LAWRENCE IN ARABIA is Scott Anderson’s stirring historical/biographical narrative regarding this near-mythical figure in world history. T. E. Lawrence emerges from his too good to be true image (depending on whose perspective of course) with depth, determination and a wry slyness previously unknown—apparently Anderson offers the most clear-eyed view of Lawrence to date.
Anderson asks in his introduction, “How did a painfully shy Oxford archaeologist without a single day of military training become the battlefield commander of a foreign revolutionary army, the political master strategist who foretold so many of the Middle Eastern calamities to come?”
The answer, he says, is “…because no one was paying attention.”
If the various and sundry military and non-military actions surrounding WW I hadn’t been in such complete disarray most of the time, some incompetent general surely would have brain-washed or beaten Lawrence into submission or gotten him off the playing field altogether. Such as it was, the British military was so completely incompetent that Lawrence roamed mostly free to put together his own army of Arab warriors and lead them in battle.
For someone like me with very little respect for the way the military conducts itself in war or peace, it’s impossible not to be attracted to this hero/anti-hero called Lawrence of Arabia.
For starters Lawrence in Arabia has a complex and fascinating central character. However what makes the book truly outstanding is how Anderson positions Lawrence in the middle of a collection of novice spies, bumbling multi-national adventurers, and exotic Middle Eastern personages and weaves their stories together into one of those perfect histories. You know the kind where you absolutely trust the scholarship and research of the author; where you find the writing eminently readable; and where you land smack dab in the middle of a theater of war that is indeed theatrical.
I am on a mission. Before traveling to the Arabian Peninsula this fall I want to know about that world. I’ve been reading about the Middle East and/or Arab World and/or Muslim World in a rather desultory fashion for awhile and I’ve traveled to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey. I no longer feel ignorant about that part of the world; on the other hand I don’t feel very knowledgeable either. My mission is to know more than I know now.
The books I’ve read have so far been primarily by western writers but I have gathered a small collection on the Arabian Peninsula that includes Arab and North African authors as well. Okay, back to reading….