Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

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Overview

The story of an epic life on a grand scale, Michael Korda’s Hero is a gripping, in-depth biography of the extraordinary, mysterious, and dynamic Englishman still famous the world over as “Lawrence of Arabia.” An Oxford scholar and archaeologist sent to Cairo as a young intelligence officer in 1916, Lawrence was a born leader, utterly fearless and seemingly impervious to pain and fatigue. A bold and ruthless warrior, he was the virtual inventor of modern insurgency and guerrilla warfare; a writer of genius who ...

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Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

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Overview

The story of an epic life on a grand scale, Michael Korda’s Hero is a gripping, in-depth biography of the extraordinary, mysterious, and dynamic Englishman still famous the world over as “Lawrence of Arabia.” An Oxford scholar and archaeologist sent to Cairo as a young intelligence officer in 1916, Lawrence was a born leader, utterly fearless and seemingly impervious to pain and fatigue. A bold and ruthless warrior, he was the virtual inventor of modern insurgency and guerrilla warfare; a writer of genius who alternately sought and fled the limelight. Korda digs deeper than anyone before him to expose the flesh-and-blood man and his contradictory nature—farsighted visionary; diplomat and kingmaker; shy, sensitive, and private man; genius military strategist; arguably the first modern “media celebrity” . . . and one of its first victims. Hero is the magisterial story of one of the most unique and fascinating figures of modern times—the arch-hero whose life was, at once, a triumph and a sacrifice.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935) first won fame for his writings and his participation in the British-sponsored Arab Revolt of WWI, but the adventurer known even in his day as "Lawrence of Arabia" is remembered today mostly as the subject of the 1962 film masterpiece based on his life. This splendid page-turner revitalizes this protean, enigmatic adventurer. That this colorful British scholar/Middle East warrior deserves a better fate is demonstrated amply in Michael Kordas' authoritative 784-page biography. Exciting, well-written, and relevant.

Publishers Weekly
This magisterial biography of British soldier and adventurer T.E. Lawrence celebrates a life spent subverting authority in the most glamorous--and bizarre--ways. S&S editor-in-chief emeritus Korda (Ike) gives a rousing, lucid account of Lawrence's leadership of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during WWI and his diplomatic championing of Arab nationalism. But it's Lawrence's artistic bent--his Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a classic of war literature--and his magnetic but tortured soul that take center stage. Korda's Lawrence blends fierce ambition, monkish austerity, self-abasing masochism (sparked, perhaps, by whippings at the hands of his mother and Turkish soldiers), a disdain for higher-ranking brass, and a penchant for dominating it. After the war he tried to restrain these tendencies by enlisting as a lowly private in the Royal Air Force when he was a celebrity and confidant of government ministers. Korda perhaps exaggerates the novelty and significance of Lawrence's military exploits and makes an unconvincing stab at framing him in Joseph Campbell–inspired heroic archetypes. Still, Korda's vivid portrait of Lawrence and his warring impulses captures the brilliance and charisma of this fascinating figure. 16 pages of b&w photos, 26 b&w photos throughout. (Nov.)
Library Journal
T.E. Lawrence (1888–1935) lived an extraordinary life: archaeologist and explorer in the Middle East; military planner and leader of the Arab revolt in World War I; influential diplomat and statesman after the war; gifted writer; and a close friend and correspondent to writers, artists, and political leaders until his death in a motorcycle accident. Romanticized by Lowell Thomas and the popular press, he achieved wide fame in Britain and the United States that he sometimes used to advance his causes but more often shunned to protect his privacy. His story is well known, first from Thomas and later in the striking 1962 film, as well as through several serious biographies and volumes of his published letters, all of which Korda, successful publisher and prolific author, has examined to bring together the different phases of Lawrence's life, including his tense family background. The result is an engaging portrait of a talented man who achieved much in spite of a complex and sometimes self-destructive inner life. Korda calls Lawrence a hero in the classical sense, meaning one who trained himself for the role through moral and physical discipline, hard work, courage, and great skill at leading others. VERDICT Because so much has already been written by and about Lawrence, there is not much new here. The book's value is in its readability—it will draw in even those familiar with Lawrence. His life deserves a new biography every few years. History buffs and general readers will appreciate this well-written, fast-moving exposition of the rich life of an individual. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/10.]—Elizabeth R. Hayford, emerita, Associated Colls. of the Midwest, Evanston, IL
Kirkus Reviews

Book-publishing veteran and prolific historian Korda (With Wings Like Eagles: The Untold Story of the Battle of Britain,2009, etc.) offers a comprehensive, admiring treatment of one of England's most popular if controversial military celebrities, T.E. Lawrence (1888–1935).

