Book review

by James Nicholson

DETAILING the history of a most remarkable railway, considered 'so wildly improbable, not to say fantastic' by the British Consul in Damascus, this superbly-presented book describes a line built through the harshest terrain.

The religious and strategic motives for building the line are discussed, along with the hardships of construction and the unusual method of funding which saw a third of the costs met by 'voluntary' contributions from the Islamic world.

The brief history of the Hedjaz Railway will always be associated with the military exploits of T E Lawrence, but the author does not forget the roles of others, including the Turkish defenders, when describing the events of World War I.

He concludes by describing a meeting with two Turkish pilgrims on board a train from Amman to Damascus in February 2002. Returning from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul, they were unaware that their choice of transport meant 'they were still fulfilling the long-faded hopes and dreams of Abdulhamid II, the last great Sultan of the Ottoman Empire', and the driving force behind the construction of the railway.

Taking advantage of the hardback book's large format, the 176 pages contain a fine selection of photographs ranging from the construction works to relics still stranded in the desert, complementing well-researched text. ISBN 1900988 81X

£25 from Stacey International, 128 Kensington Church Street, London, W8 4BH, UK