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Lords of the Desert: The Battle Between the United States and Great Britain for Supremacy in the Modern Middle East

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A path-breaking history of how the United States superseded Great Britain as the preeminent power in the Middle East, with urgent lessons for the present day We usually assume that Arab nationalism brought about the end of the British Empire in the Middle East--that Gamal Abdel Nasser and other Arab leaders led popular uprisings against colonial rule that forced the ove A path-breaking history of how the United States superseded Great Britain as the preeminent power in the Middle East, with urgent lessons for the present day We usually assume that Arab nationalism brought about the end of the British Empire in the Middle East--that Gamal Abdel Nasser and other Arab leaders led popular uprisings against colonial rule that forced the overstretched British from the region. In Lords of the Desert, historian James Barr draws on newly declassified archives to argue instead that the US was the driving force behind the British exit. Though the two nations were allies, they found themselves at odds over just about every question, from who owned Saudi Arabia's oil to who should control the Suez Canal. Encouraging and exploiting widespread opposition to the British, the US intrigued its way to power--ultimately becoming as resented as the British had been. As Barr shows, it is impossible to understand the region today without first grappling with this little-known prehistory.


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A path-breaking history of how the United States superseded Great Britain as the preeminent power in the Middle East, with urgent lessons for the present day We usually assume that Arab nationalism brought about the end of the British Empire in the Middle East--that Gamal Abdel Nasser and other Arab leaders led popular uprisings against colonial rule that forced the ove A path-breaking history of how the United States superseded Great Britain as the preeminent power in the Middle East, with urgent lessons for the present day We usually assume that Arab nationalism brought about the end of the British Empire in the Middle East--that Gamal Abdel Nasser and other Arab leaders led popular uprisings against colonial rule that forced the overstretched British from the region. In Lords of the Desert, historian James Barr draws on newly declassified archives to argue instead that the US was the driving force behind the British exit. Though the two nations were allies, they found themselves at odds over just about every question, from who owned Saudi Arabia's oil to who should control the Suez Canal. Encouraging and exploiting widespread opposition to the British, the US intrigued its way to power--ultimately becoming as resented as the British had been. As Barr shows, it is impossible to understand the region today without first grappling with this little-known prehistory.

30 review for Lords of the Desert: The Battle Between the United States and Great Britain for Supremacy in the Modern Middle East

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tariq Mahmood

    For anyone questioning why Britain and USA are blamed for the current state of anarchy in the Middle East, please read on. We have a saying in Urdu which roughly translates to, the ant will always suffer when caught between two elephants fighting. The Americans and the British have vested interests in the oil of the region, and they are willing to retain this valuable resource at any price. So supporting dictators, autocrats, mad kings and nationalists is all considered as long as they are willi For anyone questioning why Britain and USA are blamed for the current state of anarchy in the Middle East, please read on. We have a saying in Urdu which roughly translates to, the ant will always suffer when caught between two elephants fighting. The Americans and the British have vested interests in the oil of the region, and they are willing to retain this valuable resource at any price. So supporting dictators, autocrats, mad kings and nationalists is all considered as long as they are willing to work with one or the other. The Saudi Royal family has been an old partner of the Americans which is at the moment the biggest sponsor of Islamic terrorism. Do we really expect the Americans to dethrone the Saudis as long as they are exploiting their oil?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sajith Kumar

