Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East Info

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Finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award
in Biography
One of the Best Books of the Year:
The
Christian Science Monitor
NPR
The Seattle Times 
St. Louis
Post-Dispatch 
Chicago Tribune

A New York
Times
Notable Book

The Arab Revolt against the Turks in
World War I was, in the words of T. E. Lawrence, “a sideshow of a
sideshow.” As a result, the conflict was shaped to a remarkable
degree by a small handful of adventurers and low-level officers far
removed from the corridors of power.
At the center of it all was
Lawrence himself. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating
ruins in Syria; by 1917 he was riding into legend at the head of an Arab
army as he fought a rearguard action against his own government and its
imperial ambitions. Based on four years of intensive primary document
research, Lawrence in Arabia definitively overturns received
wisdom on how the modern Middle East was formed.


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Reviews for Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East:

4

Aug 20, 2013

Maybe if more people would have listened to T.E. Lawrence after World War I then an American president wouldn’t be at the UN today speaking on the Syrian crisis as I write this review.

It’s hard reading a history of lost opportunities because I always have an irrational hope that it will somehow end differently this time. (There’s a marketing ploy. Write up a non-fiction book, but then switch to alt-history fiction in the last chapter. “And they all lived happily ever after. The End.”) There are Maybe if more people would have listened to T.E. Lawrence after World War I then an American president wouldn’t be at the UN today speaking on the Syrian crisis as I write this review.

It’s hard reading a history of lost opportunities because I always have an irrational hope that it will somehow end differently this time. (There’s a marketing ploy. Write up a non-fiction book, but then switch to alt-history fiction in the last chapter. “And they all lived happily ever after. The End.”) There are certainly no shortages of miscalculations and mistakes that have haunted the world since the ‘war to end all wars’.

As the title suggests, this is primarily about T.E. Lawrence (a/k/a Lawrence of Arabia) whose exploits in the Middle East during World War I became the stuff of legend. However, this is not just another biography, rather it examines all the political intrigue, double dealing, back stabbing, and outright espionage that went on in that region during the war. Then it digs into how all this plotting created a mess that we’re still dealing with today.

In addition to Lawrence several other people and their actions are detailed. There was William Yale who worked for an oil company that pulled all the kinds of sleazy maneuvers to secure future profits, and then he went on to be America’s chief intelligence officer in the region once the US entered the war. Curt Prufer was a German diplomat in Cairo that ran a variety of intelligence and propaganda operations. Aaron Aaronsohn was a Jewish agronomist who set up a spy ring as he supposedly worked for the Turks in the hope that he could use it to convince England to set up a Zionist nation after the war. Mark Sykes was a British diplomat who secretly negotiated a treaty to divvy up the area with France after the war, and then promised the Arab leaders independence if they’d revolt against Turkey.

All of these people and many more played a role in the ultimate outcome with their competing agendas, but it’s Lawrence who remains the fascinating pivotal figure in the story. As anyone who’s seen the classic movie about him knows, Lawrence was a conflicted man. As a scholar who knew the Middle East he started as a lowly mapmaker for the British, but eventually he became a critical part of convincing many Arabs to fight against the Turks. He was aware that he could be setting them up for betrayal and hated himself for it. At times he’d try to subvert the plans of men like Sykes while technically committing treason in the process by flat out telling his chief Arab ally Faisal that the British would double cross them for the French after the war, but he also risked his life countless times carrying out British war plans in the desert. By the end of the story Lawrence has become a tragic figure who was left shattered by the war and his failure to help the Arabs achieve a fairer deal.

It's an interesting account of the region during the war both in terms of the military and political machinations that every player was engaged in. Ironically, the Arabs so mistrusted Britain and France by war’s end that they would have preferred the Americans to step in as honest brokers, but Wilson’s administration squandered yet another chance to achieve stability by keeping the mess at a distance other than making sure the oil companies got what they wanted.

Anderson lays out how lies and greed wasted a prime opportunity to restructure the Middle East, but he’s realistic enough to note that there were far too many groups with differing motives involved to make everyone happy. That there would almost certainly have been major problems no matter who was in charge. Still, he paints a convincing picture of how things could have been better. More’s the pity. ...more
3

Aug 23, 2013

Anderson's new book Lawrence In Arabia offers the benefit of introducing the cast of characters surrounding Lawrence's exploits, providing important context for the complexity of the era. Unfortunately Anderson never mentions a person critical to the success of the British WWI efforts - Gertrude Bell. She traversed the harrowing Njed Desert as did Lawrence, only she did this years before him. She learned the languages and tribal politics of the region, and her maps were used for all subsequent Anderson's new book Lawrence In Arabia offers the benefit of introducing the cast of characters surrounding Lawrence's exploits, providing important context for the complexity of the era. Unfortunately Anderson never mentions a person critical to the success of the British WWI efforts - Gertrude Bell. She traversed the harrowing Njed Desert as did Lawrence, only she did this years before him. She learned the languages and tribal politics of the region, and her maps were used for all subsequent military and intelligence work by the Arab Bureau in Cairo, where Lawrence was also a member. She transferred to Iraq and successfully navigated English colonial politics to ensure Faisal's installation as King and the British Empire's access to India. By the end of her lifetime's service for the Foreign Office she concluded the region would inevitably be governed by tribal Arab loyalties rather than any superimposed western form of government. In her diaries, she describes meeting Lawrence when he was new to archaeology on a dig in Syria, remarking that she "wasn't sure he would come to much". However they both contributed greatly to the intelligence work at the Arab Bureau in Cairo, and after WWI they both attended the Paris Peace talks and pushed for Faisal to lead the Arabs in Iraq. I find it a great pity that her name is so often omitted as a key figure from histories of the period. The Arabs themselves thought of her as "an honorary man", for her leadership, language and mapping skills, and sheer courage. I strongly believe she should have been included by Anderson as a peer of Lawrence, whose exploits were built on so much of what she had already accomplished in Arabia. Her accomplishments are well documented in numerous scholarly books about her, and in her own writings and diaries. Scott Anderson is a journalist, a professional writer, and someone who should have been aware of these published sources. So I was dismayed to find his book's index has not a single entry for this significant figure of the time in Arabia.

I write from the perspective of a 22-year career as an archaeologist and scientist in the eastern Mediterranean, with extensive travels in the region, and years of research on Gertrude Bell for a film project. But perhaps I am most offended from the perspective of being a woman, and watching how invisible even great women remain.
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4

Jan 17, 2019

Lawrence was no ordinary man: Brave, resolute, passionate, intelligent, reflective, quiet, cold, distant, stoic, conflicted, righteous, deceitful, independent, eccentric. Anderson digs into the psychology of Lawrence and the constant mind games he was engaged in as much as his military exploits. While Lawrence is the main story, Anderson weaves in and out of several others, these include: Aron Aaronsohn – A Jewish agronomist living in Syria turned spymaster to help the British in hopes of Lawrence was no ordinary man: Brave, resolute, passionate, intelligent, reflective, quiet, cold, distant, stoic, conflicted, righteous, deceitful, independent, eccentric. Anderson digs into the psychology of Lawrence and the constant mind games he was engaged in as much as his military exploits. While Lawrence is the main story, Anderson weaves in and out of several others, these include: Aron Aaronsohn – A Jewish agronomist living in Syria turned spymaster to help the British in hopes of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. William Yale - A Standard Oil of New York agent who secured oil concessions in Syria then becoming an American intelligence agent in Cairo. Curt Prüfer – A German intelligence agent. Djemal Pasha – The Ottoman governor of Syria. With all these characters and many more we learn about Ottoman rule of its Arab territories, the Armenian genocide, Turkish and Arab fighters and their harsh tactics, British controlled Cairo, the British bureaucracy, French diplomacy, horrendous British military tactics, the Jewish settlers, Standard Oil of New York, the Arabian desert and much more. True to the book’s title, we see how the modern Middle East formed. The book starts off slow as Anderson lays the groundwork and introduces the key figures, but with that work done the story takes off. My notes below focus solely on Lawrence.

Lawrence, born in 1888, grew up in a middle class family. An exceptionally bright student he was admitted to Oxford where he was drawn to archeology. Attracted to the Middle Ages and the Middle East, he spent the summer of 1909 in Syria studying the castles of the Crusaders. He used his original research in his thesis earning coveted first-class honors. After graduation Lawrence returned to Syria where he worked on excavations and getting to know the land. Unlike most Westerners, Lawrence eschewed luxuries. He could walk miles through searing heat with a phenomenal capacity to endure the harshest conditions. He ate simply and embraced the local people who responded in kind. At that time Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence resented the Turkish administrators and embraced the local Arab population. When in January of 1914 Lawrence was asked to help the British military map the Sinai to prepare for possible attacks on the Suez Canal, Lawrence readily agreed. He was now a recognized expert on the topography of much of Syria and Palestine. After the breakout of war in august 1914 Lord Kitchener personally wrote Lawrence not to enlist, but to wait for assignment. First Lawrence went to London preparing maps for the military and was commissioned a second Lieutenant. After Turkey entered the war as a German ally he was transferred to British intelligence in Cairo.

Lawrence recognized that the weakness of the Ottoman Empire was the resentment of the non-Turkish population including Christians and Jews. In Cairo he hatched a plan to invade Alexandretta on the coast of Syria just south of Anatolia. Weakly defended with a populace that hated the Turks, such an invasion could lead to widespread revolt and separate Turkey from its Arab empire. Unfortunately the French objected not wanting British troops in its area of interest, Syria. London instead decided to invade Gallipoli which proved disastrous.

