As an explorer and Arabist, Asher (Two Against the Sahara) is well equipped to add an interesting psychological dimension to the figure of T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935). Asher personally retraces the footsteps of Lawrence, as recounted in his classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and in doing so takes the reader on an intimate journey into the mind and motivations of the popularly proclaimed father of "Arab independence." A bookish youth whose reading led him to view "the East as a parallel world, a dimension to which, in future, he might find the chance to escape," Lawrence fled his Victorian upbringing and an overbearing mother by joining, first, an archeological team and, later, the army intelligence service. Asher's Lawrence is a flawed man thrust by events into the forefront of history. Asher recounts Lawrence's exploits in the Arab Revolt in a fast-paced narrative style more suitable to many modern readers than Lawrence's original classic. Lawrence's subsequent disillusionment with the shortsighted view taken of the Middle East by Britain is not as important to Asher's story as the tortured paths of the explorer's soul. The book presents an excellent analysis of the personal demons that plagued Lawrence throughout his life, his revulsion over the horrors of war and the torment of reconciling his strict religious upbringing with his homosexuality. Asher points out several discrepancies in Lawrence's original narrative, noting Lawrence's self-proclaimed "aptitude for deceit," and weighing those inventions against the overall brilliance of the man and his work. Asher won't quite succeed in erasing the image of Peter O'Toole from readers' minds, but he adeptly ties the compelling figure of Lawrence to the political upheavals of the Arab world. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Col. T.E. Lawrence, a British army intelligence officer, led the successful revolt of the Arabs against their Turkish rulers during World War I, thereby becoming a worldwide celebrity, a role he retained and cultivated for the rest of his life. Bitterly disappointed after the war by what he considered the British and the French betrayal of the Arabs by failing to create an independent Arab state, Lawrence withdrew from public life to write his massive account of the revolt, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and to serve as a lowly private in the British air force and army from 1922 until his accidental death in 1935. Asher, who has explored the Arabian peninsula and written several books about it, offers a detailed, sympathetic, but nevertheless clear-eyed "warts-and-all" account of this extraordinary man. The thrust of the narrative, however, is often blunted by excessive detail. Recommended for the World War I and Middle East collections of academic libraries.--Harry Frumerman, formerly with Hunter Coll., New York Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Asher, an award winning British writer whose expeditions include a 4,500 mile trek across the Sahara Desert, on foot and camel, reintroduces us to T.E. Lawrence, the enigmatic "Lawrence of Arabia," through a biography that explores both the man and the Arab Revolt which initiated many of the myths surrounding him. He concludes after researching a number of these modern myths that "there could be no definitive Lawrence, but only an infinite number of Lawrentian images." Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A biography of T.E. Lawrence, of the linear narrative, pop-psychology school. Asher, himself an explorer and author of numerous books (A Desert Dies, 1987, etc.) braids his rudimentary psychologizing with a chronological approach to Lawrence's life, from his Oxford youth in the "long bright Indian summer of Old England before the Great War changed the world forever," to the motorcycle crash that terminated his "masochistic world of reverse valuesfor him pain was pleasure, servitude freedom, and self-denial orgiastic self-indulgence." Asher sees most everything in Lawrence's life filtered through that lens of masochism, the roots of which he finds in Lawrence's mother's smothering embrace. Crippled by all the attention, Lawrence assumed a "self-fashioned mantle of oddness": awkward, remote, homosexual at a time when it could earn you a jail term, thriving where his English mates dwindledin places such as the Near East, where he first went on archaeological digs. The relations Lawrence struck with the Arabs were characterized by the "paternal benevolence of the autocrat," according to Asher, and Arabia was a fantasy land wherein he could play out his youthful obsessions with the medieval, slipping into Arab garb, finding "a delight in being that `baron in the feudal system', a European in the East." Lawrence's role in the Arab Revolt is treated as straight rousing military history. It gives Asher, who follows in Lawrence's footsteps for much of the book, a chance to add some corrections to the Lawrencian legend; for instance, it takes three full days to cross Sinai, not the fabled 49 hours. Then came the postwar, odd-peg years; evidently uncomfortable outside of themilitary, he tries to reenlist; the hero goes looking for the oblivion of the enlisted man, "towards degradation, poverty, self-denial and enslavement," that reverse exhibitionism learned at his mother's knee. "Lawrence was perhaps the first international megastar of the century," Asher suggests, and this rather narrow biography pays due homage. (49 b&w photos)