Using newly declassified records and long-forgotten memoirs, including the diaries of a key British spy, James Barr narrates the battle between Great Britain and the United States for political dominance in the Middle East after World War II
From the immediate aftermath of World War II through the British retreat from Aden in 1967...Mr. Barr draws on a rich and varied trove of sources to knit a sequence of dramatic episodes into an elegant whole ... Already, by 1946, the question of Palestine and the Jews was intensely vexing. The Jewish vote had become important in key American cities, Mr. Barr explains, providing a foundation for the book's fairly familiar narrative of a pro-Zionist U.S. clashing with more pro-Arab elements in Whitehall. It’s no criticism of Mr. Barr to say that his storytelling bogs down amid this diplomatic history. What is greatly to his credit here, as elsewhere in the book, is the total absence of moral posturing and ideological partisanship. When Mr. Barr comes to describe the 1953 coup against Mosaddegh, his book reads like a page-turning spy thriller ... Appearing amid the big set-pieces are numerous episodes that even dedicated Middle East watchers may have forgotten.
...[a] revelatory history ... Barr...has a gift for sketching characters ... Barr offers a fascinating account of the British involvement in Oman, where MI6 operatives and soldiers helped beat back a rebellion against Sultan Said bin Taimur in the late 1950s.
James Barr’s beautifully written and deeply researched book ... 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. If most of the events covered are broadly familiar, they are seen from an unusual angle ... The lesson...is that as war rages, strategies for defeating enemies are closely linked to securing the spoils of peace to gain advantage over allies.