    The US and the UK are bosom friends in everything from culture and commerce to international policy. What pervades this all-weather friendship is the unquestioned dominance of the US in every sphere of activity you can think of. But this was not always like this. There was a time when Britain enjoyed its metropolis status over the destiny of a vast empire in which the sun never set and ruled the waves of all oceans on the planet. The US never had a colonialist hinterland though the nation itself The US and the UK are bosom friends in everything from culture and commerce to international policy. What pervades this all-weather friendship is the unquestioned dominance of the US in every sphere of activity you can think of. But this was not always like this. There was a time when Britain enjoyed its metropolis status over the destiny of a vast empire in which the sun never set and ruled the waves of all oceans on the planet. The US never had a colonialist hinterland though the nation itself was almost a continent on its own size. The Second World War changed the imperialist status quo. Though Britain and her Allies prevailed over their Axis enemies, the victory was a Pyrrhic one. The economic backbone of the empire was broken and its compulsion to cede independence to the colonies severely curtailed British prospects of ruling the world again. The US stepped in as a replacement to Britain, and turned out to be much more powerful in a different role. During the transition period, the British and the Americans struggled for supremacy in the Middle East, which contained the most promising commodity of the twentieth century – oil. From 1942, until Britain’s exit from the Gulf was completed in 1971, the two countries were invariably competitors in the Middle East and often outright rivals. The two issues of oil and Israel always stood ominously behind the violence in the region. This book is the story of how the Americans rose to prominence while Britain’s star was gradually eclipsed. James Barr is a British author of a number of historical works on the Middle East and is currently a visiting fellow at King’s College London. Barr examines the economic perspective which pitted both countries against each other. The war effort absorbed sixty per cent of the industrial output in the US. After the World War, the demand would fall away leading to mass unemployment. Increase in exports was the only solution to tide over the crisis but this would place the Americans on a collision course with the British because a successful American export drive in the Middle East would be detrimental to British interests, which in the meanwhile had flooded the markets with British products under the guise of war-time shipping restrictions. Britain almost went bankrupt at the end of the war, resorting to food-rationing to feed its population. Liberal economic aid poured out of the US, but each incoming dollar constrained Britain’s independent maneuverability against conflicting American interests. Israel was a turning point in Middle East history. Right after the defeat of Turkey in World War I, Zionists had identified Palestine as the place to house the Jewish diaspora. With Nazi persecution of Jews, inward migration reached such a pitch as to alarm the Arabs. Understandably, the Arabs opposed further migration, but their opposition had only a religious basis engendered by notions of jihad. Jews exerted an organized and carefully calculated influence in US politics. Under fire from the Zionists for failing to do more for Jewish refugees, Roosevelt tried to court the Jewish vote during the presidential campaign of 1944. He promised to bring about the establishment of a free and democratic Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. This opened the floodgates of illegal migration to Palestine. Some Jewish organisations even engaged in terrorism, targeting British troops and officials who oversaw the Mandate there. Fundraising continued unabated in the US and the Administration was reluctant to clamp down on them, fearing Jewish backlash in the ballot box. Britain left Palestine on 14 May 1948 and Arab-Israeli war broke out the next day. A Jewish state was declared and Truman promptly recognized it. The book depicts Britain as a staunch opponent of the Jews who in turn directed their physical violence against it. People often accuse the US for aligning their foreign policy in line with their business interests. But in the case of Israel, supporting them cost the US dear in terms of Arab goodwill, but still they continue to steadfastly support them against all odds. The author accurately analyses the efforts to control the flow of oil to its western markets. Iran and Iraq were traditionally under the control of Britain while Saudi Arabian oil was managed by the US. No effort, howsoever unsavory, was spared to ensure the flow of oil. Bribes were used universally across the region. Aramco laid an oil pipeline from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast at great peril. It freely bribed Syria’s politicians for transit rights. When that proved insufficient, they organized a military coup to bring down a non-pliable civilian government. When Iranian premier Mossadegh nationalized the British-owned oil company, he too was brought down. Taking his cue, Egypt’s Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956. Britain attacked Egypt but had to withdraw ignominiously when the US opposed the move in a surprising turn of events. During this time, they dramatically increased Saudi oil production and provided its king vast wealth. The windfall from oil often astonished the British as well. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s concession in Iran was termed by Churchill as a ‘prize from fairy land far beyond our brightest hopes’. They massaged the profit figures of the enterprise to cut down on the dividends payable to the Arabs. A noted aspect of American foreign policy is its stated desire to spread the idea of democracy around the world. Usually, this turned out to be nothing more than rhetoric and an attempt to make the right noises to please its clients at home and abroad. The US persuaded Britain to grant more autonomy and freedom to India but didn’t follow through with coercive measures when it became evident that they had no immediate plans to do so during the war. In the 1950s, this policy underwent a subtle shift in the Middle East. Abandoning their quest for democracy, they actively hunted for competent leaders who were somewhat favourably disposed to the West. With it went the hopes of democracy transforming the Arab states. The Middle East is dominated by the Arabic language which is spoken in an unbroken chain from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east. Apart from faint spattering of Christians, the people are overwhelmingly Muslim. In the face of these obvious uniting factors, the readers of this book would be astonished at the total absence of cohesion among the people and the very high levels of mutual distrust and suspicion. The monarchs are jealous of each other’s ambitions while demagogues orchestrate to uproot other elected leaders and also monarchs. Arab nationalism appears to be so fractured and fragile that it never rises above tribal aspirations and prejudices. The Hashemites cashed in on the rout of Ottomans while the Saudis displaced them from Arabia proper. The Hashemites further subdivided into Jordanian and Iraqi branches and then tried to outwit the other. Gamal Abdel Nasser rose up as a promising leader who could unify the Middle East. But he was not above resorting to underhand deals and military interventions in other countries. Anyhow, with Egypt’s miserable defeat at the hands of Israelis in the 1967 war sealed his fate. The Arab world continues to be divided even now. The book is very informative and pleasingly readable. The narrative is witty with lots of side comments that freshen up the reader. In these 340 pages, Barr condenses the entire story of the Middle East for a quarter century. Obviously, he has used much declassified documents which present some shocking details. King Hussein of Jordan is claimed to have received considerable sums of money from the CIA every month as part of their effort to keep the local rulers in good humour. The book is strongly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ujjwala Singhania

