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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

11 out of 11 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 June 3, 2008

    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 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.

    19 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2003

    Will Power Catalyst of Strength Through Unity

    T.E. Lawrence narrates with passion and in his peculiar style the years he spent in the Middle East, first as archeologist before WWI then as ¿free agent¿ of the British government in its fight against Turkey and Germany during WWI. Lawrence knew from the beginning of the Arab campaign that he was a ¿fraud¿ because of the duplicity of the French and British. Lawrence rightly perceived that if the Arabs won the war against Turkey and its German ally, the powerbrokers of that time would steal from the Arabs the fruit of their victory. Promises of self-government afterwards would be dead paper. After the end of the hostilities, Lawrence skillfully advised King Feisal and his delegation to get as many of the spoils of war as possible from the victors at the Conference of Paris. After the conference, the French could largely be blamed for undermining the regime of King Feisal in Damascus and pushing him to ultimately leave for Baghdad. The contemporary Middle East could have been very different from what it is now. History has the annoying habit of repeating itself over time because of the widely shared inability of mankind to learn from past mistakes. Despite Lawrence¿s disclaimer in his introduction, his ¿Seven Pillars of Wisdom A Triumph¿ offers valuable lessons to a contemporary audience to better understand the enduring complexity of the Middle East. Whoever has had the chance to journey through the Middle East can vividly remember at least some locations that Lawrence describes. The Middle East is one of the cradles of the Western civilization. Its cultural heritage is almost unmatched. The ancient law of hospitality is not an urban legend, but remains a reality of which Semitic people can be proud. Lawrence understood very well that condescending attitude towards Semitic people could only backfire. Treating its inhabitants with respect and understanding earned him their enduring trust. For those who have not had the opportunity to crisscross the region, Lawrence¿s narration provides a rare opportunity to gain valuable insights into the minds of Semitic nations. For example: ¿Semitic people had no half tones in their register of vision. They knew only truth and untruth, belief and unbelief, without our hesitating retinue of finer shades. Semitic people never compromised; they pursued the logic of several incompatible opinions to absurd ends, without perceiving the incongruity (pg. 38).¿ Does it not sound familiar for example in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today? ¿Semitic¿s largest manufacture was of creeds; almost Semitic people were monopolists of revealed religions (pg. 39-42).¿ Three of the most enduring faiths were born there and exported to the rest of the world with resounding success to this day. ¿Semitic tenacity showed itself in the many rebellions of Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia against the grosser forms of Turkish penetration; and resistance was also made to the more insidious attempts at absorption (pg. 43-44).¿ ¿The Arabs had tasted freedom; they could not change their ideas as quickly as their conduct. Deprived of constitutional outlets the Arabs became revolutionary. The Arab societies went underground, and changed from liberal clubs into conspiracies (pg. 46).¿ ¿British forces won battle after battle in Iraq. There followed their rash advance to Ctesiphon, where they met native Turkish troops whose full heart was in the game, and were abruptly checked. They fell back, dazed; and the long misery of Kut began (pg. 59).¿ ¿Till the end of the war, the British in Mesopotamia remained substantially an alien force invading enemy territory, with the local people passively neutral or sullenly against them (pg. 60 see also pg. 636).¿ Does that assessment not sound similar to the experience of the Coalition forces in Iraq today? Working tirelessly by both indirect influence and education rather than by forceful direction is key to avoid becoming or remaining a target p

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2003

    History, culture and adventure.....where do I sign...

    The phrase "fact is less believable than fiction" absolutely applies to this book. Not just to the book, but to the personal experiences the author recounts. Always an individual character, set apart from his peers this story is of true caliber well written and surprisingly reader freindly. Any person who has a dust speck of interest in adventure, not to mention travel, history and the world should read this book. It offers a fascinating glimpse of the attitutes of the time, complemented by an extraordinary man initially reluctant to tell this epic story. Perhaps this can offer some insight into current world events if only a small glimpse at a totally different culture and time.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2000

    A lynch pin book

    When I saw that there were no reviews for this incredible book, I had to write one. Winston Churchill thought this was one of the greatest books ever written. Chairman Mao used it when planning guerilla war strategy. This book has it all: history, adventure, betrayal, epic splendor, exotic locale, and an introspective hero/antihero at the center. One of the best biographies I have ever read.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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