'Here is a land of contrasts, climates, barriers, and diverse physical circumstances. It has been the birthplace of civilisation, has given the world the Gospel and the Koran, has seen the rise and decline of four great Empires and scores of principalities and dynasties.' From his own visits to the region, Lt. Col. Sir Mark Sykes felt that 'there is nothing in our daily private life or public life today which is not directly or indirectly influenced by some human movement that took place in this zone'. In this book he sets out to correct what he felt were the misguided impressions people had of the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Lt. Col. Sykes firstly discusses different periods from its history: from the Roman and Persian influence to that of Muhammad and the introduction of Islam, through to Sulaiman the Magnificent's triumph in Baghdad. In this way, Sykes hopes to impart to the reader the extent of the important role played by the Empire through time. The tone then changes and becomes more personal as the reader is granted access to the Colonel's own diaries and experiences in order to add more colour and insight to the historical facts already relayed.
Travelling with his dragoman (a Christian from Jerusalem), his English servant Joseph Finch, his Greek cook Dimitri, five Syrian muleteers, and sometimes his wife too, Sykes relates the many adventures of this international group in a wonderfully observant narrative. We travel with him on 5 journeys throughout the region between 1905-1913 before finally tumbling into 'a lousy carriage an inch deep on the floor in banana skins and nut shells, and broken meats left by its last occupants; and so to Damascus and thus to my journey's end.' This really is a window on a forgotten era.