The author does not restrain his enthusiasm for, and even awe of, his subject. He calls Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1927) "one of the great pieces of modern writing about war" and compares him with a dizzying range of characters, from Odysseus to Princess Diana. At first, Korda uses Joseph Campbell's work of comparative mythology, Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), to provide a framework, then, mercifully, abandons it. The author begins during World War I with the involvement of the diminutive young Lawrence, still in his 20s, already fluent in Arabic and other languages and already an authority on the Middle East. Korda describes military and political maneuvers and then retreats to narrate Lawrence's complicated birth (his parents were not married), boyhood, education and young manhood. Throughout, the author emphasizes Lawrence's deeply troubled relationship with his mother, but he also underscores his ferocious work habits, enormously high pain threshold (captured by the enemy, he endured severe beatings and rape) and unique combination of modesty (he refused honors) and pride (he wrote many letters to newspapers and cultivated friendships with George Bernard Shaw, Lady Astor, Thomas Hardy and others). Lawrence's military and political successes in the Middle East are undeniable, but his postwar life was a disturbing mixture of depression, enormous celebrity, a deep ambivalence about routine military life (he was in and out of the RAF) and sexual confusions. A motorcycle accident killed him at age 46.

Though occasionally fawning, an accessible, textured story of one man who intimately knew the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Janet Maslin
…the strength of Hero lies in its ability to analyze Lawrence's accomplishments and to add something meaningful to the larger body of Lawrence lore…Mr. Korda writes with authority about the disputes among the various camps of Lawrence biographers and scholars; about the lasting impact of Lawrence's ideas for creating post-World War I borders in the Middle East…and especially about the merits of Lawrence's writing and the bizarrely complicated publishing history that Lawrence created for his magnum opus. In all these areas, his commentary is sagacious and valuable.
—The New York Times
Jonathan Schneer
…captures the indomitable, tormented spirit of this extraordinary man…Korda grippingly chronicles Lawrence's military exploits and shows us better than previous biographers how likeable and lively the man could be…Hero is the work of an accomplished generalist. It is well crafted and excellent in its depiction of T.E. Lawrence as a multi-dimensional figure. It is a fine biography…
—The Washington Post
Christopher Buckley
“In case you thought there was nothing let to say about T.E. Lawrence . . . along comes Michael Korda with Hero: brilliant, illuminating, un-putdownable, a masterpiece of biography about quite possibly the most fascinating and complex personality of the 20th century.”
Nathaniel Philbrick
“Michael Korda’s new biography of Lawrence of Arabia is big-hearted and provocative—a page-turner that also helps us understand how the Middle East became the confused mess it is today. Hero is a magnificent achievement.”
Hugh Thomas
“A splendid biography about a most unusual and extraordinary individual.”
Stacy Schiff
“T.E. Lawrence is next to impossible to fix on the page. Yet Michael Korda has done so, delivering up a crowded, improbable life in a page-turning biography, every bit as rich as its protean subject. A splendid read.”
Sir - Alistair Horne
"Few come closer to appraising the man in all his protean grandeur, and essential mystery, than Michael Korda. . . . One of the most compelling books I have read in a long time."
Henry Kissinger
"Much has been written about him, but no one has succeeded in illuminating the quintessential Lawrence of Arabia so profoundly and so well as Michael Korda. Hero is a work of brilliance, discernment and meticulous scholarship that surely will be hailed as the gold standard."
Evan Thomas
“Lawrence of Arabia, one of the great heroes of any age, has found the right biographer in Michael Korda—a keen judge of the human condition and a master story teller who can separate myth from reality without diminishing the grandeur of his subject.”
David McCullough
Hero is a full-scale, major event, [and] a great biography. . . . The triumph of the book is Michael Korda’s brilliant, always balanced portrait of the infinitely fascinating Lawrence of Arabia, the relevance of which, now in our time, is of greater importance than ever.”
Sir Alistair Horne
“Few come closer to appraising the man in all his protean grandeur, and essential mystery, than Michael Korda. . . . One of the most compelling books I have read in a long time.”
Henry A. Kissinger
“Much has been written about him, but no one has succeeded in illuminating the quintessential Lawrence of Arabia so profoundly and so well as Michael Korda. Hero is a work of brilliance, discernment and meticulous scholarship that surely will be hailed as the gold standard.”
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
“Michael Korda’s magisterial and beautifully illustrated new book... is a stunningly good biography of one of the most famous, yet least understood heroes of the 20th century.”
USA Today
“The story of T.E. Lawrence’s life is one well worth reading, particularly for its insights about the history of the Middle East.”
New York Journal of Books
“Korda’s biography of Lawrence’s life and legend conjure up a pathos and a very human side to the mystique of Lawrence of Arabia.”
Daily Beast
“[Korda] has redrawn the map, and reinvented T.E. Lawrence, coming closest to giving this elusive holograph in a white dishdasha a pulse.”
Los Angeles Times
“An unexpectedly fresh, engagingly written biography that adds substantially to our understanding of this strange, contradictory, curiously admirable and compelling subject’s life and contribution.”
Associated Press Staff
“There couldn’t be a better time to brush up on the life and times of T.E. Lawrence. . . . Korda persuasively argues that had Lawrence’s vision for a Mideast peace prevailed after the war . . . that deeply troubled part of the world might be a far more peaceful, prosperous region than it is today.”
Dallas News
“In Hero, Korda presents Lawrence’s life in minute, fascinating detail. . . . Korda’s extensive research and straightforward writing make this a valuable addition to the Lawrence library, a one-stop resource for all who are interested in this hero.”
New York Times
“The strength of Hero lies in its ability to analyze Lawrence’s accomplishments and to add something meaningful to the larger body of Lawrence lore. . . . Mr. Korda writes with authority...Sagacious and valuable. . . . Most important, Mr. Korda makes himself a credible authority on some of the most egregious misconceptions that surround Lawrence’s story.”
Washington Post
“Michael Korda captures the indomitable, tormented spirit of this extraordinary man. . . . Well crafted and excellent in its depiction of T.E. Lawrence as a multi-dimensional figure. . . . A fine biography.”
BookPage
“Hero is a portrait of Lawrence in all his complexity that is worth its 700-plus pages.”
New York Times Book Review
“[A] beguiling biography. . . . Korda is at his best describing, after the heroics in the desert, the touching antiheroics of Lawrence’s later life.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061712616
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/16/2010
  • Pages: 762
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

