Some years after the Arab Revolt, Faisal was asked to discuss the role of T. E. Lawrence in the war. ""Lawrence?"" he said,...

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A PRINCE OF OUR DISORDER: The Life of T. E. Lawrence

Some years after the Arab Revolt, Faisal was asked to discuss the role of T. E. Lawrence in the war. ""Lawrence?"" he said, ""He was a genius, of course, but not for this age. . . . A hundred years hence, perhaps two hundred years hence, he might be understood; but not today."" John E. Mack's treatment of this perplexing, larger-than-life figure is frank in its admiration for a man whom he sees as not just a ""hero"" but also a ""saint."" Knightley and Simpson's 1970 Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, which was based on newly released private papers and government documents, purported to expose Lawrence as a tool of British imperialism in the Mideast who quite simply hoodwinked the Arabs. That book also dwelt on Lawrence's sexual preferences, revealing the disturbing details of his flagellation disorder for the first time. Mack, a depth psychologist, finds rather that Lawrence used the British to aid the Arabs. He further marshals the biographical data into an argument for an unusually gifted, almost superhuman Lawrence obsessed from childhood with performing a great task: a need to imitate his boyhood idols from chansons de geste by freeing a people. While Knightley and Simpson have it that Lawrence's penitential self-abasement in the RAF ranks was justified, Mack contends that his conscience was overdeveloped, citing his shame over his illegitimate origins and early religious training. Above all, he considers his achievement so astounding that it transcends the accusations of his many detractors. Faisal's assessment seems most apt. If Mack's psychological detection intensifies the mystery, his subtly layered portrait only increases our fascination with this most bizarre 20th century legend.

Pub Date: March 29, 1976

ISBN: 0674704940

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1976