A well-fleshed portrait of T.E. Lawrence (1888–1935) brought in burnished relief against other scoundrels in the Arabian narrative.
American novelist and journalist Anderson (Moonlight Hotel, 2007, etc.) is evidently taken with the story of the brash, contradictory, ultimately unknowable personality who managed to galvanize the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire “because no one was paying much attention.” The “Great Loot” brought out mostly the worst in those characters, portrayed with verve by Anderson, who were attracted to the lawless gain in the exotic Middle East. These included New England aristocrat William Yale, who embarked on a top-secret prospecting mission for Standard Oil in the Holy Land, and the German spy and Turkish adviser Curt Prüfer, among others. In contrast, Lawrence was profoundly moved by the Arab plight and what was increasingly viewed as Western manipulation and duplicity, revealed in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Steeped in the tales of King Arthur’s court as a child, the product of secretive parents in hiding from his father’s divorce scandal, Lawrence was small, shy and exceptionally bright, with ferocious self-endurance and self-sufficiency, an ideal candidate as an Oxford student to latch on to David Hogarth’s archaeological dig at Carchemish in 1911. As mapper and “Syria hand” for British intelligence in Cairo with the outbreak of war, Lawrence learned the lay of the Ottoman Empire and its diverse peoples. Once he offered himself as the man on the ground to render logistical aid to the leader of the Arab Revolt, Emir Hussein, and his sons, Lawrence was in a unique position; he added to his elusiveness by adopting Arab dress. Anderson thoroughly explores the making of the Lawrence legend, from the effortless taking of Aqaba to “the fantasy of the ‘clean war’ of Arab warriors.”
A lively, contrasting study of hubris and humility.