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Soldier in the Sand (ePub)

A Personal History of the Modern Middle East


By Simon Mayall
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 32.6 MB (.epub)
Pages: 360
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526777744
Published: 14th September 2020


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With the Middle East in a state of persistent change and upheaval, there has long been a need for a comprehensive, yet readable, study that can give the intelligent and interested ‘lay-person’ a greater understanding of this diverse, complex region.

The Author, whose links with the area are deep and long-standing, successfully does just that in Soldier in the Sand. As well as analysing its history and religions, which strongly influence people’s actions, attitudes and relationships, he draws on his own experiences and impressions based on his many years spent in key military and diplomatic appointments in numerous countries. In addition to knowing many of the key players personally, he has studied, at leading universities, British policy and engagement in the area and he understands the effects of this long-term engagement.

This invaluable book’s unique mixture of history, politics, academic study and first-hand experience affords the reader an invaluable insight into a fascinating, fractured and frustrating area of the world. General Mayall explains complex situations in a thoroughly accessible and human manner. This will come as no surprise to those who have listened to his lectures worldwide, but this important and entertaining book now brings his knowledge and common-sense approach to a far wider audience.

Soldier in the Sand by Simon Mayall – A Personal History of the Modern Middle East – is a history book with a personal touch and this is what makes it so fascinating. A historian by education, Mayall offers a very well though off analysis of the events that happened in the Middle East. At the same time, he was in the army for decades and he is from a line of military men, and that feeds into his analysis, giving it a more nuanced view. I think this is a must read for anyone who is studying the Middle East.

The book is well structured and there are many personal details intertwined with personal stories, starting with events that happened during his grandfather’s and his father’s time to his own first-hand experience. His approach is described as common-sense and that’s exactly right. I liked it a lot for its clarity. His emotional connection with the Middle East is obvious from his beautiful descriptions and that was wonderful to read about. Because of these stories the book is not dry at all.

As an example, reading how he had to learn 30 to 50 words a day so he could speak Arabic, in the 1980s, was really interesting for more than one reason. First of all because it showed the approach the army had at that point. It is obvious that speaking the same language not only enriched the lives of the soldiers deployed in the Middle East, but also helped to form closer relations with the locals. Secondly I remember reading just the opposite in Pen Farthing’s book, when they were not required to learn Pashto so they could speak directly to the locals and that hindered the idea of forming connections with them. Hopefully the army will see once again the benefits in asking soldiers to learn to speak, at an entry level, the language of the people where they are deployed or will be deployed. This is why reading personal views on historical events is so important, it shows how it can be done better.

5/5 stars

Read the full review here

Coffee and Books

As featured in: 'How Afghanistan may be a lesson for the misfiring midwest'

The Independent

This book is a lucid guide to the complex history and geopolitics of this puzzling region, told in tandem with the tale of an English family’s involvement in the Middle East. The author brings both stories to life by placing events in their context and lightening the narrative with anecdotes. Most of all, the book provides ample evidence of his successes in fostering better Anglo–Arab military relations and in changing British foreign policy in the process. Few senior British army officers alive today could claim such achievements. This, in itself, is reason enough to read Soldier in the Sand.

The Balliol College Annual Record 2021

Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall has articulated with such depth, flair and humour in this fascinating book.

Read the full review here

Phil Curme

"Informative, insightful and entertaining, Soldier in the Sand will appeal broadly."

Luke Coffey is the director of The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

Review by Jonathan Fryer

Over the years members got used to Simon Mayall (latterly knighted) sauntering into the Garrick, always immaculately dressed and just back from Afghanistan or Iraq or Kurdistan. But after 40 years in the Forces he has hung up his general’s cap and used the early years of retirement to put together a serious personal history of the modern Middle East. He skilfully weaves his own family’s century-long involvement with Malta and points East with a critical analysis of events across the region and Britain’s entanglement with them.

Somewhat echoing Lord Reith and his original vision for the BBC, Simon says he seeks to “educate, illuminate and amuse” with his book. He then plunges the reader straight into a potted history of the wider Middle East and Islam, the religion to which most, but not all, the peoples he has worked with adhere. One should sit back and enjoy it, rather as the audiences at Simon’s lectures on Cunard liners do, even if one doesn’t grasp every nuance at fist reading.

The Garrick

Mayall’s book is much more than a military memoir. It is a magisterial combination of family history intertwined with an academic’s knowledge of the fundamental issues that have helped to shape the political landscape of the Middle East, from the revolutionary zeal that characterised the era of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to more recent challenges, such as the rise of Islamist extremism in the form of Al Qaeda and ISIS.

It should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the complex web of loyalties and rivalries that underpin the politics of the modern Middle East.

Con Coughlin, National New 8/12/20

Simon Mayall is one of Britain's brightest and most thoughtful generals, and his personal history of the modern Middle East provides brilliant insights into the region's troubles from his unique perspective. His analysis of the revolution in Iran is particularly enlightening, and his personal experience of Iraq after the invasion of 2003 gives his critique of the episode a particular force. This is history as written by a participant, and I can't recommend it too highly.

John Simpson, Journalist & Author

Simon Mayall has produced a stimulating and thought-provoking study of the modern Middle East. Part history, part scholarly analysis, Mayall has drawn on his experience of more than four decades fighting and working in the region to provide unique insights into its people, politics and culture.

Con Coughlin, Daily Telegraph

Simon Mayall served as E Squadron Leader in the Sultan of Oman’s Armoured Regiment on Loan Service from 1985-1987. Soldier in the Sand is a ‘must read’ for all those who served in SAF.

A significant and entertaining book which his knowledge and common-sense approach should bring to a far wider audience.

Sultan's Armed Forces Journal

This is an incisive description of the conditions that have formed the Middle East since the mid-20th Century. It is particularly revealing in describing the dynamics of the Iranian Revolution and the resulting war with Iraq and the later conflicts that followed. Interspersed with personal recollections and delivered in a very readable style with well curated images, it is a fascinating read.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About Simon Mayall

Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall has known the Middle East since childhood and, over the course of his 40-year career, he has served extensively in the region. He was seconded to the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces for three years, took part in the liberation of Kuwait, served as the Deputy Coalition Commander in Baghdad, was the first Defence Senior Adviser Middle East and the British Government’s Security Envoy to Iraq. Additionally, he was responsible for helping to establish the new Royal Navy base in Bahrain. He was knighted in 2014 and also holds the US Legion of Merit.
He holds degrees from Balliol College, Oxford, and King’s College, London, and also studied at St Antony’s, Oxford, where he wrote a book on Turkish Security Policy. He is a sought-after lecturer on Middle East affairs.

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