Lawrence in Arabia, a book by Scott Anderson, recounts the story behind British officer T. E. Lawrence and the Mid-East theater during World War One.
Starting with Lawrence’s youth it traces the pathways he took in life in combination with circumstances surrounding him to show how he ultimately became the legendary figure we know him to be.
Lawrence’s ability to relate to the Arabs, to endure extreme physical hardship, and his knack for exaggeration and disregard for authority were the main attributes accounting for his fame.
Unfortunately, after the war, Lawrence became a liability for the British and was persona non grata when it came to making “peace”.
The book also follows, tangentially, the lives of William Yale, Aaron Aaronson , and Curt Prufer: serving as secret agents working at cross purposes for the Americans, Palestinian Jews and Germans respectively.
Anderson weaves a tale that behaves more like an adventure story than a history book and manages to keep it interesting throughout.
Bad guys include tyrannical Turkish occupiers, double-dealing Arab war lords, the British for making conflicting promises to Jews, Arabs and French for their own self-interest , but trying to get out of them, and the French for basically being the French.
It’s a good primer to see the early evolution of today’s Mid East.
Of interest is that the Arabs of the Levant viewed themselves as Syrian. Where were the “historic Palestinians“?
One wonders how different things might have turned out if the French were denied their demands; Faisal left in charge of Syria to forge accommodation with Chaim Weizmann in his belief that there was enough room for the Jews in Palestine; the Zionists and Arab nationalists united in a struggle against European colonialism; or if the U.S., in spite of Wilson’s desires, had acceded to the wishes of the Arabs and taken control of the post war mandates over the areas not granted outright independence.
Still a mystery is whether Lawrence, when a captive of the Turks, was tortured, raped, or merely seduced.