Sunday, December 5, 2010


Welcome, one and all, to my latest project: the T.E. Lawrence Biographical Review!

What prompted the creation of this blog? A week or so ago, sent me an e-mail of recommended readings. While this is often a nuisance, I was quite surprised to find that one of the recommendations was a new biography of T.E. Lawrence by the acclaimed historian Michael Korda. My first reaction was delight, but a second one was: another Lawrence biography? Just how many are there?

Well, it turns out that there are hundreds, in a wide variety of languages, from Lowell Thomas's With Lawrence in Arabia (1924) to Korda's Hero, with many diverse and interesting examples in between. Before starting this blog, I've already read thirteen or so books on Lawrence, including:

Aldington, Richard. Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry. Chicago: Regnery, 1955.

Barr, James. Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009.

Brown, Malcolm. Lawrence of Arabia: The Life, the Legend. London: Thames and Hudson, 2005.

Florence, Ronald. Lawrence and Aaronsohn: T.E. Lawrence, Aaron Aaronsohn, and the Seeds of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New York: Penguin, 2008.

Gonzalez-Gerth, Miguel. T.E. Lawrence, Richard Aldington and the Death of Heroes. Austin: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, 1994.

Lawrence, Arnold W. (ed.) T.E. Lawrence by His Friends: A New Selection of Memoirs. 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963.

Lawrence, T.E. Revolt in the Desert. New York: Black Dog and Leventhall, 2005.

Lawrence, T.E. Seven Pillars of Wisdom: a Triumph. New York: Penguin, 2000.

MacLean, Alistair. Lawrence of Arabia. New York: Random House, 1962.

Mousa, Suleiman. T.E. Lawrence: An Arab View. London: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Thomas, Lowell. With Lawrence in Arabia. New York: The Century, 1924.

Wilson, Jeremy. Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography. London: William Heinemann, 1989.

Which, amazingly enough, is barely a drop in the bucket. Even this fairly small number provides a wide variety of interpretations and of Lawrence and his character. The absolute of ambiguity, controversy and surrounding Lawrence seventy-five years after his death is mind-boggling. Besides my personal interest, there's something of a practical one.

Though Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence's official biographer, is engaging in an invaluable project of bringing primary Lawrence sources to the 'Net, I haven't seen a comparable project regarding works about Lawrence by other people. With so many Lawrence biographies, with such a wide variety of interpretations and analysis of his character, motivations and importance, it seemed a good idea to separate the wheat from the chaf for the Lawrence-interested. I am nothing like the expert Mr. Wilson is, to be sure, but I imagine I have a lot more free time.

Like many people, I first became aware of T.E. Lawrence through David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which I still consider my favorite film ever. Watching that extraordinary film convinced me to look into the man behind the film, and what an experience it has been. The first Lawrence book I read was a juvenile work by novelist Alistair MacLean; soon I graduated into more substantial fare, like Lowell Thomas's bio and Lawrence's own Revolt in the Desert. It was Seven Pillars of Wisdom, however, that fully captured my attention. Whatever its trustworthiness as an historical account, it's a masterpiece of memoir and self-analysis, by an appealingly tortured and neurotic - yet unquestionably heroic - man. Five years after my first introduction to Seven Pillars, I'm still diving headlong into Lawrence books.

T.E. Lawrence is a figure who never goes out of style. He appeals to different people for different reasons. He's certainly a man of historical importance: his guerilla tactics have influenced everyone from Mao Tse-Tung to Vo Nguyen Giap to the Iraqi insurgency, and his involvement with the Colonial Office helped draw the current boundaries of the Middle East. Then there's his character: his psychology, character, beliefs, sexuality and truthfulness have been scrutinized by biographers of various shades, yet he remains elusive, impossible to pin down, and biographies are more likely to reflect their author's environment and sensibilities than Lawrence's (as this blog no doubt will). Aside from Thomas Jefferson, I don't think there's an historical personage half so shrouded in mystery and subjective interpretation. He's a figure of continuing fascination, ambiguity and importance, and no doubt he'll be the subject of biographies for centuries to come.

The purpose of this blog, then, is simple. I will read and review as many Lawrence biographies as I can, providing brief analysis and commentary on them. I will read the books as they become available to me, and not in any real order: you'll forgive the disjuncture, I hope, in starting with an Aldington or Mousa review rather than Lowell Thomas and Robert Graves. I probably won't review Lawrence's own works as they fall outside the blog's main purview.

This blog will be updated depending on how busy I am, and how often I read a Lawrence-related work (I do have other interests). As I have already reviewed Aldington's work, and have recently read two others, we should at least have a decent place to start.

Well, there's no time to waste then, is there?

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