Lawrence studied people like he studied topography, carefully and patiently. After being sent into the Hejaz (western Saudi Arabia) to meet tribal leaders, Lawrence, determined that Faisal ibn Hussein had the necessary passion to lead an Arab uprising. Aiding Lawrence was his fluent Arabic and experience in Arab cultures. He also relied on his study of medieval European military tactics at Oxford to understand how these men were recruited and organized and how they would fight. For these clansmen and tribal leaders were analogous to the knights and their legions in 14th century France. Lawrence as usual would come up with a plan that went against the British decision making bureaucracy. However as an intelligence agent with access to highly classified data, he knew well how this bureaucracy worked and how to manipulate it. Lawrence embedded himself with the tribes learning how to talk to the Arab chieftains to win them over to his point of view.

In December 1916 Lawrence became a valued aid to Faisal who convinced the British to assign Lawrence to him personally. Lawrence was thrilled but soon disillusioned as he saw Faisal waiver when faced with actual combat. But as Lawrence gained more experience he became more realistic about what the Arabs could accomplish and more importantly which Arabs he could rely on. Lawrence grew to identify with the Arab cause even more than Britain’s. He was disillusioned with the duplicity of his own government’s dealings although Lawrence also used deceit to achieve his aims. Britain promised Faisal’s father, Emir Hussein, in the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence that if the Arab’s revolted that the British would guarantee them independence for their new country. That included Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq with the exception of small temporary enclaves. Hussein believed the British and kept that letter in his pocket. But the British also promised Syria and Lebanon to the French in the secret Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916. British MP Mark Sykes also promised the Zionist community they could have Palestine for their help in the war. Lawrence hated the French who he saw as even more double dealing than the British and did not want them to get Syria. Taking a step for which he could have been court-martialed, Lawrence shared confidential information about the Anglo-French agreement with Faisal to convince him to attack the Turks in Syria. Lawrence was determined to see the Arabs take Syria from the Turks so that they and not the French could not have it once the Ottoman Empire was defeated.

In March 1917 Lawrence led his first attack on a Turkish railway station at Aba el Naam. The attack did much damage but failed to take out the locomotive as Lawrence saw many of his Arab allies retreat in the face of danger. Lawrence started meeting with many tribes to assess how much they could and would help and how reliable they would be. To further prepare for his campaign to take Syria Lawrence went on a dangerous solo trip from the Hejaz to the outskirts of Damascus, an effort that would earn him a nomination for the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honor. He met with Syrian tribal leaders to glean how much support an Arab invasion would get. Most were hesitant even though conditions under the Ottomans had deteriorated badly with food shortages, epidemics and masses of starving deported Armenians.

In June 1917 upon return to the Hejaz Lawrence organized an Arab force to attack Aqaba. It would be a long journey through harsh land with blistering heat and withering sandstorms to come at the city from the backside which the Turks would not expect. Lawrence also directed many small parties to venture into southern Syria and destroy bridges and other Turkish assets to divert attention from his main objective. The journey was especially hard on Lawrence who suffered from recurring malaria and boils among other ailments. But his endurance was legendary. In route Lawrence and his accompanying tribal fighters, primarily the Howeitat, surprised and massacred a Turkish force of 550 at Aba el Lissan. This was revenge for the Howeitat. The Turks had cut the throats of everyone, mostly woman and children, in a Howeitat settlement while the men were away. The Howeitat hatred of the Turks is why Lawrence saw them as reliable allies. Approaching Aqaba from the mountains, Lawrence caught the Turks with no defensive positions. They surrendered.

In July 1917 having traveled some 1300 miles by camel in the last thirty days, Lawrence raced another 150 to reach Cairo and report to HQ which still didn’t know Aqaba had been captured. His uniform long gone he reported in tattered Arab robes. His success brought him immediate fame and glory. He parlayed that into a plan for a two prong attack with British forces under General Allenby. The British would proceed to Palestine along the coast. Lawrence and whatever Arab allies he could muster would proceed inland to Syria. First he would conduct a raid from Aqaba on a bridge and crossing train near Mudowarra. Exploding a mine on the bridge sent the locomotives into the underlying culvert. Lawrence had Lewis machine guns and a Stokes mortar which decimated the Turkish soldiers. The accompanying 100 Arab fighters finished the job looting the train which also carried civilians many of whom were also killed. Similar raids were conducted while Lawrence waited for the British offensive in Palestine. Some Arabs were motivated by hatred of the Turks but many were motivated by profit. Throughout the ensuing campaigns revelations about the English commitments to French autonomy in Syria and a Jewish homeland in Palestine would make the Arab’s question their allegiance to the British. This resulted in Faisal with Lawrence concurrence initiating negotiations with the Turks which would be ongoing but not fruitful. Lawrence knew the British would find out and wanted them to stop taking the Arabs for granted.

In November 1917 with a £20,000 ($2.1 million today) bounty on his head Lawrence led a dangerous raid to blow up a railroad bridge in Turkish controlled Syria. The goal was to prevent Turkish reinforcements as General Allenby attacked the Turks in Palestine. Much went wrong. Lawrence had too little demolition cable resulting in his being wounded. Worse one of his men was Turkish spy. The Turks were alerted and the operation failed. But Lawrence was determined to do something. He found a Turkish troop train to blow up in Minifer as a consolation prize. Then he decided to scout the Deraa train station in Syria. Caught by the Turks he was tortured and probably raped. Somehow he got away. Lawrence offered several versions of what happened perhaps trying to hide his humiliation. Lawrence found his way back to Aqaba and from there to Jerusalem to meet a victorious General Allenby.

In January 1918 Lawrence working with Faisal and the Arab Legion took the town of Tafileh in inland Syria. But Lawrence after his ordeal at Deraa recruited his own personal guard of about 60 men who would be loyal only to him. These were mostly outlaws and outcasts of the tribes so they would have no competing loyalty. Many would die in the ensuing battles. The Turks sent a thousand men to retake Tafileh. Lawrence using a classic pincer attack destroyed this army for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order medal. The battle also showed Lawrence had become hardened caring little while the Arabs finished off the Turks trapped in a gorge.

The battle at Tafileh was a success but the broader objectives were no longer feasible since Lawrence left control of £6,000 worth of gold in the hands of Hussein’s 21 year old son, Zeid. The gold was to pay the fighters who would join Lawrence in a new attack but Zeid used it to pay back wages mostly to uninvolved tribes. Lawrence devastated went to report to General Allenby half expecting to be relieved. But Allenby had bigger concerns planning a new attack. This direct attack on the Turks and Germans in Palestine failed with heavy casualties. Then he found out half his troops were being transferred to France. Also the Imperial Camel Corps was to be eliminated. Lawrence asked what about the camels. Many camels had been killed in the war and were in heavy demand. Few were available limiting how many Arabs could join the fight. Allenby gave Lawrence 2,000 fine camels. Lawrence was ecstatic as was Faisal.

In September 1918 Allenby, reinforced by British Arab Legion troops from Iraq and Indian troops, again attacked the Turkish army in Palestine, this time with more innovative tactics. Lawrence was to isolate the important Deraa rail station to block Turkish reinforcements. In addition to the camels Lawrence took advantage of new technology, the Rolls Royce armored car, enabling him to speed around destroying railway tracks and bridges with great efficiency. Lawrence’s attacks with Arab fighters proved successful preventing Turkish reinforcements. Allenby’s attack sent the Turks and Germans reeling. Lawrence was ready in ambush as they retreated. His Arab forces killed many thousands. They were spurred on by the brutality of the retreating Turks who were killing and raping all Arab civilians they could find including children. Witnessing this civilian carnage Lawrence OK’d that there would be no Turkish prisoners and the Arabs took out their revenge. Soundly beaten the Turks abandoned Damascus retreating to the Anatolian border.

In October 1918 Lawrence and Faisal met with General Allenby who said Faisal would be in charge of Syria but that he would have to work through a French liaison officer in governing the country. Lawrence and Faisal both were stunned as Britain had indicated the Sykes-Picot agreement was dead and had promised the Arabs they would have an independent Syria. But Britain had yielded to French pressure just a month earlier. Lawrence refused to work with the French and demanded he be returned to England which he was allowed to do. Summoned to Buckingham Palace by King George V, Lawrence thought the meeting would be about ongoing Middle East negotiations. Entering the room facing the King he soon realized he was to be knighted which he declined turned around and walked away.

In December 1918 Lloyd George met with Clemenceau. They divided the Middle East between them with France taking Syria including Lebanon and Britain taking Iraq and Palestine including Trans-Jordan. Still Lawrence tried to help the Arabs working as an advisor to Faisal at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference to little avail and angering the British negotiators. Britain soon found itself fighting off a revolt in Iraq with thousands dying. In 1920 Lloyd George made Churchill Colonial Secretary. Churchill turned to Lawrence who helped him make significant changes. Faisal was crowned King of Iraq. Faisal had been ousted from Syria in a battle with the French who inherited a colony filled with seething hatred. Trans-Jordan was separated from Palestine and Faisal’s younger brother Abdullah crowned King. Faisal’s father Hussein was given the Hejaz allowing the Wahhabist backed ibn Saud to take the interior. In 1924 ibn Saud attacked Mecca and took the Hejaz from Hussein who lived out his days in Jordan with his son. With increased Jewish immigration and the prospect of a Jewish state, relations between Arab and Jew in Palestine went from bad to worse. The Middle East we know today was taking shape.