New York Times bestselling author Michael Korda's books include Ike, Charmed Lives, Horse People, Ulysses S. Grant, and Journey to a Revolution. Educated at Le Rosey in Switzerland and at Magdalen College, Oxford, he served in the Royal Air Force. He lives with his wife, Margaret, in Dutchess County, New York.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 78 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(28)

4 Star

(14)

3 Star

(9)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(20)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 78 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 28, 2010

    A good look at T.E. Lawrence

    Previous reviewers seem to using the review space to express displeasure with the ebook price. I'm going to comment on the book. I've read a lot of Lawrence biographies and other work on his life and achievements. This one is the latest, and takes advantage of the release of many previously restricted files on Lawrence and his official actions in WW1. Korda has also read many of the letters Lawrence wrote throughout his life and has made some analysis of the circumstances in which they were written and Lawrence's relationship with the recipients. I found this book lucid and clear in expression and carefully researched and thought. The last section has analysis of some of the earlier biographies which often had obvious and varied agendas; Korda hoped, I am sure, to avoid this. Lawrence was never a take him or leave him person at any time. This is a must read for anyone interested in Lawrence or in the Middle East - the section on the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 is enlightening. Decisions made there are still giving trouble today, and Lawrence clearly felt he failed the Arab people. Korda has given us an illuminating view of a complex man and a life that resonates more that 75 years after it ended.

    28 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 4, 2010

    Outstanding scholarship and accessible prose!

    T.E. Lawrence is often portrayed as an enigma in the various biographies that have examined his life. Hero parses out Lawrence in an even-handed manner that allows the reader to walk with Lawrence as he struggles with the Arab question at the end of the First World War and then Lawrence's personal demons that assailed him after the war's conclusion. Studying Lawrence's involvement in the war is essential to understanding the Middle East today and the use of guerilla warfare all over the world. Korda's book is a great place to start before you engage lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

    13 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 24, 2010

    Pricing?

    $19.80 for the hardback and $19.99 for the digital version??? What's wrong with this picture?

