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

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  79 ratings  ·  16 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 declass...more
ebook, 400 pages
Published February 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2006)
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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...more
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...more
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...more
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
Gareth Evans
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
Aug 19, 2011 Lynne-marie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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.

Dermott Hayes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not enough info about T E him self but over a lot of info about WW! in the east.
Interesting and well formed - a little dry at times (no pun intended!).
Slow, on page 100 and still very little mention of T.E. Lawrence.
Jan 16, 2009 Heather marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history to delve into!
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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...more
More about James Barr...
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