Lawrence felt he had betrayed the Arabs and felt responsible for the many grisly deaths he had witnessed, in his mind all for nothing. Lawrence, never the most stable person, became insular and depressed. Today we would say he suffered from PTSD. He joined the air force as a private wanting no position with responsibility. He avoided friends even King Faisal when he visited Britain. He wrote his autobiographical account of his time in the Middle East, Seven Pillars, privately printing only a few copies. He did write a very popular abbreviated version for general publication and donated the proceeds to charity. He moved into a small cottage where he devoted his time to reading and even translating Homer’s Odyssey. He died in a motorcycle accident in 1935 at the age of 46. Churchill stated in his eulogy “I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time. I do not see his like elsewhere. I fear whatever our need we shall never see his like again.” ...more
4

Sep 27, 2013

Was Lawrence of Arabia the man you thought he was?

Some famous person probably urged us never to delve too deeply into the lives of our heroes since we’re so likely to become cruelly disappointed. In any case, if you’ve cherished a vision of Lawrence of Arabia as one of the few genuine heroes of the 20th Century — a vision probably nourished by David Lean’s film masterpiece — you can’t read Scott Anderson’s study of Lawrence in the context of the First World War in the Middle East and emerge with Was Lawrence of Arabia the man you thought he was?

Some famous person probably urged us never to delve too deeply into the lives of our heroes since we’re so likely to become cruelly disappointed. In any case, if you’ve cherished a vision of Lawrence of Arabia as one of the few genuine heroes of the 20th Century — a vision probably nourished by David Lean’s film masterpiece — you can’t read Scott Anderson’s study of Lawrence in the context of the First World War in the Middle East and emerge with that image unscathed. T. E. Lawrence — archaeologist, author, diplomat, warrior — was a piece of work. In Anderson’s expert telling, Lawrence was moody, arrogant, deceitful, possibly masochistic, and even, in one dramatic episode, traitorous. Of course, he was also brilliant, courageous to the point of foolhardiness, and an extraordinary wartime leader of men.

In Lawrence in Arabia, Scott Anderson views the man through a wide-angle lens. Though his focus is squarely on Lawrence himself, he explores the life and work of his subject from the years before the war until his death in 1933 in tandem with three other remarkable figures in the unraveling of the Ottoman Empire, the awakening of Arab nationalism, and the emergence of the Jewish state in Palestine. Curt Pruefer was, like Lawrence, an academic thrown into the chaos of the Middle East; in the course of the war, he came to head German espionage activities in the region and was, effectively, Lawrence’s counterpart. William Yale, an American descended from the founder of the university that bore his name, was an operative for Standard Oil turned State Department intelligence operative. Aaron Aaronsohn, an eminent Jewish agronomist who developed and ran Britain’s largest spy network in the region, was so passionate an advocate for the establishment of a Jewish state that he openly sparred with the cautious Chaim Weizmann, the then-leader of world Zionism and the beloved first president of Israel. On Lawrence’s meandering path through the region, he encountered both Yale and Aaronsohn, and in both cases the men took an instant dislike for one another, a disturbingly common circumstance in the Englishman’s life.

Don’t think for a minute that Lawrence stands out for his sins in comparison with his contemporaries in the region. Anderson’s subtitle refers to “war, deceit, and imperial folly,” and for good reason. Pruefer and Yale were deceitful to the point of treachery as well, and the British diplomats and military men surrounding Lawrence were, on the whole, so deceitful themselves and so patently incompetent that Lawrence’s behavior could sometimes be easily understood. In fact, the deplorable picture of war in the Middle East that emerges from Lawrence in Arabia is a worthy reflection of the senseless slaughter that characterized the war in Europe, with millions of young men needlessly dying from Gallipoli to the Somme as a result of the utter stupidity and stubbornness of the military leadership of the warring Great Powers.

Lawrence in Arabia is as dense a work of history as any academic study and eminently readable to boot. It casts a bright light on a frequently neglected aspect of World War One — Lawrence called it “a sideshow of a sideshow,” which greatly underrates its historical importance — and illuminates the forces that helped create the tragic state of the Middle East today.

Scott Anderson is an American magazine journalist and author. ...more
5

Aug 14, 2013

For those wanting to read about Lawrence of Arabia, STOP, read the title again & flip the title about so it reads “War, deceit, imperial folly & the making of the modern middle East” – which features Lawrence IN Arabia – Now don’t be put off by that opening gambit, Just wanted to make it clear as to what the book is about as probably like many folk you would gravitate to this book at the mention of Colonel TE Lawrence AKA Lawrence of Arabia? Yes TE Lawrence is the major player & used For those wanting to read about Lawrence of Arabia, STOP, read the title again & flip the title about so it reads “War, deceit, imperial folly & the making of the modern middle East” – which features Lawrence IN Arabia – Now don’t be put off by that opening gambit, Just wanted to make it clear as to what the book is about as probably like many folk you would gravitate to this book at the mention of Colonel TE Lawrence AKA Lawrence of Arabia? Yes TE Lawrence is the major player & used subtly to sell the book which I have no problem with as he does feature heavily in the geopolitics of the time.

Ok Still here? Good as otherwise you would miss a most EXCELLANT tale of adventure, espionage, political intrigue & warfare.

Normally I read bios & non-fiction in piecemeal as can find them a touch heavy but this book reads akin to a fiction novel & I did so in three, albeit protracted, readings of the main three chapters. It’s a worthy 4.5 stars, not quite the full 5 as perhaps the final parts of the third chapter descend into a complex battle of Arabia at war’s end & Lawrence becomes very, understandably, withdrawn from the events.

I must admit I was attracted to this book at first at the mere mention of TE Lawrence as from childhood & in particular the film Lawrence of Arabia I have been fascinated by the story, especially so as he lived post-war just a few miles away from where I reside. I still remember readily many a quote from the film as I’m sure others do & for one I’ll be next reading TE Lawrence’s own bio written post-war called the Seven Pillars, which is referred to often.

As to the context of the book, well.......

It’s very insightful to the origins of the current state of the modern Middle east & tales the story of all the players in the pre-war years to the conclusion of The Great War through the eyes of the British, Germans, Ottoman Empire, French, Americans, The Zionist Jews & lastly the Arabs whose land it was. The crux of the story goes thus? The British & French are looking to carve up the Ottoman empire between themselves in the post war era, the Americans also want a piece when they finally join the war but moreso with an eye on the oil, the Ottomans are an empire in decline with enemies on all sides who are desperately trying to keep their borders intact at whatever cost, the Germans are looking to evoke a Jihadist rebellion against the allies but again later in the war look to align also with the Zionists, The Zionists are willing to align themselves with either the allies or the central powers & offer up a spy network, basically whomever will aide them in carving out a nation state for themselves albeit as a protectorate to start with & finally the Arabs who want to have the land for themselves & be free firstly of Ottoman rule & then of other imperial powers.

Ok that’s just a paragraph & this book goes FAR beyond this level of base reference, IT IS Immense & I highly recommend anybody with a passing interest in the middle east of today to have a read.
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4

Jul 21, 2014

I found this a fascinating look at World War I in the Middle East. Mr. Anderson basically looks at the war through the experiences of four people. They are a British Archeologist - T.E. Lawrence – better known as Lawrence of Arabia, an American oil man - William Yale, a minor German Diplomat – Curt Prufer and finally a Jewish Palestinian agronomist-Aaron Aaronsohn. In telling the story of these four men, the author attempts to explain how World War I created the modern Middle East. While I found this a fascinating look at World War I in the Middle East. Mr. Anderson basically looks at the war through the experiences of four people. They are a British Archeologist - T.E. Lawrence – better known as Lawrence of Arabia, an American oil man - William Yale, a minor German Diplomat – Curt Prufer and finally a Jewish Palestinian agronomist-Aaron Aaronsohn. In telling the story of these four men, the author attempts to explain how World War I created the modern Middle East. While Lawrence’s story is the main storyline, the other three men’s tale is also fascinating. I found Prufer’s story particularly fascinating. A frustrated minor official Germany’s Cairo Embassy; during the war he rose to be Germany’s chief intelligence office in Constantinople.

The author tells Lawrence’s story using his own writings –mainly The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, recollections of his contemporaries and official reports. They often don’t agree. When they don’t Mr. Anderson then gives the reader his best guess at what really happened. The author does agree with Lawrence on how he became “Lawrence of Arabia” – basically nobody cared, his efforts were in a sideshow of a sideshow.

The author also looks at the Lawrence conflicted loyalties. Even as the British were trying to encourage the Arabs to revolt by promising an independent Greater Syria after the war, they were cutting a deal with the French to divide up the Ottoman Empire, keeping the best parts for themselves. As Lawrence became aware of this, the author believes he told the King Faisal about their plans, technically committing treason.

In telling Aaronsohn’s tale, Anderson looks at the conflict inside Zionism itself. Aaronsohn was willing to work with either the Ottomans or the Allies, depending on the deal he was given on a Jewish homeland in Palestine after the war. Eventually he came to believe the Allies were offering a better deal and gave them a fully formed spy network inside Palestine. The story of how he made contact and he perseverance when the British in Cairo didn’t seem too interested in his network is well told. The story of the conflict between Aaronsohn and Chaim Weizmann, who became Israel’s first President, is also well done.

Carl Prufer's story is that of a man who is frustrated with the system and uses the war to advance farther in his career than possible in the prewar world. Stuck at the chief translator at the Cairo Embassy and unable to advance further because of his birth, he becomes Germany’s preeminent Arabist and spends most of the war trying to ignite a Jihad against the Allies. One of his agents was Chaim Weizmann’s sister.

In telling William Yale’s story, the author looks at how Oil shaped the map of the Middle East post war. Yale is the son of an impoverished branch of the family that founded Yale University. Upon graduating from college takes a job with SOCONY looking to lock up land in Palestine for future oil exploitation. It is in this capacity he first encounters Lawrence. He eventually becomes he US’ man in the Middle East after the US joins the war. Much of his efforts are frustrated because the US Gov’t disinterest in the region. This allows Britain and France to do pretty much what they want at Versailles.

