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A Line In The Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped The Middle East

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4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,672 ratings  ·  147 reviews
Through a stellar cast of politicians, diplomats, spies and soldiers - including T.E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle - 'A Line in the Sand' tells the story of the short but crucial era when Britain and France ruled the Middle East.
Hardcover, First Edition (U.K.), 454 pages
Published August 4th 2011 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd. (first published August 2011)
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Michael Finocchiaro
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read A Line in the Sand to try to fill the gaps in my knowledge about the 20th C origins of many of the Middle East nations which were created - rather arbitrarily it turns out - by the colonial British and French powers following the precipitous fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1916 during WWI. I was appalled by the violence employed by all the actors, the duplicity of the colonizers, the terrorism of the Zionists (!), but felt smarter and more informed about this delicate and explosive region ...more
Seth Lynch
Mar 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The blurb above gives you a good all-round picture of the scope of this book. The first thing I should point out is that this book reads like a well written novel. Any history book holds the possibility of killing a subject with a dry regurgitation of facts. The skill lies in presenting them in such a way as to make them interesting, relevant, and memorable. James Barr has achieved this with consummate ease. I don’t say that lightly – I’ve always read quite a lot of history books and some of ...more
Pink
Aug 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
I didn't enjoy the writing, so this was a struggle even at the 50 page mark. The events in this book are fascinating, but they were portrayed in such a long, drawn out style, with so many forgettable people that I quickly became bored. I'm not sure it really had the makings of a book, as I feel like I'd have preferred a Wikipedia article, which is never a good comparison for a work of non-fiction.
Abdullah
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it
As the author says at the end of the book, it is a tale from which neither country emerges with much credit.

What you can "learn" from this book is that (Western) politicians manipulate, lie,and even kill to serve their own interests. Arabs have always been the victims of Western imperialism and violence, and yet we're the ones that retain the reputation of being terrorists. Of course, I'm talking about Arab peoples, and not administrations.

I have never read or heard of worse terrorists than
...more
Dеnnis
Will this lesson ever be learned???

"Years later Sir John Shaw, the former chief secretary of Palestine who survived the King David Hotel bombing, was asked to assess Britain’s record in the mandate.

‘In many cases we thought that we were doing good to the people concerned, and indeed we were,’ he said. ‘I mean we stamped out all sorts of abuses and malpractices and things but,’ he hesitated, ‘if you look at it from a purely philosophical, high-minded point of View, I think it is immoral, and I
...more
Koen Crolla
Feb 04, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pol-and-soc, history
The Sykes-Picot Agreement was a loose secret agreement between the British Empire and France signed in 1916, broadly dividing the territory of the soon-to-be-defeated Ottoman Empire between them. Barr traces the evolution of that agreement from 1916 to 1949, when Israel was founded.

The problem is that Barr is British and draws mainly from British sources—often primary sources, which he takes at face value if it's all possible to do so. He claims that an important reason for writing this book is
...more
Katia N
Mar 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting, shocking in many parts the history of rivalry of the British and the French in the MIddle East. You can trace the impact the two decaying empires had on the current conflict as well. I knew the role of the British in Palestine. But I did not know about the role of France in the region, how devious and powerless at the same time it was. Also based upon my understanding of the book, it seems that T E Lawrence was the first who applied the pure terrorist tactics with his Arab ...more
Christopher
May 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A jolly fun romp between a mildly dysfunctional odd couple on a fantastic east Mediterranean cruise.

Or actually, a tale of outright indirect, passive-aggressive competition for regional influence between two dying powers who had yet to realize their time was fast being eclipsed. Most of it is actually quite tragic, but considering that it ends with both powers embarrassingly kicked out of the region shortly after WWII (interestingly enough, when the rivalry was at its most violent and insane
...more
Steve Birchmore
I came across this book while casually browsing the books in a bookshop in Heathrow Airport whilst waiting for a flight to the USA. My recent reading had been covering the history of the parts of the USA I would be visiting on a road trip: mainly Wyoming but also touching on Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana and Idaho. So, although I do have a bit of an interest in the Middle East, the subject matter of this book, I was just killing time and not looking for a book to buy.