    12 out of 36 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 19, 2011

    Too many mistakes

    Great book, however, the e-reader version is just too distracting with mistakes. Too many words running together. I have not found one page without this problem. Yes, I can figure out the words but that's not the point. There simply should not be these mistakes with an e-book priced at 20 dollars. And on page 329 it just jumps to who knows where. Really shows the HarperCollins just doesn't care. Sucks when a publisher ruins a otherwise great book.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2010

    Pricing Model Re-Think

    At less than a dollar difference for the hardback and ebook, somebody's either dreaming' or worse! I'll try the sample on the house and do neither with this strategy. I thought the whole business model was "sell 'em the e-reader, discount the book, save the paper, the shipping, the stocking, etc. And share the savings with the Customer."

    Lotsa luck with this thinking. This thinking leads to the same end as the geniuses at the record companies, just entering through another door. Someone will come up with "Bookster."

    11 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    excellent, highly recommend

    Alas, this is the book that should have won the Pulitzer for history instead of the polemic by Stacey Schiff on Cleopatra. In my youth, (AKA 1960's-70s), I tried to read "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" but Lawrence's reputation had been severely damaged by questions as to the accuracy and honesty of his own account of the Great War. I couldn't rightly judge the integrity of what I was reading, that, and Lawrence liked to immitate the ponderous style of Doughty's "Arabia Deserta." Korda covers these issues of accuracy and redeems Lawrence's stylistic eccentricities with many examples of his strength of description. Lawrence is an extraordinary man with extraordinary personal baggage. But Korda treats his subject with compassion and sympathy without becoming maudlin. He puts Lawrence's accomplishments in perspective, and gives us a picture of a shy, insightful man, full of very human contradictions who was a natural born leader. Taking advantage of long withheld archival information and other sources, he brings a clarity to his subject that has long been needed. This is a highly readable account worth the price of admission. In fact, I could hardly put the book down, and at just one page short of 700, that's saying something. Korda is honest and doesn't clutter his work with anachronsitic judgements, (unlike Ms. Schiff who likes to drag Edward Said into her account whenever she can). After I finished the book I decided to go out and get a copy of Korda's biography of Eisenhower. A good historian!

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The Many Sides of a Complex Man

    "Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia" by Michael Korda is a biography of Englishman Thomas Edward (T.E.) Lawrence better known by his nickname. The biography follows Lawrence from his birth to his early death.

    T.E. Lawrence was the illegitimate son of an Irish landowner who ran off with the family governess, Sarah Lawrence. They settled in Oxford, England using her name and brought up five sons, Thomas Edward being the second. From the start his mother had a difficult time accepting that Thomas will be different.

    Thomas got interested in medieval architecture and toured studying castles all over the world on many grueling journeys, walking alone much of the way. As World War I broke out, Lawrence's knowledge of the Ottoman Empire ensured him a post as an officer in Egypt and he quickly became the link between the British and the Arab revolt and becomes known to the world as Lawrence of Arabia.

    "Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia" by Michael Korda is an amazing biography of a very complex man. After reading this book I finally understood the allure of Lawrence of Arabia: as ambiguous as he was in his lifetime, he is just as much ambiguous in his death.

    Mr. Korda does an excellent job examining the different, often contradictory, sides of this complex man. Lawrence was an Oxford educated scholar with special interest in archeology and an imperialist, but he was also a ruthless warrior who supported a revolt against the empire. Fighting against the Turkish Ottoman rule Lawrence acted in a brave fashion which could also be described as fanatic and quite irresponsible. T.E. Lawrence was a sexually repressed vegetarian who would eat meat not to insult his Arab hosts, hated physical contact but didn't flinch when charging the enemy.

    "detractors and admirers alike tend to dissect his personalty into thin slices, separating the soldier form the scholar, the hero for the teller of tall tales, the victim of neuroses from the moan of action, and in the process losing sight of just what an attractive and interesting person he was."

    The author does an excellent job bringing the reader the many sides of Lawrence, from admiration "cool judgment under fire" to the introducing a complex man, depressed, shy but certainly eccentric. The T.E. Lawrence we learn about has "found himself in part of the world where his taste for sweet things and his dislike of alcohol were shared by most of the local population".

    Mr. Korda does a wonderful job describing Lawrence's harassment and sabotage campaign (basically hit and run tactics) using a small force which, by nature, was much more mobile than the Turkish standing army. A poignant part of the book comes when describing Lawrence's capture, torture and rape by the Turks. This was a life changing event for Lawrence and the humiliation he felt for enjoying the rape has haunted him to the end. Michael Korda treats this pivotal occurrence in Lawrence's life with sensitivity and seriousness it deserves.

