My favorite books by Western veterans of the Great War in the Middle East

Why am I passionate about this?

As a professional historian of the Middle East, I’ve long recognized WWI as a vital turning point in the region’s history, when the ancient Ottoman Empire fell and the modern states of the Middle East took its place. Based in Oxford, I am particularly aware of this university’s role in shaping so many of those whose book captured the British experience of the Ottoman Front. But there’s also an element of family history behind my fascination, as in following the story of my great-uncle’s death in Gallipoli in 1915, I came to appreciate the magnitude of sacrifice suffered by all sides in the Great War in the Middle East.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

What is my book about?

By 1914 the powers of Europe were sliding inexorably toward war, and they pulled the Middle East along with them into one of the most destructive conflicts in human history. In The Fall of the Ottomans, award-winning historian Eugene Rogan brings the First World War and its immediate aftermath in the Middle East to vivid life, uncovering the often ignored story of the region's crucial role in the conflict. Unlike the static killing fields of the Western Front, the war in the Middle East was fast-moving and unpredictable, with the Turks inflicting decisive defeats on the Entente in Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and Gaza before the tide of battle turned in the Allies' favor. The postwar settlement led to the partition of Ottoman lands, laying the groundwork for the ongoing conflicts that continue to plague the modern Arab world. A sweeping narrative of battles and political intrigue from Gallipoli to Arabia, The Fall of the Ottomans is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the Great War and the making of the modern Middle East.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Greenmantle

Eugene Rogan Why did I love this book?

John Buchan served in the War Propaganda Bureau during WWI, crafting press releases that sought to preserve public morale against the terrible losses on the Western Front. Already a successful novelist, he created a new character named Richard Hannay who starred in his 1915 adventure thriller The Thirty Nine Steps. Hannay was so popular that Buchan revived him for a 1916 sequel set in the Ottoman Empire that proved an enduring classic: Greenmantle. Through his work in intelligence and propaganda, Buchan was aware of British war planners’ concerns that the Ottoman call for jihad that followed their declaration of war might provoke colonial Muslims to rise against the Entente Powers in India, Egypt, North Africa, and the Caucasus. He captured British fears of an Ottoman-inspired jihad inflaming Indian Muslims with the memorably Orientalist line: “There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spar. And the wind is blowing towards the Indian border.” It is amazing to think that Buchan managed to publish his book at the very height of the war in 1916, and it’s still a rollicking good read today.

By John Buchan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Greenmantle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an introduction by Christopher Hitchens. Richard Hannay is tasked to investigate rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world and takes off on a hair-raising journey through German-occupied Europe to meet up with his old friend Sandy Arbuthnot in Constantinople, where they must thwart the Germans' plans to use religion to help them win the war. Set during World War I, Greenmantle is a controversial meditation on the power of political Islam.


Book cover of The Secret Battle

Eugene Rogan Why did I love this book?

Herbert served as a junior infantry officer in Gallipoli and captured his experiences in one of the grittiest and most credible accounts of the horrors of that campaign in this early anti-war novel. His hero is a brilliant young Oxford graduate (Herbert was himself an Oxford man and served as MP representing the University of Oxford from 1925 – 1940) named Harry Penrose who suffered fear, doubt, and mental illness on both the Ottoman and Western Fronts – like so many of his contemporaries. Herbert captures the injustice of wartime courts-martial in which gallant officers were condemned for failing to carry out unreasonable orders. “That is the gist of it,” the narrator concludes in the novel, “that my friend Harry was shot for cowardice – and he was one of the bravest men I ever knew.”

By A.P. Herbert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret Battle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The Secret Battle should be read in each generation, so that men and women may rest under no illusion about what war means, a soldier’s tale cut in stone to melt all hearts.”

—Sir Winston Churchill

Originally published in 1919, The Secret Battle honestly portrays the mental horrors World War I inflicted upon soldiers. Harry Penrose is an Oxford student who enlists in 1914. He’s hard working, modest, and dutiful but struggles to cope with the toll of war. During the Battle of Gallipoli, Penrose seeks refuge to avoid shellfire, but another officer sees him and accuses Penrose of desertion.…


Book cover of Five Years in Turkey

Eugene Rogan Why did I love this book?

For all the interest in the British experience of the Great War in the Middle East, there are precious few books that captured the other side of the trenches in the immediate aftermath of the war. Liman von Sanders was one of the few. His book first appeared in German in 1919, but was published in English eight years later and gave American and British readers their first real sense of the Ottoman and German experience of the war. Liman began service in Ottoman domains as the head of a German military mission to rebuild the Turkish Army after the catastrophic Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. Given all he knew about the low level of Ottoman war preparedness, he was outspoken against concluding an alliance to draw Turkey into the Central Alliance. But once the die was cast, Liman threw himself into the Ottoman war effort with all he had. The Turks didn’t always appreciate him, and Ataturk was particularly hostile. But Liman shows respect for the courage and determination of his Ottoman colleagues built over five years in Turkey in which he participated in the Gallipoli campaign and in the Palestine campaign.

