Many of us have seen David Lean’s epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” and as magnificent as the film is it only touches on the life and greatness of its man character, T.E. Lawrence. And it is entertainment and not, in many instances, accurate. Though it does a fine job in capturing the essence of T.E. Lawrence. It’s been a while since I have done a book review and there have been many books I have read that are worthy. Michael Korda changed that with his recent book, a biography of World War I legend,T.E. Lawrence. The book titled, “Hero” is the kind of page turning book can’t put it down that deems it worthy. It is essentially three pieces: 1) Early Like 2) Arabia 3)Post Arabia.
The first piece is really about what shapes the man. Like so many of us. T.E. Lawrence was very complicated and his youth played a large role in creating that complexity. But what was clear was he was gifted in almost anything he did, it seems like the great one’s always are. In traveling his descriptions of the surroundings were meticulous and brilliant. His natural ability to learn languages – French, Italian, German and Arabic (it was noted though he had a Danish book, however he did not speak Danish – so I am one up on him in that category:-)). He was an archaeologist. A gifted map maker (valuable in those days). Without going into detail I shall leave to you to read the rest.
What is most amazing about the campaign in Arabia which occurred 1917-1918 is he accomplished so many military feats that had a lasting impact on military strategy up until today and will continue to influence future military campaigns. He was a Colonel in the British Army in World War 1, yet his influence was as great and greater than many legendary generals. His understanding of the middle east and ability to devise a military strategy based on guerrilla tactics was, at the time revolutionary. Many of the guerrilla tactics we saw in the American occupation of Iraq can be attributed to Lawrence. He had the political sense and patience to pull the various Bedouin tribes together and deal with traditional hostilities and blood feuds. He fought and beat the Turks and led the Arabs to Damascus, to hep stat the process of building the modern middle east. He accomplished all this by the time he was 28.
In the end though Michale Korda not only allows us to get insight into the man who led the Arab revolt, but the man before and after the war. What created him and what haunted him. We learn about his many great friendships. These include everyone from George Bernard and Charlotte Shaw, Winston Churchill, Field Marshall Allenby, Emir Faissl, and many other influential figures of the time. His huge impact at the Paris Peace Conferences after the end of WWI. His role in shaping modern-day Jordan and Iraq. What is impressed upon you throughout the book is his access to power and influence. Even after the war and peace conference, when he really tried to remove himself from the public eye, he could never resist the temptation to communicate with those of much greater respect than his immediate superiors.
Another thread throughout the book is the long journey to the publication of his epic account of the revolt, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. Part of the reason for his disappearance from the public was to complete this monumental work. As is usual with T.E. Lawrence he set exceptionally high standards and sought out advice from literary leaders like George Bernard Shaw and E.M. Forrester. In the end he created a literary masterpiece, that was both honest and shocking, but not dull.
In the end we learn about a very complex man through the lens of Michael Korda. One I think history outside of World War and the Arab revolt have struggled with to understand. Mr. Korda does an excellent job of helping us try to understand th man. I really,as I hope you can tell, enjoyed this book. I am big into the history of World War I. As Mr Korda points out we can all name at least a half a dozen to dozen influential figures from the second World War. But if you ask people about the first, many cannot not name any, except one: T.E. Lawrence.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 14, 2012