Finally the author tells how the war affected Lawrence. He returned to England a very disillusioned man. He turned down both a knighthood and the Victoria Cross. He eventually enlisted in the RAF as a common enlisted airman using a false name, and when he was discovered, he enlisted in the Royal Tank Corps, again using a false name, finally he returned to the RAF. He died shortly after leaving the RAF.

In summary this is an excellent look at the machinations that led to the modern Middle East and the role that Lawrence played in making that happen. I would rate this 4.25 stars rounded down for good reads.
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5

Dec 02, 2013

'Lawrence in Arabia' is a well-researched and well-written book.

The best review I read about this book is here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

There are many other reviews which are also excellent, as well. I agree with them, up to a point.

The avarice behind the Western powers' superficial alliance with the tribes of the Middle East in fighting World War II against the Germans is supported by actual letters, documents and recollections from hundreds of sources, many listed in the book. 'Lawrence in Arabia' is a well-researched and well-written book.

The best review I read about this book is here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

There are many other reviews which are also excellent, as well. I agree with them, up to a point.

The avarice behind the Western powers' superficial alliance with the tribes of the Middle East in fighting World War II against the Germans is supported by actual letters, documents and recollections from hundreds of sources, many listed in the book. Without question, France and England planned to be in control of the Middle East, making this regional bit and that part (which were soon to be countries) as subservient puppets of their own empires. The Western World wanted to defeat Germany and her allies, but they also wanted to sneak in some looting and theft from their Middle-Eastern 'allies' wherever possible.

Lawrence, to his credit, wanted the Arabs to be in charge of the Middle East once the War ended. He was an amazing warrior on the right side of history - charismatic, intelligent and courageous. He helped knit the various tribes into cohesive troops, and in aiding the cause of wrestling the Near East from the Ottoman Empire and pushing the Turks back to Turkey, gave the Arabs self-respect. However, although Lawrence was heroic, he also was human. The picture which emerges from this book, and many others, shows a complex man who got roughed up by the war as much as an ordinary soldier did. Years later, he no longer had the strength to advocate for the Arabs. He was deeply disturbed by the discriminatory and rapacious foreign policies he discovered that underlay the actions of the democracies and kingdoms of the West.

The book is a real door-stopper, and I think a bit of pruning could have been done, but it truly is a very good book. However, unlike the author and many reviewers, I do not think it includes enough Middle Eastern viewpoints, history and much analysis of the impact of Islam on the politics and rivalries pre-existing before WWI. It's a big book as it is, but a few paragraphs here and there would have given it more of a nuanced tone, instead of one of only 'How the White Man Messed Up the Arabs,' with the usual epilogue stapled in the back, 'They'd Be Rich Democracies Just Like Us IF We Hadn't Been So Greedy and Racist.' The Arabs were already messed up and technologically primitive because of their ongoing regional wars and the religious domination of their culture long before the West discovered them.

The West, then and now, tends to take on ALL responsibility for locally-caused regional problems, which is a kind of paternalism as well as demeaning to the locals, even if it is a well-meant mea culpa. The book describes some of the tribal chieftains indicating they would have preferred the United States to be their patron after the War, instead of the mean English and French, but as recent history has shown (past history, too) nation building is not possible, even if it's the less-rapacious USA as overlords (we only want their resources and their love, not the country, generally).

Afghanistan is seen by the West as culturally Neanderthaloid and laughable - yet how many major powers have now been defeated by those backwoods ignoramuses of Afghanistan? The Taliban is poised to take over Kabul as soon as the West leaves. Yes, it's sad and bad, especially for the women, but I'm sure Kabul will only miss all of those dollars pouring in without accountability. But the Afghans have already survived first the English and then the Russian invasions previously, which occurred before the USA and NATO. After all of us have left, not once have the Afghans assimilated anything or changed their customs, which have been solidly in place for centuries. Apparently indoor plumbing, modern medicine and electricity aren't the inducement to modernize as the West expects of many cultures.

(Edit: July, 2017. Currently, the Chinese are attempting to become a patron of Afghanistan...)

Muslim Africa, Asia and the Near East population majorities prefer, support, and vote for, when voting is allowed, theocratic dictators who take all of the countries' wealth for themselves, and who modernize if and when they feel like it, even when our ambassadors/CIA meddle and despite every attempt the West makes to force modern technology and financial partnerships on them.

I could, and have, spoken 900 page tomes myself on how the West and all of its modern ways and secular education models are rejected by Muslim nations.

Muslims had universities long before the West, but today many of their Ph.D. degrees that are awarded are based on an education primarily of Quran-directed science, philosophy and history, despite the availability of religion-free secular studies. What many Muslim doctorate students learn in Middle-Eastern colleges is equivalent to what our Evangelical Christian college doctorate students learn (i.e., Christian doctorate students graduate with the ability to argue using bible-based philosophy as 'science proofs' and logic that earth is 6,000 years old and was created in 6 days by god - a god for whose existence they also have learned certain philosophical-based arguments all of which looks to me quite circular - the world and physics is proof that a god exists because obviously a god made the world because a world and physics exists). Muslim colleges use the Quran the same way as Christian colleges use the Bible as the guiding source and direction of all studies.

Muslim primary schools are segregrated by gender and they are often discriminatory against the many various Muslim sects and tribes. Basic reading/writing is often learned by copying the Quran over and over for 6-8 years in many many many Muslim countries. Graduation occurs when a student is able to recite the entire Quran from memory - often the only measure of qualification for leadership in local politics and business.

They choose their culture as we do ours, despite the West's efforts to infiltrate or invade or trade.

The Arabs are the Arabs are the Arabs (unless they are Persians, which many Americans mistakenly mix up with India's Hindus and Sikhs as a single cohesive 'Arab Muslim' group). Muslim countries, or at least the founding Muslim tribes, have been Muslim for millennia (1,217 years, give or take some decades, using 800 CE as a baseline), and they've experienced multiple local military defeats and invasions and conquests and civil wars long before the USA became a country (America is only 241 years old).

WWI spilled over into their already blood-soaked lands, and then WWII came, but the Arabs have mostly removed the West's influences except for what they wanted to keep. Basically, Westerners kicked the overlord Turks out for them - who all of the Arabs hated. They use the West as a scapegoat, and we let them because most of us believe it, too. However, I still recall my shock, for example, in discovering black Africans sold black Africans to the West for slaves.

A broad reading of multicultural and comparative history books can free you of many delusions. I recommend 'Lawrence in Arabia', but more reading is necessary to fully understand the historical Middle East. ...more
5

Jul 21, 2013

This is a fascinating book, for the most part well written. While the key character is T. E. Lawrence, the book is formally structured as an examination of the roles of and sometimes interaction among four characters: T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), Curt Prufer (umlaut over the u), Aaron Aaronson, and William Yale.

A brief note about each. Lawrence began World War I on an archaeological expedition--and ended up as a celebrity. Prufer was a German who worked for German interests in the Middle East. This is a fascinating book, for the most part well written. While the key character is T. E. Lawrence, the book is formally structured as an examination of the roles of and sometimes interaction among four characters: T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), Curt Prufer (umlaut over the u), Aaron Aaronson, and William Yale.

A brief note about each. Lawrence began World War I on an archaeological expedition--and ended up as a celebrity. Prufer was a German who worked for German interests in the Middle East. Aaronsohn was a Zionist and an agronomist trying to enhance agriculture in Jewish areas. He also developed a spy network as World War I broke out. Yale was of the family after whom the college was named. He was, at the outset of WW I, an official for Standard Oil of New York (now Mobil) seeking access to lands that might be rich in oil. During the war, he became a representative of the United States' foreign policy apparatus.

The book provides considerable depth to each of these persons--but Lawrence is at the center. He is portrayed as somewhat enigmatic, someone who was almost a tragic character. While he fought for Arab independence, he knew of nefarious schemes by the English and French to be dominant forces in the Middle East after the war's end. He was a decent person who ended up tolerating acts of violence (such as watching as prisoners were killed after surrendering). The author suggests that, after a period of time at war, he became someone afflicted with Post traumatic stress disorder.

Aaronsohn, too, was an important figure. He tried to advance Zionist ideals and saw that working with Great Britain might be the best pathway. He developed an espionage network in the Middle East, with his sister as a key player. It took a great effort to get the British officials in the Middle East to pay attention. The spy network suffered greatly for his vision. The story also tells of the tension between Aaronsohn and a key leader among Zionists--Chaim Weizmann.

Other important actors are portrayed as well. The Hussein family, whose father and sons became important leaders in the Middle East after the war, albeit compromised in many respects by the English and French. Then, the ibn Saud family (ultimately becoming the rulers of Saudi Arabia).

The book does a very good job of outlining the complex interactions among countries, the cynicism of European powers in the Middle East, the negative results of this cynicism. The development of the Middle East was perverted by European efforts at domination, as the end of the book attests.

One final feature of note--the discussion of the fates of the major characters in this drama.

All in all, this is a fine volume, and one well worth looking at if one wishes to understand the roots of some current dysfunction in the region. ...more
4

Aug 08, 2013

As I write this review, the horrors of the civil war in Syria fill the headlines and the US is considering yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East. Scott Anderson, following the celebrated figure of TE Lawrence through the deserts of Arabia, has written an excellent history of how the debacle began – Britain and France scrambling over the "Great Loot" of the collapsing Ottoman Empire; their perfidy toward the Arabs they had encouraged to revolt, including the portentous Balfour As I write this review, the horrors of the civil war in Syria fill the headlines and the US is considering yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East. Scott Anderson, following the celebrated figure of TE Lawrence through the deserts of Arabia, has written an excellent history of how the debacle began – Britain and France scrambling over the "Great Loot" of the collapsing Ottoman Empire; their perfidy toward the Arabs they had encouraged to revolt, including the portentous Balfour Declaration that set the stage for Israel's disenfranchisement of Palestinians; and the origin of the US "tradition of fundamentally misreading the situation in the Middle East... that the American intelligence community would rigorously maintain for the next ninety-five years."

