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Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence

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The unabridged edition was selected by The New York Times as one of the six best nonfiction books of 1990. Now this critically acclaimed biography--abridged by the author--offers a portrait of the legendary modern-day knight, Arab revolt leader, British secret agent and World War I military genius. 32 pages of photographs.


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The unabridged edition was selected by The New York Times as one of the six best nonfiction books of 1990. Now this critically acclaimed biography--abridged by the author--offers a portrait of the legendary modern-day knight, Arab revolt leader, British secret agent and World War I military genius. 32 pages of photographs.

30 review for Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    I suppose, that in one sense, one has to be really interested in T.E. Lawrence to enjoy all 915 pages of this massive biography; I am, and I did. For those interested in a contemporary history of the Revolt in the Desert, I would recommend Scott Anderson's excellent Lawrence in Arabia. This biography is devoted to Chapman/Lawrence/Ross/Shaw the man, from beginning to end, and is particularly interesting for its treatment of his later life and work during his post-war stints in the R.A.F. and the I suppose, that in one sense, one has to be really interested in T.E. Lawrence to enjoy all 915 pages of this massive biography; I am, and I did. For those interested in a contemporary history of the Revolt in the Desert, I would recommend Scott Anderson's excellent Lawrence in Arabia. This biography is devoted to Chapman/Lawrence/Ross/Shaw the man, from beginning to end, and is particularly interesting for its treatment of his later life and work during his post-war stints in the R.A.F. and the tank corps, a part of his life that is typically scanted. It was enough to make me decide to pick up copies of Lawrence's account of the his years in training at the R.A.F.-- the Mint -- and his translation of the Odyssey, generally acclaimed at the time, something to look forward to as the epic is a personal favorite (although I know know not a word of Greek -- perhaps in another life). One gets a sense not only of Lawrence's intellectual brilliance, but also of the profound trauma of the war -- from which he never really recovered -- and its deformation of his later life. Turning the last page leaves one with a sense of Aristotelian tragedy -- purgation through pity and terror.

  2. 4 out of 5

    John Nelson

    This is an extremely long and thorough biography of T.E. Lawrence - better known as Lawrence of Arabia. The author had access both to Lawrence's private papers as well as the British government's official papers on his exploits, which inexplicably were kept under security seal for 50 years. These resources show in the level of detail included in the book and the extensive citations backing it up. The book is less successful in answering what seems to me to be the most interesting question raised This is an extremely long and thorough biography of T.E. Lawrence - better known as Lawrence of Arabia. The author had access both to Lawrence's private papers as well as the British government's official papers on his exploits, which inexplicably were kept under security seal for 50 years. These resources show in the level of detail included in the book and the extensive citations backing it up. The book is less successful in answering what seems to me to be the most interesting question raised by Lawrence's life: namely, what made his unique psyche tick. Even during WWI, Lawrence was regarded as an eccentric, which was not surprising for an officer who thrived on detached duty that allowed him to operate largely as a lone eagle representative of the British army in Arabia. Lawrence's divided loyalties caused problems for him at the conference where the former Ottoman Empire was divided after the war. The British and French governments had made promises to their Arabian allies which they never intended to keep. This duplicity placed Lawrence in a difficult position of divided loyalties between his country and his comrades in arms in the desert campaign. It also is evident that the Arab leaders played a double game to some extent, promising action in the desert campaign in return for weapons and other aid, but not always delivering their side of the bargain. Lawrence ultimately left or was sent home from the negotiations. It is evident that he was disillusioned by this time, but it is less clear, at least to me, whether this disillusionment was based on the particular personalities involved, the inherently amoral character of international power politics, post-traumatic stress disorder arising from his wartime experiences (which included being sodomized by a Turkish officer after being captured while traveling undercover in the town of Deraa), or some combination of these various causes. After returning to civilian life in England, Lawrence completely "jumped the tracks" of what he might have been expected to do. Lawrence found himself a celebrity on two continents, thanks largely to the efforts of the American journalist Lowell Thomas, and had many attractive possibilities open to him. He could have remained in the army, returned to archaeological work in the near East, joined the faculty of any number of British universities, or become a full-time author. He even was offered a position as Rector of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Instead, he elected to enlist in the Royal Air Force under an assumed name and become an airplane mechanic. Lawrence fought tenaciously to join and stay in the RAF despite being over-age and having a background which made it uncomfortable for officers, not to mention sergeants, to give him orders. Indeed, Lawrence was not above asking his famous and influential friends to pull strings for him in these efforts. The strange thing is that Lawrence apparently disliked many aspects of service as an enlisted man. He made no real effort to fit in - on one occasion when an officer berated him, Lawrence smarted off by answering in Arabic - and did not hide his true identity. Lawrence bought a series of high-end motorcycles which no airman could have afforded on his service pay (and died when he crashed the last of these). He found time for publishing and translation projects throughout his time in the RAF, and continued to socialize with political and literary celebrities such as Winston Churchill, Robert Graves, and even Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hardy. The obvious interpretation of Lawrence's decision to enlist would be that he became disillusioned with the burdens of command, and sought to lose himself in the life of an ordinary soldier. As he always kept at least one foot in the life of a literary/military/political celebrity, however, it seems clear that this interpretation is not valid. Even after reading all 1,188 pages of this biography, the true character of T.E. Lawrence remains elusive.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    A clear, comprehensive and academic biography of Lawrence. Wilson provides a thorough account of Lawrence’s life and the world he lived in. A lot of the book deals with myths and legends associated with Lawrence. Wilson admires Lawrence but his style is reasoned and he doesn’t deal in sensationalism; he takes care to weigh available evidence before presenting his arguments and judgments. For the most part, Wilson’s writing is easy to follow and moves along at a good pace, and his points are well- A clear, comprehensive and academic biography of Lawrence. Wilson provides a thorough account of Lawrence’s life and the world he lived in. A lot of the book deals with myths and legends associated with Lawrence. Wilson admires Lawrence but his style is reasoned and he doesn’t deal in sensationalism; he takes care to weigh available evidence before presenting his arguments and judgments. For the most part, Wilson’s writing is easy to follow and moves along at a good pace, and his points are well-argued. The book can get a bit dry, though. Wilson quotes a lot from contemporary documents and letters; some readers may find these quotations excessively long and not particularly interesting. It also feels like Wilson wanted to dump every scrap of his research into the book. In spite of this, there are a few subjects that some readers might wish received more coverage, like Lawrence’s illegitimate birth, the capture of Aqaba, or Lawrence’s death. Also, Wilson’s treatment of Lawrence’s statements sometimes seem too uncritical; you have to pore through the footnotes and appendices for some coverage of these. If you’re looking for an “interpretation” of Lawrence, you won’t really find it. There’s also a small number of typos. A thorough and balanced work.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Young Kim

