The Oldie - - HISTORY -

JAMES BARR Si­mon and Schus­ter, 401pp, £20, Oldie price £12.48 inc p&p

This is a fol­low-up to Barr’s 2011 book A Line in the Sand, which told the story of how im­pe­rial ri­vals France and Bri­tain carved up the Mid­dle East. Here, Barr ar­gues that ‘from 1942, un­til Bri­tain’s exit from the Gulf in 1971, Bri­tain and the United States were in­vari­ably com­peti­tors in the Mid­dle East, and of­ten out­right ri­vals’. The Guardian’s re­viewer Ian Black called it ‘beau­ti­fully writ­ten and deeply re­searched’ and ‘if most of the events cov­ered are broadly fa­mil­iar, they are seen from an un­usual an­gle’. Black did not find it off-putting that ‘the ac­tion of Lords of the Desert takes place largely in cor­ri­dors of power. There is barely a sub­al­tern in sight. But it goes far be­yond clas­sic diplo­matic his­tory, the genre of “what one clerk said to an­other”, su­perbly il­lus­trat­ing the con­straints of Bri­tain’s de­cline and Amer­ica’s in­ex­orable rise, the two united only by hos­til­ity to the Soviet Union and con­cern for their re­spec­tive na­tional in­ter­ests. Barr also deftly in­te­grates the role of se­cret in­tel­li­gence in for­eign pol­icy, draw­ing on the di­ary of a lit­tle-known jour­nal­ist-cum-mi6 agent to add indis­creet and il­lu­mi­nat­ing de­tail.’ Lawrence James, writ­ing in the Times, was equally en­thralled. ‘Barr de­scribes this trans­fer of power [from Bri­tain to the US] in a bril­liant, de­tached and eye-open­ing nar­ra­tive that matches his A Line in the Sand in pace. It is a grip­ping tale of diplo­matic leg­erde­main, po­lit­i­cal hypocrisy and, once the in­tel­li­gence boys got go­ing, der­ring-do. There are even comic mo­ments when the world of Carry

on Spy­ing in­truded into high pol­i­tics.’

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