Very timely book, the product of years of research, and many are reading it now, in the midst of the civil war in Syria, and the debate over the level of our involvement. Anderson comments in the Epilogue, ". . . what might have happened if the United States had risen to the opportunity presented at the end of World War I? In all probability, not quite the golden age some might imagine." And then he goes on to enumerate the complexities of the various Arab cultures, etc.
The book provides an enthralling look at many of the key actors in the events in the Middle East, both individuals, peoples, and nations, that during and immediately after the 1st World War led to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and to the shape of the countries and the boundaries that we continue to live with today. This intriguing story is enhanced by following the period thru the activities of Lawrence, William Yale of Standard Oil of New York, Aaron Aaronsohn master agronomist and committed Zionist, and Carl Prufer PhD German scholar of Egyptology diplomat and master spy. The accomplishments in their various spheres and the personal risks and their indefatigable commitment are all astonishing.
The back story of Lawrence's education, his research in Syria in support of his thesis, his incredible feats of endurance and observation before his tour of duty with the British effort in WWI, set the stage for his later accomplishments. During the six years before 1914, Sarajevo, Gavrilo Princip and Archduke Ferdinand, Lawrence had toured France by bicycle reviewing medieval fortresses, then toured Europe the next summer doing the same thing, finally touring Syria on foot, this time investigating the ruins of Crusader fortresses as well as noting water sources, little know pathways, finally spending time in an archaeological dig at Carchemish in Syria, all the while becoming familiar with the land, the culture of the people in out-of-the way rural areas, the language, and extending his ability to get by with little food in inhospitable conditions while performing astonishing feats of endurance and honing his skills of observation, all setting him up for his work in WWI in Arabia. The account of his war years is an enthralling adventure story, hard to keep remembering that he did so much in 4 years. In the end, the author makes the case that these years took a terrific toll on him psychologically, all this accomplishment by 29 years of age, leading to a short ten years of self abnegation and solitude before his death at 39 years of age.
For a summary of events and relationships between Syria and the US over the last 37 years take a look at the following short article by Juan Cole: http://www.juancole.com/2013/09/syria-least-helpful.html entitled "When Syria was a US Ally" A similar story can easily be told about our relations with Iraq/Saddam Hussein, from the time when we supplied satellite images and the sale of precursor chemicals for chemical weapons to support Iraq's war with Iran to our later war with Iraq; our successful support of the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran; our onetime support of Mubarak in Egypt followed by our tardy support of his overthrow; our troubled relationship with Qaddafi folowed by rapprochement followed by our support of his overthrow. Reading this account, the realpolitik and incompetence of the British and French governments are astonishing, until you compare them to our performance over the last 70 years.
Not hard to understand why thoughtful people in the region with some memory of their history and the history of much of the actions of the West in the area might be more than a bit distrustful.