Bright young Englishman Colin Thubron came to Damascus, settled down with a Syrian family or the Street Called Straight, roamed the city for keys to its present and clues to its past. ""If the city is engaged in her entirety she evades or bewilders. Encountered age by age, she may be a little understood."" And so, as he gazes at the Tomb of Abel, he probes her fabled Biblical heritage. He recalls Damascus under Roman Rule, her hours of greatness when her dominions were ""larger than the Roman Empire had ever been,"" her life under Christian and Moslem, Ommayad, Abbassid and Turk, the French Mandate, and, after 1946, independence. The author serves up snatches of history and personal anecdote like Turkish Delight, seems equally intrigued with the family life of Umm Toni and Elias, his host, the devotions of the whirling Dervishes, or the intimacies of ancient royalty. He is a student rather-than a scholar; his book has a Wanderjahr elan tempered by his intent and acumen. Little is available on Damascus; Colin Thubron takes the reader on an excursion on the sort the British seem to make better than anyone else.