A solid if incongruously unadventurous survey of the life and legend of that notably colorful figure, Lawrence of Arabia. The intrigue began years before he was born, when his father, a well-to-do Irish baronet, left his wife and four daughters for their nursemaid, a ""Miss Lawrence."" The girl's real name was probably Junner or Maden, and she was of illegitimate birth. She and the baronet--who took her pseudonym, Lawrence--never married, though they stayed together and raised five sons. Two were killed in WW I, and their second-born, ""Ned,"" became a legend as the leader of Arab allies in irregular attacks on the Turks in the Middle Eastern theatre. Yardley's thesis is that Lawrence may have been the first media superstar. All his life he was a clever exploiter of publicity, cooperating with American journalist Lowell Thomas, for instance, in a postwar stage show that inflated his exploits. Like many another media creation, too, Lawrence the man was elusive and somehow haunted. All his life, he was addicted to taking pseudonyms--he enlisted in the Tank Corps late in life under the name T.E. Shaw--and (Yardley argues) all his life he was guilt-ridden over an experience he mentioned but garbled in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In Lawrence's account, he was severely beaten by Turkish captors; in Yardley's persuasive revision of the episode, Lawrence was also repeatedly sodomized by the Turks, and--convinced he may have acquired syphilis--avoided sexual intimacy thereafter, while remaining morbidly interested in torture, punishment, and other exhibitions of dominance. Yardley handles such issues with tact as well as candor, inspiring confidence as he wends his way through topics thickety with taboos and ambiguities. Even Lawrence's death has inspired controversy. Was his motorcycle accident a suicide? Was he murdered? Was his swerving to avoid two bicyclists his final act of heroism? Why were there no photographs of Lawrence in his coffin? (Believe it or not, some speculators think that Lawrence did not die, but was spirited off to Syria!) Such material requires a coolheaded guide, and Yardley is that, if a trifle too stolid at times to seem Lawrence's ideal biographer.