The story has been well-told before, but Anderson's account is sharp, fresh and frequently entertaining. Lawrence, the flawed hero at the heart of his book, deserves his celebrity. The book begins with Lawrence refusing a knighthood (apparently the first time that had happened) and ends with the broken warrior writing a friend a week before his death, "I imagine leaves must feel like this after they have fallen from their tree." Yet Lawrence's exploits – often brilliant, sometimes unconscionable – provide a compelling vantage from which to survey the action of "the first great cataclysm of the twentieth century." ...more
5

Sep 07, 2014

This book is not Lawrence of Arabia but instead concerns the activities of Lawrence in Arabia as well as those of several other major characters who were determined to create a Middle East that suited their purposes once the Great War was over.

Britain and France had no intention of allowing their hold on the countries in the East to be broken for independence. They also were determined to break up the faltering Ottoman Empire and so the Sykes-Picot treaty came into being; a semi-secret document This book is not Lawrence of Arabia but instead concerns the activities of Lawrence in Arabia as well as those of several other major characters who were determined to create a Middle East that suited their purposes once the Great War was over.

Britain and France had no intention of allowing their hold on the countries in the East to be broken for independence. They also were determined to break up the faltering Ottoman Empire and so the Sykes-Picot treaty came into being; a semi-secret document between those two countries dividing up the spoils of war. However, they failed to tell those countries involved and kept up the masquerade of liberators rather than that of absentee landlords. To add more complications to the situation was the Zionist movement which was determined to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Into the middle of this situation came T.E. Lawrence, a low level army officer with an immense knowledge of the area and a speaker of Arabic in all its dialects. His duty was to pull all the tribes of Arabic bedouins into a revolt against the Turkish with the promise of a country of their own. And the mythical Lawrence of Arabia was born.

Lawrence was a complex man who was disliked by many of his countrymen but generally loved by the Arabs. The fact that he was living a lie regarding the outcome of the Arab rebellion and that Britain/France had no intention of creating an Arab state, haunted him and eventually drove him into periods of deep depression.

There is so much happening in this book that I could write pages about it but, although I only mentioned Lawrence, there are other very interesting characters abounding in these pages. Read this book!! It is fascinating and very well researched and written. And forget the Lawrence of Arabia that is in your mind's eye.....the beautiful Peter O'Toole with the unbelievably blue eyes charging the Turks on his racing camel with his white robes whipping in the wind.......that was the Lawrence of legend. He was a much different man and much more interesting. Highly recommended. ...more
4

May 05, 2013

This is not the David Lean film of a similar title (although its heft is close to the film's length - should come with a musical entr'acte). It's a magnificently researched tome that follows the famous T.E. Lawrence along with other notable gentlemen whose fingerprints still mark the Middle East.

Opening before the war, and epiloguing after the Paris peace conferences, there is surprisingly little desert warfare in the book. Lawrence doesn't hit his camel-riding stride until early 1917, which This is not the David Lean film of a similar title (although its heft is close to the film's length - should come with a musical entr'acte). It's a magnificently researched tome that follows the famous T.E. Lawrence along with other notable gentlemen whose fingerprints still mark the Middle East.

Opening before the war, and epiloguing after the Paris peace conferences, there is surprisingly little desert warfare in the book. Lawrence doesn't hit his camel-riding stride until early 1917, which gives him just shy of two years in the saddle. But, steeped in the region's history and culture for nearly a decade before, his deeds of that time propelled him into legend. Outside of those famous years, Lawrence is enmeshed in the endless duplicities and machinations of the Great Powers, often finding or placing himself at the centre of events and shaping them according to his own peculiar and shifting view of the world. Those familiar with the "Great Game" of the British Raj will instantly recognize its transplantation to this corner of the world. The second part of the subtitle, Making of the Modern Middle East may be a bit of a stretch - Anderson seems to throw it in towards the end - but the first part, War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, is entirely accurate. The common phrase "fit of absence of mind" used to describe British Imperialism cannot be used here. They knew (or at least different departments knew different things) exactly what they were doing, and few had any qualms about committing to contradictory treaties and promises. It will take a while, if it ever happens, before another author cleans up the nearly villainous image of Britain drawn here in what will become the definitive book about the period.

Follow me on Twitter:@Dr_A_Taubman ...more
5

May 13, 2013

Although I was familiar with a lot of the subject matter, Anderson’s book proved to be quite interesting. I learned a lot about the angle played by Standard Oil of New York (Socony), more or less as amoral war profiteers (a la Krupp in Germany) and, more particularly, the players other than T E Lawrence. They seem to have been every bit as interesting and adventurous as Lawrence, albeit less driven to test themselves physically.

Anderson writes that “Lawrence was able to become ‘Lawrence of Although I was familiar with a lot of the subject matter, Anderson’s book proved to be quite interesting. I learned a lot about the angle played by Standard Oil of New York (Socony), more or less as amoral war profiteers (a la Krupp in Germany) and, more particularly, the players other than T E Lawrence. They seem to have been every bit as interesting and adventurous as Lawrence, albeit less driven to test themselves physically.

Anderson writes that “Lawrence was able to become ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ because no one was paying much attention.’ Anderson portrays Lawrence as a lone operator, even though the British actually committed massive resources to the Middle East during the war. There was the Gallipoli campaign, the Mesopotamian campaign, the conquest of the Levant, and Allenby’s Egypt expedition. Anderson portays the Hashemite uprising as free-ranging operation, making no mention of the British and French officers attached to it.

Anderson does a good job stripping away much of the supposed "glamour" and "adventure" that make up our mythologized, popular image of Lawrence's Arab Revolt. Many of the Arabs joined more out of desire for British gold and the loot of war. The desert they fought in had little clean water and many flies. Wounded Arabs and Turks were left to die if wounded on the battlefield, and few prisoners were taken by either side. Lawrence himself killed many unarmed warriors, both Arab and Turk.

Anderson gives us a layered and nuanced look at how France, Britain, Germany and the ottoman Empire developed policies regarding the region or tried to govern it or to shape the way in which it would be governed after the war. Fiascos like the British campaign for Gallipoli do not show Winston Churchill in his finest hour but the book is frank about what was and a bit wistful seeming about what could have been if local advice had been followed to focus a landing on Alexandretta. Similarly, the author expands his view from an Arabia-focused account offered by Lawrence to discuss the ways in which German armed forces and advisors worked with the Ottomans to try to topple British rule in Egypt and to deny passage of British colonial forces to Europe through the Suez Canal.

Anderson creates three-dimensional characters whether he's describing politicians, generals, or spies, or whether he's telling about the Turks, Arabs, Zionists, or the British. T.E. Lawrence particularly comes to life in Mr. Anderson's book. Those expecting Peter O'Toole from the movie Lawrence of Arabia may be disappointed, because the T.E. Lawrence in Mr. Anderson's telling is far more complex and nuanced. Although he was a great tactician, and at times, a brutal warrior, he came to regret and was deeply troubled by his wartime experiences. And Anderson shows how everything that Lawrence had fought for, gave up his own humanity for, and arguably betrayed his country for (by revealing details of a secret treaty to Faisal), came to nothing as a result of a five-minute conversation between Lloyd George and Clemenceau, who proceeded to divide up the corpse of the Ottoman Empire and give the Arabs less than they wanted.

Anderson also introduces us to some of the other oddballs who were running amok in the region at the time. There's a Zionist agronomist, a German diplomat trying to start a jihad, an American oilman-turned-spy, and of course, Mark Sykes, who had a fondness for firing off memos proposing neat solutions to the region's problems, usually in direct opposition to those he had advocated weeks or even days earlier. Anderson comments that the reason TE Lawrence was able to become "Lawrence of Arabia" was that nobody was paying much attention, The same goes for these other characters too -- arguably, a group of unappointed freelancers, acting on their own impulses, did as much to shape the region as any of the politicians or generals did.

The thoughtful analysis of the region with the background tapestry of multiple Arab contenders, incompetent British Army and bureaucracy juxtaposed with the German distorted desire for influence, the Ottoman regime's ability to do well in spite of themselves, the French somewhat delusional imperial desires, the cold-blooded Standard Oil capitalism and the fledgling Zionist movement in Palestine. Though Lawrence was quite eccentric and uniques, other individuals representing often competing agendas were also intensively involved in the region as well.

There a couple typos: for example, on page 64, 1914 is rendered as "2014", on page 162, swathes is rendered as "swatches", on page 283, 257, 000 is rendered as "j257,000". ...more
5

Jul 02, 2013

Masterful, engaging historical non-fiction told through a cast of characters that are "too true to be good". A fascinating read! Anderson takes a focus on Lawrence, constantly examining the culturally accepted legends of his story, and also examines three other men in the region at the same time: an American oilman-turned-spy, a German intelligence agent, and a Zionist agronomist. A brilliant and compelling personal narrative that gives the reader a deeper appreciation for the founding of the Masterful, engaging historical non-fiction told through a cast of characters that are "too true to be good". A fascinating read! Anderson takes a focus on Lawrence, constantly examining the culturally accepted legends of his story, and also examines three other men in the region at the same time: an American oilman-turned-spy, a German intelligence agent, and a Zionist agronomist. A brilliant and compelling personal narrative that gives the reader a deeper appreciation for the founding of the Middle East. Not to be missed! ...more
4

May 10, 2017

Can history / historians be objective? Or will there always be some degree of subjectivity?