    I got this book when I read it as a book recommendation, on Twitter, by an author whom I admire. And in the backdrop of the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, I couldn't have picked a better time to read it. The book is premised on the behind-the-scene troubled relationship of the USA and the UK to dominate the Middle East in the post-World War II reality. Much has been made out of the relationship of these two super powers, which was built and strengthened during the later part of the second world wa I got this book when I read it as a book recommendation, on Twitter, by an author whom I admire. And in the backdrop of the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, I couldn't have picked a better time to read it. The book is premised on the behind-the-scene troubled relationship of the USA and the UK to dominate the Middle East in the post-World War II reality. Much has been made out of the relationship of these two super powers, which was built and strengthened during the later part of the second world war. But, James Barr gives a detailed account of what was really happening when they were out to dominate the Middle East and exploit its oil reserves. A deeply researched book, using a lot of information, brought into light by declassified files. The book reads like a political thriller with espionage, palace coup, political assassination, arms deal, bribes and what not. There are few events which marks the history deeply and mostly everywhen has heard of, like Israel Independence, the Suez crisis, etc. Barr, however, starts his story with how Israel got its independence in 1948, and goes on tracing the history spanning over decades, till finally the UK exited Middle East in 1970. While I was reading this book, I felt I should have first read A Line In The Sand, by the same author, first.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Said AlMaskery

    This is one of the most important books I have read on the history of this region. In it I realized the following; 1. The detail at which events were discussed behind closed doors in the UK or the US regarding their interest in our area 2. There is no such thing as friendship between nations; its always the strategic benefits that presides 3. The gulf states are rocks of salt, this has not changed. The west protects monarchies in return for liquidity (in the form of cheap oil and arms deals and pol This is one of the most important books I have read on the history of this region. In it I realized the following; 1. The detail at which events were discussed behind closed doors in the UK or the US regarding their interest in our area 2. There is no such thing as friendship between nations; its always the strategic benefits that presides 3. The gulf states are rocks of salt, this has not changed. The west protects monarchies in return for liquidity (in the form of cheap oil and arms deals and political rubber stamping) 4. History as we know it, is not the history in-the-making, which made our understanding of events very artificial Our nations should wake up and realize the amount of sabotage on their resources, and not expect the discourse of integrity and justice from the west to change things to the better. The depletion of our resources and our energy as nations will continue till we take control by uniting and coming up with a political model that will stop all this.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Emmanuel Gustin

    A sequel of sorts to "A Line in the Sand", Barr's earlier book about the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Franco-British rivalry in the middle east, this book carries the subtitle "Britain's struggle with America to dominate the Middle East". That subtitle is a bit misleading. I don't know whether it was born out of desire for continuity with the earlier book, or perhaps a publisher's bright idea, but it does some injustice to the story that is being told here. Because, with occasional exception, t A sequel of sorts to "A Line in the Sand", Barr's earlier book about the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Franco-British rivalry in the middle east, this book carries the subtitle "Britain's struggle with America to dominate the Middle East". That subtitle is a bit misleading. I don't know whether it was born out of desire for continuity with the earlier book, or perhaps a publisher's bright idea, but it does some injustice to the story that is being told here. Because, with occasional exception, this is not so much the story of a "struggle" as that of two parallel diplomacies, occasionally in harmony, sometimes in conflict, and most frequently of all badly misaligned. Told from the British perspective, the USA appears in turn as a rival, an ally, or a source of money and support, in a complex diplomatic dance that often made little sense. Americans and British both wanted a large share of the oil of the region, but they also had strategic reasons to keep each other locked in. Nevertheless, on several occasions, British governments told blatant and detectable lies to their American allies, which did the relationship little good. Primarily this is the story of how the British dealt with a heavy colonial legacy in the post-WWII world. Once upon a time, British economic strength and maritime power had allowed it to gradually acquire a huge colonial empire. In the 1950s the logic was sharply reversed as Britain now sought to retain its colonies for as long as possible as the only way to maintain its great-power status, until governments in the 1960s finally accepted that Britain no longer had the money to hang on to its colonial outposts. Imperial policy had degraded into short-term decay management, in the hope of staying on until the oil had been pumped up, or perhaps until the Vietnam war had ended, or just to keep the Soviets out a little longer. Barr casts an unforgiving light on the motivations of successive British governments. In these circumstances, the UK and USA both indulged in conspiracies to bring down governments, funding coups and fomenting rebellions. Always uneasily hovering in the background, to be sure, were the essential insights that such a policy would inevitably be resented by people seeking to determine their own fate, that breeding instability was hardly a sound strategy for foreign investors, and that backing corrupt and reactionary rulers would do long term harm to British interests. But these Cassandras were rarely listened to. Instead, according to this book, there was a heavy penchant for cloak-and-dagger politics, secret service improvisation and military freebooting: A lot of adventure was involved, but precious little wisdom. Plainly, the vestiges of the colonial feeling of superiority allowed for the kind of incautious meddling in Arab politics that exploded in the face of its enactors again and again and again. It is a sorry tale but a useful lesson for today. That is particularly true for the chapters of this work that describe events in the desert Empty Quarter of Arabia, in Muscat and Oman, Yemen and Aden: A bizarre but hugely entertaining story of secret agents and mercenaries, of decisions taken over a glass of brandy, of weapons smuggled and tribesmen manipulated. The story of these events was entirely new to me. It is told in considerable detail, which gives the book a rather unbalanced feel, but it is more than worth it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Max Hellicar

