Lawrence and the Arabsby Robert Graves, Eric Kennington (Illustrator)
In 1914 the Turks still ruled Arabia. Lawrence had wandered the Mideast for years, studying archeology and ancient fortifications. He was friendly
T.E. Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia," must have been a remarkable man. Though physically slight, he had a commanding presence. He was a great leader of men, all action in the field, but intellectual and scholarly as well.
In 1914 the Turks still ruled Arabia. Lawrence had wandered the Mideast for years, studying archeology and ancient fortifications. He was friendly with the Arabs, ideally suited to bring them into play against their overlords when Turkey sided with Germany in WW I. His success was publicized by Lowell Thomas and he became a legend.
He and Robert Graves were drawn together by their experience in the war and by their interest in literature and antiquity. It was natural that Lawrence would ask Graves to be his biographer.
- Da Capo Books
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- 5.49(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.32(d)
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There are so many biographical treatments of the life of T.E. Lawrence that those whose encounters with him have been limited to having heard of David Lean's epic film Lawrence of Arabia, are left with at least two questions. First, why are there so bloody many examinations of the man's life? Second, if inclined to dig into the enigma that was Lawrence, why choose this particular book? These are question best answered in reverse order. Selecting Lawrence and the Arabs as one's first (and potentially sole) portal into understanding Lawrence has much to commend it. First, the author Robert Graves actually knew the subject well as the book was written in Lawrence's life time. Second, Lawrence himself authorized but apparently did not interfere with this effort, at least in part because he was tired of all the rubbish published about him since the end of WWI. Third, Graves is a very engaging writer perhaps best known for his historical novel, I Claudius. In Lawrence, the reader is graced with an extremely good writer, who knows his subject well and is sensitive to the way legends tend to grow over time if not reined in by historical fact checking. This book, although not without flaws, accomplishes all of that and more which brings us to the original first question. The answer to why there are so many works on Lawrence is that apart from being a fascinatingly complex fellow, one cannot understand the current Middle East without spending some time understanding the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Many Arabs see the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (endorsing a Jewish state in Palestine) and the originally secret Sykes Picot Agreement of 1916 (carving up the area between the French and English), as a betrayal of British promises made to the Arabs for an independent state. This is admittedly dense, politically controversial stuff. The options, then, are to admit defeat in understanding the difference between Iraq and Iran and the distrust and enmity projected toward westerners in many Arabian countries, or dig in at least a little bit. If choosing the later course, a way to do so is with Lawrence as your guide. Many referred to him at the time as a "white Arab" because although an Englishman he also was deeply immersed in Arab culture. His perspective was, if not unique, certainly unusual and quite insightful. Ultimately, Lawrence and the Arabs is that all too rare book these days. One that is highly entertaining, very well written and expands the readers understanding of a complex topic that is an unavoidable part of everyday life. If there is a qualification on the recommendation it is simply that Mr. Porter who reads the unabridged text is excellent but undeniable English as was the author. Neither the dialect nor idiom are particularly dense but if you found the Audio-books of Barbara Tuchman's or Peter Mansfield's works tough going for this reason, you will have a similar experience with Lawrence and the Arabs.
The author is as competent in his field as the subject is in his.