However, I was
...more
Andrew Fish
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Throughout my life the phrase Middle East crisis has seemed something of a tautology. One of my earliest recollections of world events was the shelling of Lebanon in the early 1980s. The problems of the region seem intractable, views on either side utterly entrenched, and those of us with the luxury to be thousands of miles away struggle to make sense of it all.

Part of the problem, of course, is that we never really discuss the root causes. There's a sort of collective memory that it has to do
...more
Arukiyomi
What the chart of my progress below does not reveal is that the day I started this was in fact in May 2013 whereas I didn’t finish it, after a vast effort, until Sept. 2014. I used to read a great amount of non-fiction and this kind of history in particular. With that experience, I can tell you that Barr excels at taking what is a complex and intriguing series of historical events and rendering them as dull as watching water evaporate.

If you’re into writers who can actually write this kind of
...more
Bridget
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Four stars overall. Some chapters were more like three stars and others were five stars. This was a fairly uneven read. There are a few very dull chapters in this book that don't really need to be entire chapters. For example, the author spends pages and pages on the dispute between the British and the French about the proposed route of the oil pipeline from Mosul to the sea. Britain wants it in Haifa. France wants it in Tripoli. And on and on and on. In the end, guess what??? They split the ...more
Roisin
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant book! If you want to know why the Middle East and some parts of North Africa are in a state, read this. Mr Barr takes an almost blow by blow account of the events which lead to the Sykes-Picot line in Syria, (the line of the title), the fight for Arab home rule and the establishment of the State of Israel.

France and Britain have a lot to answer for and our author doesn't shy away from the terrible methods, racism, and imperialist attitudes that these countries had towards
...more
Mark
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well written, well researched and a pretty damning indictment about the imperialist powers of Britain and France vying with each other for their slice of the Middle-East during and after the First World War. It would have been interesting to get a further perspective on this sorry episode from the another view point such as from the peoples who lived there but that aside I found the book very well written and informative.
Eugene Novikov
Oct 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Moderately enjoyable romp through the shockingly petty British-French rivalry in the Middle East post-WWI. Written in a casual, novelistic style, but the barrage of new characters and in-the-weeds developments is so relentless that things get a bit wearying by the end.
Salma Nagy
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
The book is full of details and very informative, the main thought I'm left with is: the audacity of colonial powers! The audacity!!
Suleiman Arabiat
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very well-written narrative that describes one of the most disputable periods; a period that affected the modern day that we live in, especially if you're a Middle East resident. Or did it?

The author is concise in his statements, very well-prepared in his research, coherent in his conclusions, and effective in the delivery of the material. He weaved the history of the period between the early 1900s to the 1948 "Israeli independence war/Al-Nakba" in a one clear and connected narrative. The
...more
Aparna
Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I did not finish this- I gave it 100 pages, but perhaps it’s one to pick up later.

This book is about the French-British agreement that settled the dispute for control over the Middle East early 1900s. This played a massive part in the state of the Middle East today.

This is a topic I know very little about. I expected this book to take the reader right back to square one and clearly explain how the Sykes agreement came about. That’s far from what I got.

