This was originally written in 1924. Thomas' grasp of ancient and medieval history is suspect. His description of modern Arabs often displays the prejThis was originally written in 1924. Thomas' grasp of ancient and medieval history is suspect. His description of modern Arabs often displays the prejudices of his era. He also hero-worships Lawrence. That said, he offers some very good first hand reporting on Lawrence and interesting descriptions of key battles in the asymetric and conventional sides of the Middle Eastern campaign. He also does some justice to Arab culture. Unlike most of the faculty I encountered in my Near Eastern studies program, I am not of the opinion that you have to throw out every pre-1979 work on the Middle East/Islamic world just b/c stereotypes existed then which are impolitic now. Should that be the case none of us would every read history....more
What's not to like. The overall narrative involves Imperial German and Ottoman attempts to harness militant Islam against the British and Russian EmpiWhat's not to like. The overall narrative involves Imperial German and Ottoman attempts to harness militant Islam against the British and Russian Empires in Asia during the First World War. Though allies, the Germans and Ottomans had separate and sometimes conflicting foreign policy aims. Germany sought to use Indian revolutionaries to stir up insurrection in Britain's key colony so as to distract her in war time, while trying to enlist Persia and Afghanistan to achieve the same ends. Their efforts in Persia also included the exploits of Wassmuss, the "German Lawrence," who did his best to stir up revolt among Persian tribes in the British sphere of influence along the Persian Gulf. Some in Germany also saw the provinces of the decaying Ottoman Empire as suitable future colonies or pseudo-colonies ripe for economic penetration (Berlin-Baghdad Railway, etc.)Meanwhile, Enver Pasha, chief member of the Young Turk triumvirate, hoped to spread the Ottoman Empire into the Russian-held Caucasus and Central Asia, with fatwas and daring military campaigns. Both of these thrusts to the East ultimately failed, and with the collapse of the war both Imperial Germany and the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist.
Hopkirk does an excellent job of seamlessly weaving together various narratives of this era together, including: the Russian revolution and subsequent civil war in the Caucasus and Central Asia (including the British and Ottoman interventions in these areas); the Armenian Genocide of 1915; the Zimmerman telegram, it's connection with Wassmuss, and it's role in bringing the U.S. into the war; the siege of Kut; the "Christmas Day Plot" in British India; the Battle of Baku; and the murder of the 26 Soviet commissars in Transcaspia.
This is my favorite era in history, and Hopkirk deals with all my favorite regions (Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia...and even Mexico). My only criticism is that Hopkirk's narrative tends to wander from his original purpose near the end. that is, he ceases talking about attempts to ignite a holy war, and spends the last several chapters talking about British intervention in the Russian civil war. I certainly don't mind reading those chapter, it's good stuff, but somewhat off-track. ...more
If you know nothing about steppe cultures and are interested primarily in military matters, this isn't a bad read. the author has some good discussionIf you know nothing about steppe cultures and are interested primarily in military matters, this isn't a bad read. the author has some good discussions of the weaponry of the steppe people and their startegy/tactics. In particular, he makes substantive, technical comments on their use of the bow and the horse. However, the dude is a Europhile all the way. He seems much more at home describing the crusaders, Romans, etc. than their steppe foes. His use of sources in Latin and French is impressive, but also indicate his preference for the Euro side of the equation. Some of his writing is also a bit akward....more