prominently into this history of the middle east during World War I. It's well written but takes some motivation to plow through slower parts.
Sep 15, 2011 Ben rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not enough info about T E him self but over a lot of info about WW! in the east.
Aug 21, 2015 Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent and detailed recounting of the events and decisions leading to the mess of the Middle East.
Benji Schama
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I read Modern History at Oxford University. Since then I've worked in Westminster in politics, as a leader-writer for the Daily Telegraph, in the City and most recently in Paris. Now, I'm back in London.

My book on Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt, Setting the Desert on Fire, was first published in 2006.

Something that struck me while I was working on that book was the degree of rivalry betwee
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