    If you want to understand the history of the Middle East in the context of the political and economic strategy of the superpowers - one declining and one gaining influence - this is a superb read. The author makes everything that has happened in this region including coups, military takeovers, economic deception, the rise of puppet governments and their downfall understandable: even logical.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael Griswold

    *I received an electronic galley from netgalley.com in exchange for a review* Lords of the Desert may be a hard book for a modern American audience considering that the United States and Great Britain have been fast international allies for centuries. But Lords of the Desert chronicles the thirty years of Middle Eastern relations between the United States and Great Britain from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Sometimes, the countries collaborated, sometimes they broke with each other, and occasional *I received an electronic galley from netgalley.com in exchange for a review* Lords of the Desert may be a hard book for a modern American audience considering that the United States and Great Britain have been fast international allies for centuries. But Lords of the Desert chronicles the thirty years of Middle Eastern relations between the United States and Great Britain from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Sometimes, the countries collaborated, sometimes they broke with each other, and occasionally they appear to have sabotaged each other. What could account for such a complicated relationship? Great Britain was the greatest empire modern times had ever seen, but war had exhausted and bankrupted it. The United States viewed itself as the new global power following WW2 victory and sought to use that influence. It turns out that empire does not yield to rational human thought, which led to a tug of war of sorts between a Great Britain desperate to retain something of empire and their place in global affairs and the United States who had their own version of the Middle East that didn’t always square with their British “friends.” It’s an action packed narrative that belongs in the library of any individual who wants to know how the Middle East became what it is today.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Simon Lowe

    Perfect primer for anyone interested in the UK and the US’s post-war struggle for control of the Middle East. Full of double-crosses, broken promises and shady deals, no one comes out of this very well. Covering the aftermath of WWII, Suez up to the British withdrawal from Aden in 1967, you can see how much of the region’s current problems can be attributed to its treatment at the hands of one fading world power and one growing one.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Koit

    Mr Barr has the quality of being able to find the most outrageous anecdotal incidences that led to an event coming to pass. It is this which makes reading his histories so enjoyable—not only is one able to thoroughly appreciate how so much of today’s world has come about through petty chance, but the journey is also most intriguing. The subject is the Middle East and the time is post-World War II and leading into the 1970’s. Iran’s revolution against Mosaddegh is covered in good detail as is the Mr Barr has the quality of being able to find the most outrageous anecdotal incidences that led to an event coming to pass. It is this which makes reading his histories so enjoyable—not only is one able to thoroughly appreciate how so much of today’s world has come about through petty chance, but the journey is also most intriguing. The subject is the Middle East and the time is post-World War II and leading into the 1970’s. Iran’s revolution against Mosaddegh is covered in good detail as is the Israeli terror leading up to the creation of their state. Nasser’s Egypt and Syria are similarly in the forefront, while Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states bring up the rear. The players are the United Kingdom and the United States whose spy divisions meted it out against each other in this desert environment. The book is intended as a sequel to Mr Barr’s treatise on the Sykes–Picot Agreement, ‘A Line in the Sand’, and its consequences which I read some time ago. The book is as well researched as its prequel, but the tone is slightly better—reading through my thoughts of the previous one, I think I was slightly overwhelmed by it, and possibly undercut by my lacking understanding of domestic politics of the United Kingdom and France in that time. Though the scope of this book is the Anglo–American rivalry in the Middle East—including occasional temporary alliances in a maze of shifting self-interest—there are jumps to domestic politics. This is natural as the foreign policy of a state will be affected by its domestic ongoings. Yet, those domestic changes are not detailed in too much detail with emphasis on action in the Middle East. It is therefore very useful to have some knowledge of the domestic politics of the US and the UK between Truman and Johnson or Churchill and Wilson. The author’s tangents were generally more detailed for the Americans. Overall, a very strong recommend from me for a book that really accomplishes its goals to show how the Middle East has become what it has become. This review was originally posted on my blog.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mariam Abood

