Bullard's is one of those legendary figures of British imperialism in the Middle East. But unlike many of his colleagues -- Gertrude Bell, D.H. Lawrence, St. John Philby, Ronald Storrs -- Bullard is a more a name than a personality. With the publication of his letters from Jedda (as well as an earlier collection, Letters from Tehran, published by I.B. Tauris in 1991), that lack of familiarity has come to an end.

The letters from Jedda date from two eras: 1923-25, when Bullard served as consul in that town during the rule of Husayn ibn `Ali, the Hashemite ruler of the Hijaz who had launched the Arab Revolt in 1916 and lost his kingdom to the Saudis in 1925; and 1936-39, when Bullard returned to Jedda, this time serving as minister to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Most of the letters are addressed to Reader's wife, though they include other addressees, as well as reports and telegrams.

The letters elegantly evoke a gone-by world and sparkle with humor (read the account of Lord Headley, president of the British Muslim Society, making the pilgrimage to Mecca). They also provide important political insights; here's Bullard in September 1924 on public sentiment on King Husayn: "The townspeople detest him and by his parsimony over the [British] subsidy and the pilgrim payments he has alienated the tribes. It would serve him right if he were pushed out altogether. The Wahabis are very rigid Moslems . . . but the Hejaz people are so sick of King Hussein that they would welcome almost any change."