This book doesn’t give a clear timeline
...more
Jonathan Roberts
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A Line in the Sand is populated by some of the twentieth century's most fascinating figures -
Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and Charles de Gaulle appear prominently in the narrative, which helps to orient Western readers who may not be very familiar with the Middle East's experience of the last century, particularly the world wars. James Barr is a strong storyteller, painting vivid images of individuals, locations and events that his reader may only be hearing about for the first time. Given
...more
Phil
Oct 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read about the Middle East for some time, James Barr's extraordinary history traces many of that bedevilled region's contemporary tensions to the machinations of French and British politicians and diplomats during the last decades of their two countries' empires. Seemingly both aware of the untenability of their old colonial habits, the U.K. and France nevertheless sought, from 1916 onwards, to ensure that they each retained strategic control of parts of the swathe of land ...more
Elliott Bignell
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The phrase that springs to mind when reading this authoritative history is "beggar thy neighbour". From the effort to break up the Ottoman Empire to the mutual backstabbing between the World War Two "victors", the whole history is a uniformly shaming indictment of the Western allies, almost unique in producing virtually no heroic personalities at all. The sole honourable exception appears to be T. E. Lawrence, whose affinity for Arab culture and interests appears to have been heartfelt. The ...more
Michael O'Brien
Dec 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book since it does a great job describing how events today were shaped largely by the machinations and rivalries of the great imperial powers a century ago. Most people I've known seem to believe that there was no history in the Middle East --- then, suddenly, 1948 --- a State of Israel, and endless strife and war ever since in the region. "Line in the Sand" puts that popular myth to an end ---- because, as it clearly shows, the Middle East was already a divisive mess by ...more
Sarah Bringhurst
Consummately researched history meets great storytelling in this fascinating book about one of the main causes for the current conflict in the Middle East. In college I took a class on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and I remembered the various contradictory promises made by the British to Arabs and Jews during the Palestine Mandate period. What I didn't understand before reading Barr's book was the motivation behind those British actions (and even T.E. Lawrence's heroics!). A bitter, ...more
Agenor
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book very engagingly recounts this history of the British and French mandates in the Middle East from 1911 to the end of the British Mandate in Palestine in 1948 with excellent use of primary sources, many of which were recently declassified. I really enjoyed it and being the first book I have read on this period in the regions history, I was staggered at many of the events that unfolded.

The book has quite a narrow focus, recounting specifically the trials and tribulations of the British
...more
Jens
Mr. Barr has done an outstanding job making this particular part of world history come to life. Drawing upon archives of the British an French foreign services and other contemporary sources, this book elegantly ties together the history of the Middle East from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire to post-war Palestine. There are few good guys and lots of scoundrels in this vivid narrative of collapsing empires, power plays to clinging onto control of economic and strategic interests and as always ...more
Viswanathan Venkataraman
Britain and French tussle for hegemony over, Syria, Lebanon , Trans Jordan Palestine from Post WW1 to post WW2.
Of no great importance in the present geopolitical scene, after all today France and Britain are minor players.
For some one who didn’t have knowledge of historical event in these countries the book was interesting read.
Both the scope seems to be very narrow concerned and detailing the ways and means through which Britain and France were under cutting each other.
The Laughing Man
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book should be read with the book Berlin-Baghdad Express by Sean McMeekin, it will explain you how todays Middle East was formed, how France and England stirred up the place and how Jews were betrayed after paying for the land in gold after king Faisal died. You will come across shocking details and information that will surely shake your beliefs.
Koit
Apr 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
A very well written overview of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the ensuing trouble in the Middle East.
محمد بوالبنات
A look at the men and events that defined the middle east today. History written in way that is enticing. very well researched and great refrence for history sources
Mohammed Abdelkafi
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
full of references.. a gigantic effort had been obviously put in it.
Gonna reread some of it later, definitely.
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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
...more
“This speedy retreat left Georges-Picot under the impression that ‘What the British want, is only to deceive the Arabs.” 1 likes
“When Husni Zaim seized power from Shukri al-Quwatli on 30 March 1949, Syria's economy was a parlous state and its army had been beaten the previous November by the Israelis. Zaim knew that he needed to take action on both fronts fast. After overthrowing al-Quwatli bloodlessly, he set out to open peace talks with the Israelis and mend relations with the French via a currency agreement and an arms deal that would pave the way for renewed French influence in the former mandate. But Zaim's reign did not last long. One hundred and thirty-seven days after he had taken power, on 14 August he too was overthrown and executed.” 1 likes
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