    Oh, dear. What a way to shape my first week of 2021. I am so sorry for this negative review but I really did not like this book. I can't even begin to explain why I disliked this book so profoundly. It was too convoluted, too complicated, and from a far too Western and Eurocentric perspective. I like "A Line in the Sand" thoroughly (ignoring its Eurocentricism), so I had high expectations for this book. Unfortuately that was not the case. The analysis was somehow simultaneously both too macro and Oh, dear. What a way to shape my first week of 2021. I am so sorry for this negative review but I really did not like this book. I can't even begin to explain why I disliked this book so profoundly. It was too convoluted, too complicated, and from a far too Western and Eurocentric perspective. I like "A Line in the Sand" thoroughly (ignoring its Eurocentricism), so I had high expectations for this book. Unfortuately that was not the case. The analysis was somehow simultaneously both too macro and micro, and I don't understand how. It was not a good analysis like "The Silk Roads", which was a profound insight into the likes of Saddam Hussein. Because I don't want to indulge in negativity I will leave the review here. However, a note for the author: less is more.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Olaf Koopmans

    'Lords of the desert' is the second book by James Barr that I've read. And while the first one, 'Line in the sand' is probably one of the best history books that I've ever read, this one was a bit dissapointing. Mostly, in my opion, because he tries to tell much in to little time. Either the book should have been 4 times longer, or he should have cut back on subjects. Probably a focus on Egypt, Saudi Arabia and a finish with Aden would have been more straight forward. Now you're left breathless 'Lords of the desert' is the second book by James Barr that I've read. And while the first one, 'Line in the sand' is probably one of the best history books that I've ever read, this one was a bit dissapointing. Mostly, in my opion, because he tries to tell much in to little time. Either the book should have been 4 times longer, or he should have cut back on subjects. Probably a focus on Egypt, Saudi Arabia and a finish with Aden would have been more straight forward. Now you're left breathless as a reader by all the agents, kings, politicians, sheiks, imams, spies and other minor players who made up this very complex period of regional history. This makes it very hard to grasp the bigger picture. Although you can not miss the point that a lot of the Middle East troubles (and thereby World problems) have their roots in the misguided decisions of the responsible politicians, military men and bureacrats in those days.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bob Mcdermott

    Very detailed book about why the region is such a mess. Told in an objective way about how America, Britain, France and others meddle in the Middle East in the period after the second world war.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Stelling

    Very heavy on detail, I found this to be quite dull and repetitive in places, although my dislike for anything post-1600 may have contributed to that opinion. 😂

  14. 4 out of 5

    Timothy

    Fascinating and very readable. It's a shame the author doesn't bring it up to the modern era but it's a very interesting read. Fascinating and very readable. It's a shame the author doesn't bring it up to the modern era but it's a very interesting read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hadi Atallah

    This book is a 'must' read in my part of the world, and its failed popularity is blamed on a culture in which cultural expediency overtakes pragmatism. The Arab world could not find 'the pens' because of the running of shaking hands from one elite nation to the next. It could have been possible that the Arab world did have a delayed reaction due to the fact that we blame others for propping us up every time we feel sick. At the rate this 'thing' is going, the Arab world is yet to handle it well This book is a 'must' read in my part of the world, and its failed popularity is blamed on a culture in which cultural expediency overtakes pragmatism. The Arab world could not find 'the pens' because of the running of shaking hands from one elite nation to the next. It could have been possible that the Arab world did have a delayed reaction due to the fact that we blame others for propping us up every time we feel sick. At the rate this 'thing' is going, the Arab world is yet to handle it well and this should be a note of finality - Hadi Atallah, author of 'Rosemary Bluebell.'

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dom

    Another excellent trip through (fairly) recent history where you'll find a lot of what you thought you knew turned on it's head. On the one hand, James Barr clinically illustrates why there really is no such thing as the Special Relationship with the US, and on the other he illustrates the lengths Britain went to in order to try to retain some sense of international power and influence without thought for the consequences for those with the most to lose and the least influence over it. Highly re Another excellent trip through (fairly) recent history where you'll find a lot of what you thought you knew turned on it's head. On the one hand, James Barr clinically illustrates why there really is no such thing as the Special Relationship with the US, and on the other he illustrates the lengths Britain went to in order to try to retain some sense of international power and influence without thought for the consequences for those with the most to lose and the least influence over it. Highly recommended