    The transformation of T.E. Lawrence into the mythical Lawrence of Arabia mostly by Lowell Thomas is also a part of the story. However the author is quick to point out that the lure of his character does not overshadows Lawrence's real achievement, such as pioneering a new kind of warfare and his pivotal rule in creating three Middle Eastern kingdoms.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 10, 2011

    The cost is simply unacceptable.

    When I decided to purchase an eReader, in my case a NookColor, I made a choice: ease of storage and lower pricing in exchange for a loss of anonymity in my book choices and the ability to resell used books. Perhaps these two factors mean little to some but as someone who believes strongly in both conservation of resources and personal freedom free from invasive corporate marketing tactics based on my purchasing choices it was a major compromise on my part that took me the better part of 3 years to make. If publishers and sellers decide to charge the same or functionally similar amounts for eBooks as they do for print copies I have lost half of my incentive for continuing to purchase eBooks over print copies. If they cost the same amount I can recoup some of my purchase price of the print version by reselling it used, or better yet, purchase it used for even less and THEN resell it again, saving both more money and resources and not worry that someone will bombard my email with purchase recommendations. I simply will NOT pay this much for an eBook, period.

    As an aside, this note was also sent to the publisher.

    5 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2010

    Too expensive

    Great deal - buy Nook and over pay for e-books.

    5 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2010

    Stop whining about price

    It is cheaper than the hardback by $20.00. As for the book, it starts slow but is a perfect read for great stories and information about him. Can be dry at times due to writing style.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2011

    Loved the book, but the proofreading leaves a bit to be desired

    ....especially in the footnotes. Most of the errors are mistakes in capitalization and I found it distracting at times. I don't know if that's just the ebook version, or if the hardback is the same way. Shame on you, HarperCollins. I've read a few Lawrence biographies (none recently)and I like this one the best. Korda does an excellent job of juggling Lawrence's private and public lives with the complexities of the era, and gives us a little insight into the current mess. ("Messpot," is one of the names Lawrence used for the Middle East - for "Mesopotamia" - and it fits as well now as it did then, sadly.) "Hero" is so information-dense that I had to read a lot more carefully than usual. I even went online a couple of times to get a bit more depth on a subtopic than Korda was able to squeeze into a book that already runs to 700+ pages. I get the impression that Korda really enjoyed doing this one, the enthusiasm he has for his subject shows. Highly recommended.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2010

    More expensive than the hardback?!

    Why did I buy this device, again?

    2 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2014

    Very readable history of T.E. Lawrence but is too much like the movie

    I've read Seven Pillars of Wisdom and another excellent biography of Lawrence (one by Jeremy Wilson). This biography is mostly disappointing. It appears as if the author used the movie Lawrence of Arabia (1962) as a basis and then filled in with additional information. A good version for those that have not read the story (or seen the film) but disappointing otherwise.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2012

    Lawrence of Arabia

    Well written and exhaustedly detailed, I thourghly enjoyed this read. Generally it reads like fiction by is loaded with history. Some parts were slow but overall it afforded the often overlooked part of the birth of the modern day Middle East and the role of England in it. The real Lawrence; a real man whose vision shaped the world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2012

    Lawrence of Arabia

    A very long and tedious book. Hard together through for the most part even though I was looking forward to reading the book. I did enjoy learning more about his family, what drove him and his sometimes unusual personality.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012

    Very informative

    This book answered all of the questions I had after reading Seven Pillars. I know there are some biographers of Lawrence who seem to want to disparage him in some way or another, but in this volume Michael Korda seems to be pretty even-handed.

    If you've wondered about where T.E. Lawrence came from before the Arab Campaign or where he went after, this book is a good choice.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Great book poor copy

    The book makes for an interesting read about a fasinating man and time. Too bad the typos were soooooo prolific. It became distracting from the overall read and NOT worth the money spent on it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2011

    Even if you enjoy reading about Lawrence of Arabia, this book will be rough going.

    This is the kind of writing that makes everyone know that they too can be a writer. Grammatically and in most other ways, this was difficult to read. You will enjoy it if you love the world's longest run-on sentences.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2011

    The man and the myth

    Great book. It's long. Goes into great deal of history on his life. Still hard to put your finger on Lawrence-truly a great hero with as many oddities as strong character traits. Enjoyable thru the end!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A scholarly piece: a fascinating life but dense with detail writing

    T.E. Lawrence is a fascinating topic. A complex person with unique views and strong feelings. This book is a scholarly work on his life. Rich with accurate detail but weak in "friendly" presentation. Hard to read. I enjoyed learning about the subject but wish for more pleasure in the reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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