Lawrence himself probably would have liked this intelligent, well-researched, profusely illustrated biography, first published in Britain last year, that depicts the hero of WW I Arabia as neither saint nor sinner but simply as "an exceptional human being." The stated aim of the authors—who collaborated on two BBC documentaries about Lawrence (Brown also edited The Selected Letters of T.E. Lawrence)—is to offer "a centrist view" of their subject: a balance between the early, hagiographic portraits (most notably, Lowell Thomas's) and later, iconoclastic biographies such as Knightley and Simpson's The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia (1969)—which depicted Lawrence as a supreme masochist. Brown and Cave succeed, piecing together an absorbing mosaic of narrative text; letter, diary, and book extracts; and an extraordinary array of drawings and photographs—many by Lawrence—that delivers a forceful portrait of a man driven in his youth to surpass limits ("to challenge himself, extend his powers"), to burn with such intensity that he burned himself out—with some diabolical help by Turks during his infamous capture and rape. According to the authors, "He was physically and mentally exhausted" after the legend-making Arabian exploits, neatly detailed here; thus his astonishing self-exile into anonymous obscurity, first as Aircraftman John Hume Ross, than as Private and later Aircraftman T.E. Shaw. Illuminating every corner of Lawrence's life, albeit sometimes with a gauze-covered light (there's a curious reluctance to deduce the obvious about Lawrence's long relationship with the Arab youth Dahoum, for instance), Brown and Cave do their subject justice. Although in no way a substitute for John E. Mack's equally fair-minded but much more richly layered A Prince of Our Disorder (1976), their work, with its splendid photographs, is a first-rate Lawrence primer.
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