  17. 5 out of 5

    Benedict Lane

    Generally speaking, history’s not really my thing, but I found this to be a genuinely interesting, illuminating and incredibly well-researched read. It’s strange to think that Britain and the USA haven’t always been the closest of friends, and it’s a side of history rarely touched on, but as Barr highlights, the two nations were apparently at each other’s throats and going behind each other’s backs constantly during the 20th century, and by the end of WWII, Churchill and Roosevelt couldn’t stand Generally speaking, history’s not really my thing, but I found this to be a genuinely interesting, illuminating and incredibly well-researched read. It’s strange to think that Britain and the USA haven’t always been the closest of friends, and it’s a side of history rarely touched on, but as Barr highlights, the two nations were apparently at each other’s throats and going behind each other’s backs constantly during the 20th century, and by the end of WWII, Churchill and Roosevelt couldn’t stand the sight of each other. Most of these clashes came about over foreign policy, specifically in the Middle East. Initially, it was America’s objection to the continued existence of the British Empire that sparked these arguments, as American visitors to the Middle East had observed the miserable conditions that most of the natives of countries like Egypt lived in under colonial rule, and a lot of their foreign aid during this period was given with the explicit aim of bringing an end to Britain’s reign. However, America soon pulled a Harvey Dent and became the very villain it sought to destroy. They made the magical discovery that there’s actually quite a lot of oil in the Middle East, and, like Britain, they too would very much like to benefit from this. Much of the book outlines the various regimes violently overthrown and ruthless despots installed across the region during the 50s/60s by Britain and the US as they battled for primary access to Saudi and Iranian oil reserves, with little to no regard for the welfare of the people. Although a little dense and difficult to follow in places (which is forgivable given the complexity of the subject), Barr’s book is generally very insightful and well-explained, giving a broad look at the various landmark conflicts and events that have shaped the Middle East as we know it today (I finally understand what the Suez crisis was!) It’s also refreshingly neutral in its discussion of the subject, reporting on the facts without any obvious bias - so many British historians tend to fall foul to a nostalgic glamorisation of the British Empire in their work *cough*Niall Ferguson*cough*, but Barr happily (and correctly) avoids this. You can ultimately surmise from Lords of the Desert that pretty much every single issue currently plaguing the Middle East is the direct consequence of decades of catastrophic foreign policy on the part of the US and the UK, and how their supposed efforts to bring peace have instead totally destabilised the entire region. It’s actually kinda depressing to see how little has been learned during that time and the complete lack of progress that has been made in situations like the Israel/Palestine conflict and the Saudis’ assault on Yemen. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone looking to better understand the current situation in the Middle East, as it provides an excellent backdrop to modern day events that explains how these issues first began and how they’ve evolved over time.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ali Hashem

    I just finished reading James Barr’s book Lords of the desert, I have to say I was both informed and entertained by the blend of research and creative storytelling that this books embraces, a lot of unknown history lays between these pages. The secrets of Egypt’s 1952 coup d’etat that toppled the monarchy, 1953 US-British coup on Iran’s Mossadegh, the British’s seller’s remorse on the Balfour declaration, the 1956 nationalisation of the Suez Canal and what followed it. The war of coups in Syria an I just finished reading James Barr’s book Lords of the desert, I have to say I was both informed and entertained by the blend of research and creative storytelling that this books embraces, a lot of unknown history lays between these pages. The secrets of Egypt’s 1952 coup d’etat that toppled the monarchy, 1953 US-British coup on Iran’s Mossadegh, the British’s seller’s remorse on the Balfour declaration, the 1956 nationalisation of the Suez Canal and what followed it. The war of coups in Syria and Iraq, the war of oil between Aramco and Anglo-Iranian, the war of monarchs between the Sauds and the Hashemites. How the decision making in London was affected by wishful thinking on some occasions, misinformation on another. There are much to discuss about the book, which I’ll leave for a review I’m planning to write soon. Now, there’s a problem with some terminologies, for example describing Egypt’s Nasser and Iraq’s Abdulkarim Qassem as prime ministers of their countries. I thought i was going to know more on the disputes between the Gulf states and Iran, especially the three islands and Bahrain, given the British connection to this issue.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nick Pengelley

    Another wonderful book from James Barr; brilliantly researched and written in a style that is best described as "gripping". If you think you have gaps in your knowledge of what went on in the Middle East between WWII and the 60s, this is the book you've been looking for! Favourite passage (p322), in the chapter describing the British pull-out from Aden: "What terrorism the authorities had seen so far in Aden had been notable for its incompetence. One rebel had blown his own feet off when he pull Another wonderful book from James Barr; brilliantly researched and written in a style that is best described as "gripping". If you think you have gaps in your knowledge of what went on in the Middle East between WWII and the 60s, this is the book you've been looking for! Favourite passage (p322), in the chapter describing the British pull-out from Aden: "What terrorism the authorities had seen so far in Aden had been notable for its incompetence. One rebel had blown his own feet off when he pulled the pin from his grenade only to hurl it, and not the bomb, at his target." Most telling passage (p329) from former British defence secretary Denis Healey writing of events in 1965: "The United States, after trying for thirty years to get Britain out of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, was now trying desperately to keep us in; during the Vietnam war it did not want to be the only country killing coloured people on the own soil." Mr. Barr - any chance you're doing a book tour to Canada?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tobias

    This is a really interesting history of British and American diplomacy and spies in the Middle East in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. It focuses on the rivalry between Britain and America, but also for me the it was fascinating to fill in the gaps in my knowledge in the background to the current Middle Eastern states and how they came to be. It tells an 'inside' story from a diplomatic point of view but is weaker when it comes to describing the roots of Arab and pan-Arab nationalism. One minute the boo This is a really interesting history of British and American diplomacy and spies in the Middle East in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. It focuses on the rivalry between Britain and America, but also for me the it was fascinating to fill in the gaps in my knowledge in the background to the current Middle Eastern states and how they came to be. It tells an 'inside' story from a diplomatic point of view but is weaker when it comes to describing the roots of Arab and pan-Arab nationalism. One minute the book is talking about manoeuvrings and rivalry between Egypt and Syria and the next (hey Presto) the two countries decide to unite in the short-lived United Arab Republic in 1958.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter Moyes

