Lawrence in Arabia

Lawrence in Arabia

War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

eBook - 2013 | First edition.
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A narrative chronicle of World War I's Arab Revolt explores the pivotal roles of a small group of adventurers and low-level officers who orchestrated a secret effort to control the Middle East, demonstrating how they instigated jihad against British forces, built an elaborate intelligence ring and forged ties to gain valuable oil concessions.
Publisher: New York :, Doubleday,, [2013]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780385532938
Characteristics: 1 online resource (xii, 577 pages) ; illustrations, maps.
Contents: Playboys in the holy land
A very unusual type
Another and another nice thing
To the last million
A despicable mess
The keepers of secrets
The battle joined
The man who would be kingmaker
Neatly in the void
A mist of deceits
An audacious scheme
To the flame
A gathering fury
Solitary pursuits
Epilogue: Paris.
Summary: A narrative chronicle of World War I's Arab Revolt explores the pivotal roles of a small group of adventurers and low-level officers who orchestrated a secret effort to control the Middle East, demonstrating how they instigated jihad against British forces, built an elaborate intelligence ring and forged ties to gain valuable oil concessions.


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Feb 04, 2018

T. E. Lawrence is seen as a reflection of what many commoners might have felt in the midst of the morass that became World War I: determined to get through the byzantine (no pun intended) negotiations and considerations that were foisted upon the world by outdated principles to arrive at an outcome that would allow his country some honor and the Arabs he was trying to help a measure of dignity that would justify the sacrifices he helped convince them to make. That he made great sacrifices himself is arguably the primary reason there was any honor or dignity to the outcome at all, but the compromises Lawrence had to make to get that far weighed far heavier on him.

This volume gives an extensive account of how Lawrence came to the Middle East, why he became attached to the war effort and, most importantly, what he did. Anderson also explores the lives and careers of others who influenced the war and to some extent the outcome, including the German academic Curt Prufer, the American oilman William Yale and the Romanian-Palestinian-Jewish agronomist Aaron Aaronsohn. What all of three of the men shared was that they were also at one point spies, and each of them was trying to play the conflict in the Ottoman Empire to achieve their own ends. To do that, all of them needed the mercurial Djemal Pasha, one of the leaders of the Young Turks, in one way or another.

But Lawrence is the star. The quintessential outsider-looking-in, he knew enough to distrust institutions, but his childhood interest in medieval warfare also led him to believe in doing the right thing. Why did he identify with Arab independence? Perhaps because his time in the region was his happiest memory; perhaps because there were aspects of the culture that reminded him of medieval Europe; perhaps because he had no love for imperial manipulation. Regardless of why, up until the very end of the war, he considered that his cause, not protecting British interests in the region.

The description of the beginning of the Armenian genocide will make the reader wince- much as it did both Faisal Hussein, Lawrence's military and political partner in the region, and Djemal Pasha, who tried to offer as much protection to the survivors as he was capable of. The specter of what happened to the Armenians also haunted the Zionists both inside and outside of the region.

Zionism was less controversial in the 1910s, but not by much. Like every other consideration of the war, it wasn't considered on its own merits but by what strategic advantage it could offer its sponsors or detractors. Lawrence himself was stridently anti-Zionist during the war in large part because he thought the proposals were ill thought-out and would further compromise the Arabs. However, by the Paris Peace Conference, he arranged for Faisal and Chaim Weizmann, the leader who would become the first President of Israel, to support each other's desiderata.

While much is made of the disastrous Sykes-Picot agreement (and the description of Mark Sykes is another moment that will make the reader cringe), Anderson notes in the epilogue that it wasn't the previously discredited agreement that paved the way for the modern mess in the region. During the Paris Peace Conference, the prime ministers of England and France wanted to make sure that they presented a united front against the other phantom of World War I- the idealistic but arrogant Woodrow Wilson. Sykes-Picot would have been an improvement over what they ultimately came up with.

You can't talk about Lawrence without talking about Deraa. Anderson comes to the conclusion that Lawrence was most probably tortured *and* raped, and his inability to offer an accurate account of it was due probably to both the social mores of his era and the psychic trauma the event would have caused anyone. Regardless, there is a certain bloodthirst in Lawrence that we only see after Deraa- and this is what mars the Lawrence legend more than anything else.

Aug 07, 2016

I recently saw David Lean's magnificent film "Lawrence of Arabia" (In the theater, as it should be.) and was curious about the historical context and the real Lawrence. Scott Anderson's compelling and illuminating book both gives you a picture of Lawrence as well as goes into depth about the politics of the period, which resulted in the Sykes-Picout Agreement that created the modern MIddle East and did an incredible amount of damage. It's useful to remember that the imperial ambitions of France and England laid the foundation for the conflicts we are still dealing with. An important book that anyone who seeks to make sense of the Middle East should read. I'd also recommend "The Fall of the Ottomans" and "Power, Faith, and Fantasy."

May 09, 2016

Very well written and an enjoyable read but very detailed. Consequently I could only read about an hour of it per sitting. This is a must read not only for understanding the mess in the Middle East today but the stupidity and horror of WWI.

Jan 23, 2016

Scott Anderson's sweeping history and biography of several major players in the WWI era is a compelling, masterful read, including for anyone who is trying to understand the roots of what is happening in the Middle East today. With its unique perspective and wonderfully-arranged and researched detail, it is a fitting companion to the best of WWI histories that focus on the theatre in Europe.

Jan 02, 2015

Excellent read. Thoroughly researched and a great bibliography! I now have a must-read list of 12 books from this bibliography alone. Very well written which is a treat now a days! It covers more than just Lawrence's life but all the other players during this period as well without making it confusing. Anderson does provide a very balanced view of Lawrence without vilifying him or making him out to be more of a hero than he was. Highly recommended and I'm a bit sorry that the book had to end.

Nov 08, 2014

This book is fine for the amateur historian who loves excruciating detail. I got lost in it and put it down about half way through. If you want a summary, see the movie. From the table of contents, I don't see a useful statement about why Arabia is or behaves the way it does, although that information might be gleaned from the book overall. But the book is unlikely to shed light on how the Arabs should be engaged in the modern world.

A must read for any student of Middle Eastern history. The story of T.E. Lawrence is a fascinating look at a pivotal place and time in history in which events were set in motion that continue to have impact today. Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for 2014.

Jan 06, 2014

A very well written book. Many of us know WWI history from the European western front standpoint, but don't have a grasp of what transpired in the Middle East during WWI. I found it well written and thoroughly researched. I was intrigued with how he described how the Western mentality of handling the Middle East carries through to today, numerous wars later.

ChristchurchLib Oct 15, 2013

"British Army officer T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935) was the dazzling focus of the 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O'Toole. In Lawrence in Arabia biographer Scott Anderson provides a more sober, though still engaging, portrait of the young man who supported the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule and helped to align the rebels with the British and their allies during World War I." Biography and Memoir October 2013 newsletter

Sep 29, 2013

Dense with information (a slow, but great read), well researched, and well written. It is not just fascinating story of Lawrence, but also the story of the WWI folly, the role of allies in the Middle East; and, ultimately, tragic redrawing of the Middle East map.

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