I picked up on this, thinking that it would be an in depth account of the life of TE Lawrence. It is not. It was a serendipitous mistake because not only does it give a perspective on the person of Lawrence, it paints a picture on a much bigger canvas, an account on the beginnings of modern day Middle East. It is an impressive work, with many fine details and plenty of stories and characters. Set primarily Can history / historians be objective? Or will there always be some degree of subjectivity?

I picked up on this, thinking that it would be an in depth account of the life of TE Lawrence. It is not. It was a serendipitous mistake because not only does it give a perspective on the person of Lawrence, it paints a picture on a much bigger canvas, an account on the beginnings of modern day Middle East. It is an impressive work, with many fine details and plenty of stories and characters. Set primarily during World War I in the countries of the Middle East, it recounts Lawrence’s exploits and traces his influences.

Three other persons, Aaron Aaronsohn, Curt Prufer and William Yale, are also featured out of the long, bewildering list of who’s who. Like Lawrence, they have some form of espionage, military intelligence or diplomatic role. Each is a representative of their own nation’s secret agenda. But of these agent provocateurs, it is Lawrence who holds a different objective from his own country, makes the most significant and lasting impact on the region and thus became the most famous.

Lawrence is an enigmatic figure. He is not exactly a warrior, a strategist or a leader, yet he had such a pivotal role in the difficult years of the Great War. The stories surrounding him range from the admirable to the scandalous, from credible to disingenuous, from compassionate to cold-hearted. The author should be given credit for attempting to maintain objectivity in his account of Lawrence, presenting the differing views and information sources. Still, there remains an aura of mystery surrounding the person of Lawrence. (The author does have quite strong views in certain areas. For example, he is highly critical of Mark Sykes.)

The following is just a small selection of insights into Lawrence the person:

The effect of losing two brothers in just five months seemed to draw Lawrence even deeper into his emotional shell.

Over the course of his wartime service, Lawrence was awarded a number of medals and ribbons, but with his profound disdain for such things, he either threw them away or never bothered to collect them.

”Lawrence is quite fit, but much oppressed by the risk and magnitude of the job before him. He opened his heart to me last night and told me that he felt there was so much for him still to do in this world, places to dig, peoples to help, that it seemed horrible to have it all cut off, as he feels it will be, for he feels that, while he may do the [Yarmuk] job, he has little or no chance of getting away himself.”

The author gives a very informative account of the Middle Eastern conflict, and it is not difficult to see how it was the sideshow of the Great War. The “Sick Man of Europe”, the Ottoman Empire, was in its twilight, and the various nations of the Middle East were hungry for autonomy. Having their own schemes were the colonial powers of France and Britain, waiting to swoop in and grab the spoils. It is interesting to see how all this history ties in with all the events that happened since, till today.

History is often the tale of small moments – chance encounters or casual decisions or sheer coincidence – that seem of little consequence at the time, but somehow fuse with other small moments to produce something momentous, the proverbial flapping of a butterfly’s wings that triggers a hurricane.

Overall, the book is well written, exciting without being sensationalist. The book does get rather dry and featureless in the middle with the desert events (heh heh! Couldn’t resist that one), although it picks up again nearer the end. The epilogue is very nicely done and wraps things up for the main characters as well as the nations, all the way up to the present day.

A few more thoughts:

I think I can now appreciate a bit better the novels coming from Middle Eastern authors.

The world is tainted with selfishness, hate and depravity. It needs more compassion, love and integrity.

...more
0

Aug 07, 2013

I'll spare y'all the seemingly obligatory, world weary, gently sorrowful musings as to how the Middle East ended in its current predicaments - oh, the humanity! - and concentrate on the book itself.

The writing is generally great, understandable, quick, colorful - but it is a little too long, a little too novelistic in places. Lots of "...as they gazed out onto the trackless desert..." and "as every traveler in the desert knows..." and a touch of what Barbara Tuchman called the "surely" school I'll spare y'all the seemingly obligatory, world weary, gently sorrowful musings as to how the Middle East ended in its current predicaments - oh, the humanity! - and concentrate on the book itself.

The writing is generally great, understandable, quick, colorful - but it is a little too long, a little too novelistic in places. Lots of "...as they gazed out onto the trackless desert..." and "as every traveler in the desert knows..." and a touch of what Barbara Tuchman called the "surely" school of history. ("As Napoleon watched the ship recede from Elba, he must surely have...") Excising a lot of these flight of fancy - and helpfully shortening the book by a hundred odd pages - might have done it some good.

I'm not really up on the historiography of Lawrence, which the book sometimes seemed to assume one ought to be. Some parts - maybe the whole thing - feel like they're taking a stance in an argument about his actions and character that I just wasn't privy too. Not in itself a problem, but it would have been nice to get more of that background for the uninitiated.

Anderson is willing to undercut and question Lawrence at time, very ably digging into his letters and memoirs as text, so to speak, to note when something seems too far fetched, too neat, too cliched, comparing against other sources and common sense (where available). On the other hand, there are other episodes - just as grand and cinematic, just as personal and devoid of corroboration - he accepts seemingly at face value. What are the sources? Why reject some and accept others? NOTE MARKERS IN THE TEXT. PLEASE. PLEASE.

The book also takes the respectful sort of tack and refuses to dive too deeply into the persona of Lawrence himself. I thought this was a good idea for the most part, not turning it into a gossipy biography (given what the book is really about, which I might admittedly not be quite the target audience of) but still a touch frustrating. Passing references to mental breakdowns, possible homosexuality, ambition or lack thereof, etc, really could have stood to be expounded on a little. At least in (AGAIN) pointing out what the sources here were would have been useful, especially since a lot of it did seem to have some bearing on actual alliances, decisions and historically relevant courses of action. (Plus, I'm ok with gossiping about the dead.)

Ultimately, since the politics and the basic historical outline - and even the details of the diplomatic wrangling - are all very familiar to me (this is the stuff of Israeli highschool history finals. Wake me up in the middle of the night, to this day, and I can tell you all about the Hussein-McMahon correspondence) what I was hoping for was more detail about Lawrence and the Arab Rebellion. That's not really the focus, unfortunately.

The addition of an American oil man/intelligence worker, German spy and Jewish Zionist ringleader (some nice detail on Aaronsohn, who's been a bit hagiographed in Israel in some quarters and therefore studiously ignored in others) as "supporting characters" does something to flesh out the times and the scope - but the Arabs actually remain rather fuzzy personages. There's very little sense of the political meaning of the rebellion for those who conducted it or even very much military detail. It's more of a history of how the British bureaucracy of WW1 managed the rebellion and the imperial slavering at the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire than a history of the rebellion itself, which is a bit of a shame at the end of the day. ...more
4

Aug 12, 2013

This book would be a perfect semester-long study for young bucks with an interest in foreign affairs and a willingness to test themselves with knotty problems and harsh realities. Coming into the information with clear eyes and no prior understanding of the histories we have undergone in the past one hundred years, youths that imagine patterning themselves on the legendary stoic T.E. Lawrence will have an education.

Anderson had much primary material at his disposal to create this dense wartime This book would be a perfect semester-long study for young bucks with an interest in foreign affairs and a willingness to test themselves with knotty problems and harsh realities. Coming into the information with clear eyes and no prior understanding of the histories we have undergone in the past one hundred years, youths that imagine patterning themselves on the legendary stoic T.E. Lawrence will have an education.

Anderson had much primary material at his disposal to create this dense wartime history of The Middle East full of schemes and counter-schemes, spies and double agents, treachery unbound and heroism unheralded. There might be just too much information for me here: I am Swift’s Gulliver, on my back, securely bound with threads of information, unblinkingly staring at the sky and wondering still about Lawrence. In this way, the subtitle of the book is perhaps a truer picture of the contents than the title, and the two could be reversed.

Anderson does a masterly job of marshaling the material and propelling the narrative with quotes from the players themselves. One becomes familiar with the skill and treachery of many men besides that of the enigmatic Lawrence. Lawrence is a device: a way into the material and circumscribing it fore and aft. Lawrence had been used before for such ends and at one time he would have been interested to read this many-faceted story of the times in which he lived and how it played out.
Anderson writes: “Since late 1916, Lawrence had waged a quiet war against his own government, and now he had lost. What would soon become clear, however, was that he intended to continue that fight off the battlefield, in the conference halls and meeting rooms of peacetime Paris. He may have asked to leave Damascus out of exhaustion, but it was also to prepare for the next round in the struggle for Arab independence.”
If Lawrence had been given more credence at the Paris Peace Conference instead of stripped of his credentials, things may have been different in the present-day Middle East, though perhaps not much better. Lawrence worked out an agreement for the administration of an Arab-Jewish state in Palestine with then Prince Faisal ibn-Hussein of Syria and British Zionist Chaim Weizmann but the plan was scuttled by the British and French, who had earlier agreed to split the Middle East between them. “…Great Britain and France had taken the discredited Sykes-Picot Agreement and fashioned something even worse; how much worse was evidenced by the myriad fires that had spread across the region almost immediately.”

An alternative history with Lawrence’s involvement after the war, had he not suffered from PTSD, changed his name (twice), retreated to a lonely Indian outpost as a low-ranking British army private, and then died from a motorcycle accident in 1935, would be most interesting. But the Lawrence of the First World War had died shortly after that war, though the man himself lived another seventeen years: Anderson: ”In Arabia, Lawrence had exerted life-and-death control over thousands, and had cobbled together a cause and an army as he went along. All the while, he had been tormented by a sense of his own fraudulence, the awareness that the men who fought and died at his side were almost certain to be betrayed in the end. As he would suggest in Seven Pillars, and state quote explicitly in letters to friends, after Arabia he never wanted to be in a position of responsibility again: ’The Arabs are like a page I have turned over, and sequels are rotten things.’