    As Britain struggles with post war needs at home, the threat of Communism and Nationalism in colonial Arabia and the need to maintain oil flows to Europe prior to the North Sea finds we find that the USA is not as kindly to its wartime ally as its interest outweigh those of Britain. The term America First could well have been 1st framed about this time.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Chris Brooks

    A bit too "this happened then that happened" for my taste. Obviously deeply researched, the book was educational but I think lacking a compelling narrative. It concluded with a surprising to me focus on Yemen, but perhaps that is the author's British origin coming forward. A bit too "this happened then that happened" for my taste. Obviously deeply researched, the book was educational but I think lacking a compelling narrative. It concluded with a surprising to me focus on Yemen, but perhaps that is the author's British origin coming forward.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Erik Rostad

    Astonishing record of the political machinations of the British and Americans in the Middle East and how that has played out to what we see in the daily news to this day.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jack Johnson

    A far-reaching and source rich, matter-of-fact historical narrative of what occured during the US-UK's bitter involvement in the Middle East. They were often at odds with eachothers foreign policy strategy and insight is given into how the US continued to spy on the UK even in the postwar years. Interesting as such commentaries are, he does get bogged down in an overly dry prose which convoluted the essence of key events. It is a web of diplomatic names, locations, operations and other trivial f A far-reaching and source rich, matter-of-fact historical narrative of what occured during the US-UK's bitter involvement in the Middle East. They were often at odds with eachothers foreign policy strategy and insight is given into how the US continued to spy on the UK even in the postwar years. Interesting as such commentaries are, he does get bogged down in an overly dry prose which convoluted the essence of key events. It is a web of diplomatic names, locations, operations and other trivial figures that can make this read as though it's a lost stream of consciousness. This publication falls short of Barr's last publication, A Line in the Sand. This is because much of the israel-palestine material (a good portion of the book) is largely rehashed to fit into the narrative of the US involvement alongside the British in Palestine. Despite the prose and replicated material, there is a great abundance of archive material bringing to light insistence of 'hidden hand' tactics by the US and the UK in the middle east, going above and beyond the obvious like the mossadegh coup. Nasser - who became the west's arch Pan-Arab enemy - was initially aided into power as his Free Officers were CIA trained with the help of Kim Roosevelt. There are a great selection of quotes identifying the orientalist, dark and demeaning attitudes the UK and US cabinets held towards their colonial subjects - which is not surprising but it gives colonialism a real face. Sometimes it is difficult to identify the significance of an event as these quotes can instil hyperbole into the proceedings, however, as a publication seemingly set on distilling who was responsible for a particular state role in the middle east, it does a good job of identifying the key figures who fail to live up to their own and their cabinets expectations in the field. The history surrounding the oil boom in the gulf, the rise of Aramco and the quest to ensure the west has access to cheap oil is always interesting to read given it is the lifeblood of our whole economic system, some would say, and how it still today determines much of how our governments interact with the middle east.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mise

    An interesting book that will be enjoyable to those who found it after reading A Line in the Sand. if the earlier book exposed to the inability of former imperial powers to rule the new protectorates once an international order demanded a basic level of non selfish competence, then this book shows the inability of former imperial powers to use their well worn tactics to maintain influence in a region once they have lost their economic strength. Much of this book from Palestine to Iraq to Iran is t An interesting book that will be enjoyable to those who found it after reading A Line in the Sand. if the earlier book exposed to the inability of former imperial powers to rule the new protectorates once an international order demanded a basic level of non selfish competence, then this book shows the inability of former imperial powers to use their well worn tactics to maintain influence in a region once they have lost their economic strength. Much of this book from Palestine to Iraq to Iran is the story of how the British try and convert what was once government military power into semi state corporate power and diplomatic power. They fail over and over again as they run into the issues of being unable to compete militarily with insurgent nationalist forces while also contesting with the economically superior Americans for influence. A task made all the harder by the fact that every few chapters you are reminded that Britain is near the point of bankruptcy and relies on the yanks to keep the lights on. The book is also an interesting look into America's shift from an isolationist power that rallied against imperial regimes into a cold war power that suddenly discovered the virtues of playing kingmaker and having glorified protectorates and puppet States only after it needed to project corporate power and political strength. Much like the authors previous book this is an extremely interesting story that is enjoyable but you will often feel the need to pause and run off to learn about the greater context of all the different events involved to fully appreciate what is going on. You get the impression the author could have easily written a book that focused on on Egypt with the Americans and British as side actors. This feeling detracts from the book slightly as you feel you aren't fully getting to grips with everything that is going on unless you already have a strong understanding of history in the gulf region from 1914 up to the 1970s.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Axion

