The romance of T. E. Lawrence lives on. . . and on. Born in the fables of journalists and his own fabrications, it has endured two generations of curiosity, devotion, and depreciation. Last year, John E. Mack's thorough and sympathetic psychological biography, A Prince of Our Disorder, retrieved Lawrence from hostile critics like Richard Aldington, who despise his lies, and stirred new interest in the man. Now Desmond Stewart, a prolific writer on Middle Eastern history and culture, offers a well-informed and readable biography that makes use of Mack but relies more on narrative than analysis. Following Lawrence from boyhood through school and archaeological fieldwork into war, fame, diplomacy, the post-war writings and obsession with obscurity, Stewart fills out the historical contexts and tries to reconstruct the sources of Lawrence's extraordinary actions and temper. Chief among those sources was his mother's firm hold on him, which he ""never completely broke."" Unwittingly, she drove him to seek the freedom of an exotic life, and yet she also fired his quest for greatness. But most of all, she nourished the compelling idiosyncrasy of his spirit: the willful confusion of truth and fiction. For, although an exquisitely demanding puritan, Lawrence's mother never married; hence Lawrence lived in a dissembling household and learned to enfold reality in myth even before perfecting that art during the war. In Stewart's eyes, Lawrence was brilliant and charismatic, but neither as courageous nor tortured as he pretended; and at heart he was a masochist--which became manifest in his last years. Stewart's psychological speculations are more subjective and literary than those of Mack, but not substantively different. And by viewing Lawrence in historical perspective, he provides the most up-to-date and objective narrative biography available.