Massive (944-page), definitive historical biography of T.E. Lawrence that strips off the romance and myth and leaves the...


LAWRENCE OF ARABIA: The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence

Massive (944-page), definitive historical biography of T.E. Lawrence that strips off the romance and myth and leaves the real man shining plain. Wilson had a choice in his approach to Lawrence: to write a historically accurate biography, or to write a subjective, critical biography that waters (and so defeats) the historicity with speculation. He chose the facts: Lawrence the Oxford student, the archeologist at Carcamesh, the intelligence agent in the desert, and then the postwar Lawrence. But what of all the myths about Lawrence's sadomasochism, his homosexuality, his need to be with men and avoid women all his adult life, the weave of emotional disturbances flowing from his--and his mother's--illegitimacy? It's all subjective. Yes, Lawrence did like to be beaten in later life. Why? To atone fox the moral violation visited upon him when he was raped while a prisoner? Well, perhaps, Wilson says--but simply gives the fact that, yes, Lawrence did like to be beaten on occasion. And there is the first man Lawrence ever shot--an act of justice he took upon himself to keep peace between rival Arab tribes. The fact is that Lawrence emerged from the revolt in the desert stripped of many common desires, with a dimmed passion for Arab independence, and began to hide in the Tank Corps, in motorcycles, mechanical engineering, and redesigning boats, and in writing The Seven Pillars of Wisdom while serving in the RAF, and later in translating Homer's Odyssey and writing The Mint, a book about barracks life. (He later disliked the Promethean style of Seven Pillars and found the epic voice it's written in unbearably overblown.) Wilson tells much of Lawrence's story through quotation of contemporary materials, wires, memos, letters--many made available for the first time by T.E.'s brother A.W., who authorized this work--all of which spring with energy. Wilson's own writing, crisp and unornamented, moves his whole vast work at an unflagging pace. Lawrence himself moves through these pages as an appealing, if asexual, eccentric, a gifted solitary who glows in quotation, a superb tactician and handler of men, and a blank-staring shy man who can find real life only in fleeing the biographers, journalists, and photographers seeking him out. Not likely to be bettered--a fabulous life told with restraint.

Pub Date: June 18, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1990