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Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle Eastby Scott Anderson
In Lawrence in Arabia, Anderson masterfully separates fact from fiction, revealing a truer version of T. E. Lawrence and his conquests than his 1962 portrayal by Peter O'Toole. An insightful glimpse into an important part of world history.
Synopses & Reviews
Finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography
A New York Times Notable Book of 2013
A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of 2013
A Chicago Tribune Noteworthy Book of the Year
An NPR Great Read of 2013
A thrilling and revelatory narrative of one of the most epic and consequential periods in 20th century history — the Arab Revolt and the secret “great game” to control the Middle East.
The Arab Revolt against the Turks in World War One was, in the words of T.E. Lawrence, “a sideshow of a sideshow.” Amidst the slaughter in European trenches, the Western combatants paid scant attention to the Middle Eastern theater. As a result, the conflict was shaped to a remarkable degree by a small handful of adventurers and low-level officers far removed from the corridors of power.
Curt Prüfer was an effete academic attached to the German embassy in Cairo, whose clandestine role was to foment Islamic jihad against British rule. Aaron Aaronsohn was a renowned agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria. William Yale was the fallen scion of the American aristocracy, who traveled the Ottoman Empire on behalf of Standard Oil, dissembling to the Turks in order gain valuable oil concessions. At the center of it all was Lawrence. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating ruins in the sands of Syria; by 1917 he was the most romantic figure of World War One, battling both the enemy and his own government to bring about the vision he had for the Arab people.
The intertwined paths of these four men — the schemes they put in place, the battles they fought, the betrayals they endured and committed — mirror the grandeur, intrigue and tragedy of the war in the desert. Prüfer became Germany’s grand spymaster in the Middle East. Aaronsohn constructed an elaborate Jewish spy-ring in Palestine, only to have the anti-Semitic and bureaucratically-inept British first ignore and then misuse his organization, at tragic personal cost. Yale would become the only American intelligence agent in the entire Middle East — while still secretly on the payroll of Standard Oil. And the enigmatic Lawrence rode into legend at the head of an Arab army, even as he waged secret war against his own nation’s imperial ambitions.
Based on years of intensive primary document research, Lawrence in Arabia definitively overturns received wisdom on how the modern Middle East was formed. Sweeping in its action, keen in its portraiture, acid in its condemnation of the destruction wrought by European colonial plots, this is a book that brilliantly captures the way in which the folly of the past creates the anguish of the present.
“Scott Anderson’s fine, sophisticated, richly detailed Lawrence in Arabia is filled with invaluably complex and fine-tuned information…eminently readable….For those already fascinated by Lawrence’s exploits and familiar with his written accounts of them, Mr. Anderson’s thoughtful, big-picture version only enriches the story it tells….illuminating….Beyond having a keen ear for memorable wording, Mr. Anderson has a gift for piecing together the conflicting interests of warring parties….Lawrence in Arabia is a fascinating book, the best work of military history in recent memory and an illuminating analysis of issues that still loom large today. It’s a big book in every sense, with a huge amount of terrain to cover….It’s high praise for both the visually grand film and this grandly ambitious book to say that they do have a lot in common.” The New York Times
"Thrilling....a work as galvanizing and cinematic as Lean’s masterpiece....It’s a huge assignment, explaining the modern roots of the region as it emerged from the wreckage of war. But it is one that Anderson handles with panache....Anderson brilliantly evokes the upheavals and head-spinningly complex politics of an era....His story is character-driven, exhilaratingly so — Prufer, Yale, and Aaronsohn’s stories are richly sketched...shows how individuals both shape history and are, at the same time, helpless before the dictates of great power politics." The Boston Globe
“No four-hour movie can do real justice to the bureaucratic fumblings, the myriad spies, heroes and villains, the dense fugue of humanity at its best and worst operating in the Mideast war theater of 1914-17. Thrillingly, Scott Anderson's Lawrence in Arabia (four stars out of four) does exactly that, weaving enormous detail into its 500-plus pages with a propulsive narrative thread” USA Today
"Expansive, mesmerizing, and — dare one say — cinematically detailed Lawrence in Arabia exemplifies the ways biography and history can enhance each other." The Wall Street Journal
“Among the many individual stories of World War I that will doubtless be told and retold for the centenary years between 2014 and 2018, that of T.E. Lawrence stands out from all the rest…[Anderson’s] book could not be better timed....Through his large cast, Anderson is able to explore the muddles of the early 20th-century Middle East from several distinct and enlightening perspectives.…[An] engrossing, thoughtful and intricate account.” The New York Times Book Review [Editor’s Choice]
"Brilliant....a dazzling accomplishment that combines superb historical research with a compelling narrative equal to any courtroom thriller." The Seattle Times
“Anderson carries his erudition lightly, but there's enough scholarship there to make an academic proud. As with the best kind of yarns, you don't realize what you've learned until the narrator goes silent.” The Daily Beast
"In this well-researched, sweeping account of the life and times of T.E. Lawrence, author Scott Anderson offers a fresh and compelling look at the making of the modern Middle East...a gripping narrative that makes this nearly 600-page account hard to put down....The book’s broader achievement is that it reveals the incompetence and deceit of Lawrence’s British superiors in shaping the postwar Middle East. It also offers a revealing account of other British agents and those from the United States and Germany in the remarkable events of the period." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Cuts through legend and speculation to offer perhaps the clearest account of Lawrence’s often puzzling actions and personality....Anderson has produced a compelling account of Western hubris, derring-do, intrigue and outright fraud that hastened — and complicated — the troubled birth of the modern Middle East." The Washington Post
About the Author
Scott Anderson is a veteran war correspondent who has reported from Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Sudan, Bosnia, El Salvador and many other strife-torn countries. A frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, his work has also appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper’s and Outside. He is the author of novels Moonlight Hotel and Triage and of non-fiction books The Man Who Tried to Save the World and The 4 O’Clock Murders, and co-author of War Zones and Inside The League with his brother Jon Lee Anderson.
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