The 1962 David Lean/Peter O’Toole movie is surprisingly thorough and captured many key events featuring Lawrence recounted here, though emphases and characterizations were tailored to the screen and the sensibilities of the time. With Anderson’s help, we understand the larger context of competing national interests and how the shaping of the Middle East had less to do with T.E. Lawrence, Curt Prüfer, Aaron Aaronsohn, Chaim Weizmann, and William Yale than with Mark Sykes, François Georges-Picot, David Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau. The whole globe was watching the unfolding events in the Middle East and everyone had different desires. The event-makers, in the end, did not have the effect of those who watched.
...more
4

Jun 14, 2014

There is no time in the past one hundred years that the events chronicled in Scott Anderson's epic Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East would not have astonishing and heartbreaking relevance to our understanding of conflicts in every corner of the Middle East, and by the blurry extension of artificially-created borders, South Asia. Yet, to read this book during the week that Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza, U.S. officials declared There is no time in the past one hundred years that the events chronicled in Scott Anderson's epic Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East would not have astonishing and heartbreaking relevance to our understanding of conflicts in every corner of the Middle East, and by the blurry extension of artificially-created borders, South Asia. Yet, to read this book during the week that Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza, U.S. officials declared the Islamist State in Iraq a threat greater than al-Qaeda, and as the horror in Syria continues unabated and we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I... well. Wow.

History is now. History is the top of the hour news updates. Today's bloodshed is born of yesterday's ignorance, power plays, and backdoor agreements.

The central narrative of Lawrence in Arabia does indeed revolve around the young, physically slight, Oxford scholar T.E. Lawrence, and his complicated relationship with the Middle East, but this book is so much more than a biography of one man. It is a multi-character examination of the end of the Ottoman Empire, the first stirrings of the nation of Israel, and the carving of the enormous space between the Sahara desert and Afghanistan, between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea into the modern Middle East.

Anderson introduces us to Prince Faisal, who becomes king of Iraq; Djemal Pasha, the governor of Syria; Curt Prüfer, a German diplomat who conspires with the Ottomans to ignite rebellion against the British Empire; Aaron Aaronsohn, an agronomist who becomes an activist spy determined to see the establishment of an Israeli state; William Yale, of the University Yales, who works as an employee of Standard Oil until the U.S. State Department recruits him as an operative; Mark Sykes, the posh aristocrat who carves up the Middle East with his French counterpart, Georges Picot, only to double-cross the French in the end (but have no sympathy for the cuckolded French. Really). But it is T.E. Lawrence's actions and his physical and emotional journey through the Middle East--the stuff of legends--that captivate the reader and propel her through this fascinating, if not overwhelmingly detailed, account.

These men, and a handful of women--namely Sarah Aaronsohn, Aaron's sister, and Minna Weizmann, Prüfer's lover--act against the backdrop of World War I as it builds, then explodes. Anderson relives the horror of Gallipoli and Britain's devastating lack of imagination and intellect, Turkey's genocide against ethnic Armenians, and the role oil was beginning to play in the fight over who would claim which parts of the Middle East when the dust finally settled. But of course, the dust has never settled.

Scott Anderson succeeds in taking complex, convoluted, and baffling events and distills them with great storytelling aplomb into something the lay historian can follow and appreciate. Highly recommended. ...more
4

Jun 06, 2017

This book pretty much provides the backstory of the current Middle East and how it came about. It gives us a broader picture of how the Arab Revolt and Lawrence's roll tied into other World War I campaigns. The deception of the imperial powers mainly Britain and France to secure their own imperial goals and how it has lead to the situation we mostly find ourselves in today.

The book tries to be a biography of Lawrence asking how did Lawrence do it (answer no one was looking) and three others: This book pretty much provides the backstory of the current Middle East and how it came about. It gives us a broader picture of how the Arab Revolt and Lawrence's roll tied into other World War I campaigns. The deception of the imperial powers mainly Britain and France to secure their own imperial goals and how it has lead to the situation we mostly find ourselves in today.

The book tries to be a biography of Lawrence asking how did Lawrence do it (answer no one was looking) and three others: Curt Prufer a German spy who tries to get Arabs to attack the Suez Canal, Aaron Aaronsohn the Jewish Zionist who along with his sister set up pro-British spy ring in Palestine, and William Yale who working for Standard Oil traveled the Middle East. I know that some reviewers had a problem with that but I actually liked how it broadened the subject from different point of views.

I gave it a four star because for me there is something lacking in the narrative. I am not sure I can put my finger on it right now, but it just feels that somehow this was a very good book though not a great one. Perhaps, it has to do with the fact that the author is a Journalist and not a historian? Maybe that is the case, but it is still a great read. ...more
4

Oct 26, 2013

A few years ago I participated in a bike ride in Beer Sheva in the south of Israel. One of the points we stopped at, was the British Cemetery from WW1. This cemetery has 1240 British Empire soldiers buried in it. The leader of our group explained about the place and about the battles near Beer Sheva in WW1. I was quite surprised. What the British army included people from Australia, New Zealand, India and other places? What… the Turkish army that stood against them actually had German officers? A few years ago I participated in a bike ride in Beer Sheva in the south of Israel. One of the points we stopped at, was the British Cemetery from WW1. This cemetery has 1240 British Empire soldiers buried in it. The leader of our group explained about the place and about the battles near Beer Sheva in WW1. I was quite surprised. What the British army included people from Australia, New Zealand, India and other places? What… the Turkish army that stood against them actually had German officers? What … Beer Sheva was finally conquered by a cavalry charge? I suddenly noticed that I know very little about WW1 at all and the battles in the Middle East specifically. Lawrence in Arabia filled a big gap in my knowledge. I had heard bits of pieces of the events, especially the ones in Palestine. This book gives an interesting account of the activities of T.E. Lawrence (A.K.A Lawrence of Arabia) before, mainly during and after WW1. The book describes the reason and political interests for the WW1 activities in the Middle East and their effect on the war and on the future of the area. It is always interesting for me to read about my land from an outsider point of view and a much broader point of view. I have always been fascinated with Bedouins and spent considerable time with them on camel treks and in their villages in the Sinai dessert. The descriptions (and pictures) of the Bedouins in this book showed me that they actually did not change much, and the same charm they had 100 years ago in the desserts of Arabia still remained in my encounters with them (of course the Bedouins I spent time with were not at war and did not kill anybody – I am talking about the tranquility, the hospitality and charm) . This book, with its amazing description of events, with its deep analysis of the political backgrounds, with its fascinating discussions of the personal points of view, with its rich scenery and its photographs really left me hungry for more information about WW1. ...more
5

Jul 10, 2014

This is a first-rate, readable biography by an author who knows how to tell a good story without sacrificing scholarship or research. While focusing on Lawrence's astonishing path, he also traces three parallel characters - a German spy, an American adventurer in the employ of Standard Oil Company, and a Zionist activist who initiates, with some difficulty, a espionage ring. This methodology adds context - not to mention color - to the complicated wheelings and dealings surrounding the "Arab This is a first-rate, readable biography by an author who knows how to tell a good story without sacrificing scholarship or research. While focusing on Lawrence's astonishing path, he also traces three parallel characters - a German spy, an American adventurer in the employ of Standard Oil Company, and a Zionist activist who initiates, with some difficulty, a espionage ring. This methodology adds context - not to mention color - to the complicated wheelings and dealings surrounding the "Arab Revolt" during World War I. Amazingly, Lawrence seemed to be at the center of it all. Anderson does a remarkable job of moving the story along and bringing to life the myriad, diverse characters of this complicated tale. He is able to shed light on the motivations of the various figures, whose conflicting goals came crashing together in Arabian middle east. All of this in a compelling narrative, that is virtually a page-turner. But it is much more than just a good story. Anderson cuts through myths and lore, including Lawrence's sometimes self-serving autobiographical Seven Pillars. He also notes actions where Lawrence understates his incredible impact. He exposes the myth of the supposed atrocities against Jews in Jaffa, which was widely used to gain sympathy for Jewish ambitions in Palestine. The book provides a good background for understanding how we got to where we are in the Middle East. It's probably the best account written of Lawrence's remarkable adventures in Arabia. It's that rare read where you increase your knowledge significantly, while having a good time. ...more
2

May 01, 2014

The book is HEAVILY detailed in every day minutiae of TE Lawrence and his peers. The subtitle "... the making of the modern middle east" is a bit misleading.

Its generally about micro politics, personal experiences, family histories and individual war maneuvers by the main players on the ground during WWI.

There is little information on the sociological, geographical or governmental arrangements in the middle east leading up to WWI or after the war. Instead it is about TE Lawrence and his The book is HEAVILY detailed in every day minutiae of TE Lawrence and his peers. The subtitle "... the making of the modern middle east" is a bit misleading.

Its generally about micro politics, personal experiences, family histories and individual war maneuvers by the main players on the ground during WWI.

