It is October 1916, midway through the First World War. Aboard a ship bound for Arabia a bored young man is shooting at empty bottles with his pistol. British archaeologist-turned-intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence has been sent on a mission to work out how to save the stuttering tribal revolt that, with the backing of the British government, began in Mecca four months ago. But he also nurses a secret dream to use the Arabs to thwart French influence in the Middle East.
Lawrence's revolutionary advice dramatically turned the uprising around. The revolt proved far more successful than anyone expected, reaching the gates of Damascus by October 1918. This triumph propelled Lawrence out of obscurity, turning him into the legendary “Lawrence of Arabia” but it also changed the Middle East forever with consequences that still reverberate today.
In this gripping book James Barr tells the story of the intrigue that lay behind the revolt and how the mercurial Lawrence shot to fame. Through meticulous research, ranging from declassified government papers to forensic evidence, he reveals the devious side to Lawrence, and weaves this fascinating research with his own travels through the hostile deserts of the Middle East to offer a fresh and vivid interpretation of this crucial conflict, in which the British first adopted unorthodox hit-and-run tactics.
As well as Lawrence, a colourful cast of British and French soldiers, politicians, spies and diplomats come together in this brilliant narrative of political manoeuvring, guerrilla warfare and imperial greed.
Setting the Desert on Fire is a fast-paced account of a key moment in the history of the Middle East. It provides a new portrait of Lawrence himself that is bright and nuanced, and absolutely relevant to today.
Now read Chapter One of the US edition
© James Barr 2013