Author: Scott Anderson spent four years researching T.E. Lawrence with the help of many, many people. This author is unknown to me. The book was chosen as one of the best of 2013 by The New York Times. I want to know why.
Title: Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
Table of Contents: 3 parts, 18 chapters and 495 pages
Book/Printing/Cover/ Dedication: The book was published in 2013 by Doubleday. The cover is a disappointment, non-descript desert scene. Dedication is to family members.
Timeline: 1914 – 1918
Setting: Middle Eastern Front WW I
Themes: Geopolitical power struggles b/t Triple Entente and the Central Powers in Middle East.
Trivia: Film Lawrence of Arabia ( 1962) was upon its release a huge critical and financial success . There are striking visuals, dramatic music, literate screenplay and superb performance by Peter O’Toole. The film as a whole is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made.
- T.E. Lawrence’s military achievements, his major campaigns and the impact that his influence had on shaping the war in the Middle East during WW I.
- Lawrence quickly rose to prominence following the outbreak of the Arab Revolt in 1916.
- His skills in Arab languages were essential in helping him gather widespread local support and building up the Arab Northern Army.
- He pioneered new tactics, which would shape British strategy four decades later.
What was the most powerful weapon on the Middle Eastern Front of WW I?
Lawrence would prove very adept at using both the advances and deficiencies in communication to his advantage. He breached protocol to get messages to his allies. His favorite excuse was “garbled transmission” when he conveniently failed to receive undesired orders. (pg 210). Lawrence went so far as to reveal the secret plan in the Sykes-Picot Agreement to Faisal. Divulging of a secret treaty to a third party was considered an act of treason! Lawrence was willing to destroy himself for the good of Faisal and Arabia. (pg 270)
There was no list of ‘Key Characters’. Keeping track of ‘who’s who’ is exhausting in complicated historical situations. I also would have liked more detailed maps. The book’s inside covers give only simple sketches of the Middle Eastern Front. I also skimmed the chapter before reading it to discover the reoccuring trend. Anderson switches scenes among the key players. Now I know what to expect which makes reading easier.
Every chapters begins with a quote. I like this because it helps me “while reading. I ask myself the question: Why is this compelling? With those words in minds I start reading…..
Strong point: Epilogue is a good summation of what has taken place since the end of WW I in the Middle East!
I was not prepared for this book. It is my own fault. I thought the title was Lawrence of Arabia and expected the ‘story about the man’. To my chagrin the title is “Lawrence IN Arabia. That explains the extensive geopolitical theme in the book.
Considering the millions of words that have been written about Lawrence of Arabia, Scott Anderson has incorporated other people who were involved in the Middle Eastern Front WW I . These characters, an American aristocrat, a German scholar and a Jewish scientist give the narrative a ‘small fresh jolt’.
Still, the main focus was on Lawrence. He had an affinity for and an understanding of the Arab culture. His extensive medieval military knowledge helped him in the Arabian Peninsula. Even today his military tactics are studied at West Point!
My knowledge about the Middle Eastern Front WW I was nihil. It took time to appreciate Anderson’s book which brings me to my reading policy “give the book a chance.” It is not always the book that is the problem, it’s me. I decided to read the book ‘critically’. With that I mean ask my self questions like: “What does this mean?” Why is the author drawing this conclusion?” “Do I agree/disagree?
This takes time and effort but I must say I have no regrets. The book was a pleasure to read once I was in the right mindset.
This is my first book about T.E. Lawrence, but as a follow up I plan to do a bit more research and try to find another author who will tell me more about the man.
“I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time. I do not see his like elsewhere. I fear whatever our need, we shall never see his like again.” ( Winston Churchill)
Now…time to watch the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” one more time !!