    An eye opening read. My knowledge of the area is slight, and this book has enlightened me as to how things play out in the Middle East today. I have read a little about Palestine, Israel and Baghdad so had a general idea of some aspects of the setting, but the meat of the story was very much new to me. At the time of the second Iraq war I was starting to become more aware, politically of the world around me. I'd head people throw about the phrase "it's all about the oil" and never really understo An eye opening read. My knowledge of the area is slight, and this book has enlightened me as to how things play out in the Middle East today. I have read a little about Palestine, Israel and Baghdad so had a general idea of some aspects of the setting, but the meat of the story was very much new to me. At the time of the second Iraq war I was starting to become more aware, politically of the world around me. I'd head people throw about the phrase "it's all about the oil" and never really understood what it really meant. Thanks to this book I now understand the importance of oil not as a resource but as a scaffold to political and governmental power. What struck me most about this book is how insidious and snide both parties were in their handling of the area, how they tried to control and exploit the regions to suit their agendas. Britain seemed to be clinging desperately onto colonialism, which by this point had long outstayed it's welcome in the world. America was just doing everything it could to control the oil and weaken everyone else with an interest in the area. When reading this book you can really get the context for why opinion of western powers is so low in this part of the world. Opinion you can very much understand upon reviewing the evidence presented, and how the West exploited the region to maximise their gain, regardless of the outcome of their political sabotages.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jake S

    At times I enjoyed this book, it charted the troubled relationships in the region. However, it also read like a long list of names, places and events never quite reaching a full or interesting analysis of the US vs. British relationship in the region. It follows a slightly great man approach to history, based around the deeds of important men rather than broader trends. We see at times the influence of Jewish voters in the US, and political scandals in the UK to name a couple of examples. I can' At times I enjoyed this book, it charted the troubled relationships in the region. However, it also read like a long list of names, places and events never quite reaching a full or interesting analysis of the US vs. British relationship in the region. It follows a slightly great man approach to history, based around the deeds of important men rather than broader trends. We see at times the influence of Jewish voters in the US, and political scandals in the UK to name a couple of examples. I can't help feeling this book would be better if it was done by topic rather than chronology, but it still has a lot of value. It shows the start point of a post-colonial history that was disturbed by Western (and Soviet) geo-political maneuvering. If Bush and Blair thought the Middle East was a quagmire of evil they only needed to look at their own countries histories in the region to understand how these dictators kept coming to power.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex Bond

    "What we are doing is getting oil out of the ground whilst these people are relatively primitive." "...if our people don't fight you (the Brits), they will fight us, and we should prefer they fight you." A largely comprehensive overview of recent history within the Middle East, and an examination of the interplay between America and the UK. At times highly compact and in audiobook form requires notes to track timelines, but overall offers a solid foundational knowledge. Definitely changed my under "What we are doing is getting oil out of the ground whilst these people are relatively primitive." "...if our people don't fight you (the Brits), they will fight us, and we should prefer they fight you." A largely comprehensive overview of recent history within the Middle East, and an examination of the interplay between America and the UK. At times highly compact and in audiobook form requires notes to track timelines, but overall offers a solid foundational knowledge. Definitely changed my understanding of both the past and current conflicts, which the general public in the West are largely ignorant of.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dave Clarke

    Knowledge is for me paradoxical ... the more you learn, the more gaps you are aware of ... thankful for books like this which help feed the beast inside me, always wanting to learn more, but as ever left hungry to answer the new questions it raises or the details that are missing... it goes a long way to shed light on the role of the UK, America and to a lesser extent Russia helped create the tragic state of affairs at the heart of so much death and violence in the middle east today, through act Knowledge is for me paradoxical ... the more you learn, the more gaps you are aware of ... thankful for books like this which help feed the beast inside me, always wanting to learn more, but as ever left hungry to answer the new questions it raises or the details that are missing... it goes a long way to shed light on the role of the UK, America and to a lesser extent Russia helped create the tragic state of affairs at the heart of so much death and violence in the middle east today, through acts of greed, aggression and imperialism ... wonderfully researched and presented too IMHO, which helps ...

  30. 5 out of 5

    mamol

    The book provides an accurate account of why the Middle East is such a volatile region. World powers including the American and British governments have benefited from the region’s historical tribal conflicts and turned it into a battle field to sell arms and sew profit. The book provides interesting reports of sabotage, espionage, coup d'etat, bribery, to treason and murder. The book is well written and has a consistent style. The book provides an accurate account of why the Middle East is such a volatile region. World powers including the American and British governments have benefited from the region’s historical tribal conflicts and turned it into a battle field to sell arms and sew profit. The book provides interesting reports of sabotage, espionage, coup d'etat, bribery, to treason and murder. The book is well written and has a consistent style.

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