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Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

19 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

T. E. Lawrence's Immortal Account Of Leading Arab Forces In World War I

T.E. Lawrence's 'Seven Pillars Of Wisdom' is as great as legend has it, the amazingly well-written story of a nobody whose genius only found expression in a world at war. In 1916 still just an obscure British intelligence officer in Cairo, he ended as Ya Auruns, the whi...
T.E. Lawrence's 'Seven Pillars Of Wisdom' is as great as legend has it, the amazingly well-written story of a nobody whose genius only found expression in a world at war. In 1916 still just an obscure British intelligence officer in Cairo, he ended as Ya Auruns, the white-robed leader of Arabians, finally taking them to victory against the Ottoman Empire. The book ends in Damascus, which Lawrence and his forces seized, which he briefly ruled, and which he abruptly left to the Arabs and the British. Of his life before these two years-- almost nothing. Of his life after-- and Lawrence played a considerable role in setting up the post-World War I Middle East-- nothing. But the two years he does cover he writes of in legendary prose, dense, very rich, intense, striving for perfection of detail, utterly gorgeous in its colors, striking with truth when he feels like it, teasing and elusive when he wants to hold back. H. G. Wells said of 'Seven Pillars': 'In my opinion it is the finest piece of prose that has been written in the English language for 150 years.' His subject's himself too, of course, hero and anti-hero, perhaps a bit too self-dramatizingly, but genuine in his torment, his understanding all along that the colony-hungry Allies mean to betray his Arabs' hunger for independence in the end, which leads him to call himself 'I, the stranger, the godless fraud inspiring an alien nationality'. The torment goes deeper than that, and here we-- and he-- delve into muddy psychological depths-- of masochism and sexual confusion and, too, a straining for a kind of superhuman mastery over physical limits, enabling him to outride and outendure the toughest Bedouin. All this murk just makes the book more interesting, adding dimensions way past those of the normal war memoir. But it needs emphasizing: The book is not some sort of self-centered, romanticized farrago. Lawrence is scrupulous in acknowledging the many other Britishers, and soldiers of other nationalities, who played a role in his campaigns. He's clear-eyed and wise in his character portraits, from minor actors to someone like the mighty but flawed, devious Arabian warrior chieftain Auda abu Tayi. He's fascinating and dead-on in discussion of guerrilla warfare theory. And then are the great and gripping setpieces throughout the book, such as the way he unfolds the terrible last battle of Tafas when the Arabs burned to avenge Turkish atrocities and 'By my order we took no prisoners....', or the unbearingly moving restraint with which he writes of having to shoot his hopelessly wounded servant boy Faraj to spare him the sure tortures of the Turks if left behind alive. Yes, the book is long, and moves at a different pace from ours, savoring every sunset, every change in the colors of desert sand, so maybe it's not for you or maybe is, but certainly it is for the ages.

posted by Anonymous on June 3, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

A reviewer

I'll keep this brief because I don't think I can say anything that hasn't been said already. This book is a hard read, told in amazingly lengthy and unbelievable detail. The story itself is amazing, but the actual campaigns he planned and led are actually few and far be...
I'll keep this brief because I don't think I can say anything that hasn't been said already. This book is a hard read, told in amazingly lengthy and unbelievable detail. The story itself is amazing, but the actual campaigns he planned and led are actually few and far between. His descriptions of the trips across the desert grew monotonous and the cast of characters was impossible to keep track of. That said, the man was amazing. He lived as a nomad for years, pulled the strings of the most powerful people in Arabia and spoke such fluent arabic he could convince the soldiers he was from the village next to theirs. The movie would have you believe he was the driving force to the 'insurgency', but he writes of his actions in a much humbler tone. The most interesting part of the book occurs as the conflict draws to a close and he confesses to the reader his desire to give up and his disdain for the people he's lived with. It was a very honest and intimate look at how emotionally exhausted he was at the end. I hate to say it, but the movie was better, but this offers some insight into why the middle east is what it is today.

posted by Anonymous on March 13, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2008

    A reviewer

    I'll keep this brief because I don't think I can say anything that hasn't been said already. This book is a hard read, told in amazingly lengthy and unbelievable detail. The story itself is amazing, but the actual campaigns he planned and led are actually few and far between. His descriptions of the trips across the desert grew monotonous and the cast of characters was impossible to keep track of. That said, the man was amazing. He lived as a nomad for years, pulled the strings of the most powerful people in Arabia and spoke such fluent arabic he could convince the soldiers he was from the village next to theirs. The movie would have you believe he was the driving force to the 'insurgency', but he writes of his actions in a much humbler tone. The most interesting part of the book occurs as the conflict draws to a close and he confesses to the reader his desire to give up and his disdain for the people he's lived with. It was a very honest and intimate look at how emotionally exhausted he was at the end. I hate to say it, but the movie was better, but this offers some insight into why the middle east is what it is today.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    Not an Easy Read

    Perhaps I decided to read this book because I had seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia many years ago and somehow thought the author would come across in his writings as dashing as he appeared in the movie. Alas, I was mistaken. While Lawrence writes fairly well, too much of the book is a description, in excruciating detail, of his movements between obscure places somewhere in Arabia. Occasionally he makes a cogent observation of the main players in the Arabic war against their Turkish masters during World War I (with the help of the British) but, overall, it was a slow read. However, if you have an interest in Middle Eastern politics, it is a book you should read. Just give yourself lots and lots of time to get through it.

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    Posted March 12, 2012

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    Posted May 11, 2011

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    Posted March 26, 2012

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    Posted August 10, 2013

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    Posted December 14, 2012

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