There is little information on the sociological, geographical or governmental arrangements in the middle east leading up to WWI or after the war. Instead it is about TE Lawrence and his specific experiences- which frankly- did not need another book to rehash in such minute detail. The region as a whole isn't much more clear to me now, but I slogged through a whole lot of excruciating detail for little reward on a global scale of present day understanding. ...more
5

Dec 04, 2013

I haven't been able to stop thinking about this since I finished it - basically all I want to read now are books exactly like this one. It's extremely engaging and the character studies are especially fascinating given the huge personalities involved. The book becomes increasingly painful to read as the revolt progresses and the surrounding web of lies deepens. So many what-ifs, though Anderson raises good points that under no circumstances could there have been an idyllic outcome. Still, it's I haven't been able to stop thinking about this since I finished it - basically all I want to read now are books exactly like this one. It's extremely engaging and the character studies are especially fascinating given the huge personalities involved. The book becomes increasingly painful to read as the revolt progresses and the surrounding web of lies deepens. So many what-ifs, though Anderson raises good points that under no circumstances could there have been an idyllic outcome. Still, it's hard to see the missteps and missed opportunities laid out when we already know the outcome.
...more
4

Dec 30, 2013

A well written overview of T. E. Lawrence's contributions to British and Arab WW I victories in Western Arabia and Syria. Scott Anderson focuses on the Middle East but he also does a good job of outlining events in Europe. Not knowing much about WWI I was shocked by the scale of the killing. How little did those in power value life to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives in such futile battles? The arrogance which led to such bloodshed is shown to have extended to foreign policy as British A well written overview of T. E. Lawrence's contributions to British and Arab WW I victories in Western Arabia and Syria. Scott Anderson focuses on the Middle East but he also does a good job of outlining events in Europe. Not knowing much about WWI I was shocked by the scale of the killing. How little did those in power value life to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives in such futile battles? The arrogance which led to such bloodshed is shown to have extended to foreign policy as British and French diplomats divide and redivide spoils of a war not even close to being won. Maybe something similar happens during every war.

There is a big cast of characters and they are all quite fascinating but they can be a bit tricky to keep track of. I especially got mixed up with the rotating cast of Lawrence's higher ups. I found myself wishing I'd read it all in one go so as to avoid having to go back and look up who was who. The kindle version has a feature called X-ray which pulls up blurbs on people and places that came in handy.

There are many tantalizing what ifs along the way. Chaim Weizmann and Prince Faisal lobbying the peace conference for a joint Arab-Jewish state (there's even a picture of them together wearing keffiyehs), a movement of Syrian exiles lobbying for an American protectorate "...an idea that appeals to both Christian and to Moslem." And the pipe dream of King Hussein of an Arab nation encompassing all of modern day Iraq, Syria, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It's hard to resist thoughts of what might have been but Anderson does a good job of dismantling these hopes in the epilogue although pointing out "it's hard to imagine that any of this could possibly have produced a sadder history than what has actually transpired over the past century..." ...more
4

Mar 08, 2014

This is a splendid book on WWI, and also about Middle Eastern history, and also about the history of espionage. It sheds a great deal of light on the subsequent century.
(REVIEW IN PROCESS)

Its putative subject is T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia"), but in revisiting his story, Scott Anderson turns up plot after plot, scheme upon scheme around him. The result enriches our understanding of the period and region, while being a fine read.

Other protagonists anchor the book, giving Lawrence in Arabia more This is a splendid book on WWI, and also about Middle Eastern history, and also about the history of espionage. It sheds a great deal of light on the subsequent century.
(REVIEW IN PROCESS)

Its putative subject is T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia"), but in revisiting his story, Scott Anderson turns up plot after plot, scheme upon scheme around him. The result enriches our understanding of the period and region, while being a fine read.

Other protagonists anchor the book, giving Lawrence in Arabia more depth. We follow Curt Prüfer, a German espionage agent in Egypt as he works, largely in vain, to raise jihad against the British empire. There's Aaron Aaronsohn, a Romanian Jewish scientist working in Syria, who worked with British intelligence to undermine the Ottoman empire. One American plays a key role, William Yale, an oil company agent busy buying up Middle Eastern lands and talking himself into positions of influence. Mark Sykes, of Sykes-Picot(-Sazanov!) fame (or notoreity) receives more attention (largely critical, until the end) than histories usually allow.

Some details struck me in particular, starting with Anderson's bitter portrayal of the fumbling confusion of British policy. This includes terrible defeats in 1915 (the failed Gallipoli campaign, no progress on the western from, and losing an army as the siege of Kut), embarrassing moves (trying to bribe a Turkish general (168ff)), and dangerously incoherent planning:it seemed a very dangerous game to encourage native revolt with promises of autonomy or independence in one part of the Muslim world [Arabia] while ruthlessly quashing any hint of Muslim rebellion both of those same desires in another - as British India had been doing for decades. (161) Indeed, Anderson does a good job of showing intra-imperial tensions.

Anderson, like many biographers, is fascinated by the sheer strangeness of Lawrence, such as his utter coldness towards his brothers' deaths (brutally restrained even for the time), and his contempt of rank (very unusual for the times, before WWI sapped that respect). Not to mention his odd observations, like this one in a note to his bereaved mother: You know, men do nearly all die laughing, because they know death is very terrible, and a thing to be forgotten till after it has come. (130)
The book offers several fascinating alternate history possibilities, like that of an Entente attack on the Ottomans not in Gallipoli, but in northern Syria, where local defenses were scanty, and much strategic advantage to be had (96ff).

Anderson's ability to expand context beyond Lawrence's biographical details pays rich dividends, as the way the Arab revolt appears as a religiously conservative movement, opposed to the secularist Young Turks, and not far removed (geographically or ideologically) from Saudi Arabia's hardcore Wahhabi branch of Islam.

A novelist's eye lets Anderson bring forth characters with unusual roles and connections in history, like Minna Weizmann, a Russian-Jewish woman who spied for the Germans... and whose brother, Chaim, would go on to become Israel's first president. There's a fine portrait of Mark Sykes, co-designer of the Sykes-Picot Treaty, who appears as a privileged, well-trained, and ultimately disastrous man (153ff).

I'm enjoying Anderson's style, which manages to alternate between biographical attentiveness, geopolitical consideration, damning criticism, and some acidic attitude:two German agents provocateurs didn't limit their ministrations to the Cairene mewling class. (38)
The remarkable utility of that first sentence - its ability in a mere twelve words to denigrate one of the world's most fabled cities, three major religions, and to offend the Christian sensibilities of every high-ranking British diplomat or general who might read it - was purely the source of considerable pride to Lawrence. (88)
In just thirteen months, Britain had suffered some 350,000 casualties at the hands of the "sick man of Europe" [the Ottomans], had failed - and failed totally - where a ragtag collection of Balkan militias and armed peasants had repeatedly succeeded just three years earlier [the Gallipoli campaign and the First Balkan War (1911) respectively].



There are some weaknesses so far. Like most English-language books about WWI, Lawrence in Arabia understates the roles of nations other than America and empires other than the British. The French don't appear very much, beyond as spoilers for some of Lawrence's early plans and as a junior, weaker party to the Sykes-Picot Treaty. The Russians barely appear at all, which saps the narrative's ability to say anything about Ottoman plans. I'm sympathetic to McMeekin's argument that we should rename the treaty Sykes-Picot-Sazanov, but Anderson doesn't allow for any Russian role in that divvying-up at all. ...more
5

Aug 22, 2013

Lawrence in Arabia, the Making of the Modern Middle East is an outstanding attempt of popular history of the middle east during World War I. By focusing on four men: T.E. Lawrence of the British, Curt Prufer of the Germans, the Zionist Aaron Aaronsohn and the American oil manager, William Yale, the reader is taken down a path that is at once extremely complex, yet because this book is personality driven, made more simpler for contemporary readers.

Scott Anderson, a veteran American war Lawrence in Arabia, the Making of the Modern Middle East is an outstanding attempt of popular history of the middle east during World War I. By focusing on four men: T.E. Lawrence of the British, Curt Prufer of the Germans, the Zionist Aaron Aaronsohn and the American oil manager, William Yale, the reader is taken down a path that is at once extremely complex, yet because this book is personality driven, made more simpler for contemporary readers.

Scott Anderson, a veteran American war correspondent, aims to take away the veneer of myth from this time period, and instead is able to illustrate the double dealing, the folly and the destructive social, moral, military, and political forces unleashed by many, particularly in London, Berlin and Paris, who did not at all understand the consequences of their actions. Most of this work does focus on T.E. Lawrence, and especially how this scholar archeologist was able to see and comprehend the forces of early 20th century Ottoman Empire better than just about anyone else from Britain, France or Germany, in WWI. By focusing almost exclusively on Lawrence and three other interested parties, men who were some of the least likely persons to be involved in war and dismemberment of the corrupt Ottoman Empire.

I suppose due to Hollywood, Lawrence has entered the popular mind as an idealist, and to a large extent, this book presents him as such, especially in regards to his relations with his superior officers, whom he did not regard highly. For example, Lawrence's pleading to have an amphibious assault in what is now northern Syria, where Allied forces would be more welcome, versus the disaster of Galipoli, which was pushed by the disinterested French, should make you question every decision made by Allied high command, particularly at a political level. But Lawrence also is presented here as someone greatly willing to contribute to Britain's victory.

Yale, the standard Oil manager, and later US Army Captain and liaison to British forces in Palestine, is in many ways, the surprise of this work, as he was the most unlikely member of our quartet, yet perhaps the most significant in regards to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, which really did change everything for the modern Middle East. Yale's influence on this work cannot be understated, for he was the only one of the four who lived to old age, and was able to write, teach and influence western policy (especially the US and Britain) in regards to the Middle East for decades, though he is largely unknown to the public.

The only real critique I have here is that the writing could have been condensed some, but the author has dealt with a mountain of material. Also, the author does not go into great detail about the differences between the various Arab and Palestinian groups fighting the Ottomans. with the Otherwise this is an outstanding work that should be essential reading for understanding how the western world dealt with and helped to create the modern Middle East. ...more

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