By Liman von Sanders,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Five Years in Turkey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Otto Liman von Sanders (1855 - 1929) will always be associated with the Dardanelles campaign in which he commanded the Turkish Fifth Army, the army that defended Gallipoli, defeated the allied invasion and, after a campaign lasting some eight months (April-December 1915) forced the Allies to give up and withdraw. He was a cavalry officer who was commanding the German 22nd Division in Cassel when, in June 1913, he was offered the post of Chief of a German Military Mission in Turkey: he accepted and took up his post in December of that year and took over command of the…


Book cover of The Road to En-Dor Being an Account of How Two Prisoners of War at Yozgad in Turkey Won Their Way to Freedom

Eugene Rogan Why did I love this book?

Jones was a Welshman who served in the Indian Army in Mesopotamia. He was among the 13,000+ officers and men who surrendered at Kut al-Amara in April 1916. However, he has nothing to say of the horrors of the siege of Kut, or the fate that befell common soldiers, many of whom were marched to death in the Syrian desert. As an officer, Jones was dispatched to the relative comfort of a prisoner of war camp in Yozgat, in central Turkey, and his story begins there in 1917. It is a madcap story of how the British prisoners conspired to persuade their Turkish captors that they were mediums and were able to communicate with spirits through a Ouija board. Jones and one of his fellow officers then feigned madness to secure their repatriation to Britain. While there is something of the tone of a public school adventure to it all, the book is a fascinating look at the conditions in which British officers were held when taken prisoner, and the workings of the mental asylums in wartime Turkey. Suffice it to say Jones and his colleague had their work cut out for them in persuading the skeptical Turkish medical officers that they were in fact mad.

By Elias Henry Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Road to En-Dor Being an Account of How Two Prisoners of War at Yozgad in Turkey Won Their Way to Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection of literature attempts to compile many of the classic works that have stood the test of time and offer them at a reduced, affordable price, in an attractive volume so that everyone can enjoy them.


Book cover of Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Eugene Rogan Why did I love this book?

Not hard to explain why I’m recommending Lawrence of Arabia’s classic – perhaps harder to explain why I’ve waited until the 5th slot to do so. The answer is that I have listed my five choices in order of appearance. After the war, Lawrence returned to Oxford where he was hosted by All Souls College and encouraged to write up his experiences of the Arab Revolt. He completed the first draft in 1921. Many drafts followed, some destined for print and others for obscurity (one draft allegedly went missing at a railway station, fittingly enough, given the damage Lawrence did to stations along the Hijaz Railway line). First published in 1926 as a subscription edition, most general readers had to make do with an abridged version published in 1927 under the title Revolt in the Desert, which quickly became a best seller. Lawrence’s many fans had to wait until after his death in 1935 to access a trade edition of Seven Pillars. It hasn’t been out of print since. I am always surprised by the success of Seven Pillars, given the oddness of Lawrence’s writing style. But he was there, is often the only eyewitness to write about the events he survived, and it was an absolutely captivating moment in the history of the Great War which Sevel Pillars immortalized (with some help from David Lean).

By T. E. Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Seven Pillars of Wisdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an Introduction by Angus Calder.

As Angus Calder states in his introduction to this edition, 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom is one of the major statements about the fighting experience of the First World War'. Lawrence's younger brothers, Frank and Will, had been killed on the Western Front in 1915. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, written between 1919 and 1926, tells of the vastly different campaign against the Turks in the Middle East - one which encompasses gross acts of cruelty and revenge and ends in a welter of stink and corpses in the disgusting 'hospital' in Damascus.

Seven Pillars of…


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Book cover of Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

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Why am I passionate about this?

On the expertise I claim only a deep interest in history, leadership, and social history. After some thirty-six years in the fire and emergency services I can, I think, claim to have seen the best and the worst of human behaviour and condition. History, particularly naval history, has always been one of my interests and the Battle of Jutland is a truly fascinating study in the importance of communication between the leader and every level between him/her and the people performing whatever task is required.  In my own career, on a very much smaller scale, this is a lesson every officer learns very quickly.

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What is my book about?

Captain Heron finds himself embroiled in a conflict that threatens to bring down the world order he is sworn to defend when a secretive Consortium seeks to undermine the World Treaty Organisation and the democracies it represents as he oversees the building and commissioning of a new starship.

When the Consortium employs an assassin from the Pantheon, it becomes personal.

Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

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What is this book about?

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