    What a life it was; he lived a life of real "Indiana Johns." It was tough, risky, exciting and intriguing. He was multilingual, a passionate intellectual, cunning intelligence agent and brilliant military tactician with multiple times of actual combat experiences. One officer wrote in his notes: Though a price of £15,000 has been put on his head by the Turks, no Arab has, as yet, attempted to betray him. The Sharif of Mecca has given him the status of one of his sons, and he is just the finely tem What a life it was; he lived a life of real "Indiana Johns." It was tough, risky, exciting and intriguing. He was multilingual, a passionate intellectual, cunning intelligence agent and brilliant military tactician with multiple times of actual combat experiences. One officer wrote in his notes: Though a price of £15,000 has been put on his head by the Turks, no Arab has, as yet, attempted to betray him. The Sharif of Mecca has given him the status of one of his sons, and he is just the finely tempered steel that supports the whole structure of our influence in Arabia. He is a very inspiring gentleman adventurer. By the summer of 1918, the Turks were offering a substantial reward for Lawrence's capture, £20,000 (approximately $2.1 million in 2017 dollars or £1.5 million). The archaeologist smokescreen military intelligence missions in the Middle East were crucial for the allies' ultimate victory with most of the fuel resources for the Central Powers cut by the British forces. Somehow Thomas Edward Lawrence's been the most famous when it comes to the "Arab Revolt" against a key Central Power Ottoman Empire during the First World War, but his story tells a lot more people and their contributions, as a matter of fact some more important and heavier than Col. T. E. Lawrence's roles in the fields of [Near East] archaeology, military intelligence and diplomacy during and after the war: R. Campbell Thompson, Leonard Woolley, Lt. Col. Stewart Francis Newcombe, Lt. Cmdr. David G. Hogarth, Gertrude Bell, Brig. Gen. Sir. Gilbert Falkingham Clayton and Lt. Col. (High Commissioner) Sir Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon among the many. Although their accomplishments in the region don't have to be necessarily considered right things for the world peace as their works then would be the cause of all the bloody and hateful troubles currently going on in the Middle East, they DID take risks of their own lives to serve their country; they were doing what they believed were right. Anyways, what distinguishes T. E. Lawrence from the other members would be his dream of the independent Arab nation, not French or British Mandatory with the new, bizarre boundaries we see today. During the closing years of the war, Lawrence sought to convince his superiors in the British government that Arab independence was in their interests, but he met with mixed success. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Britain contradicted the promises of independence that he had made to the Arabs and frustrated his work. This book describes a rare and distinguishing life story quite vivid enough.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Stewart

    T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935), best known as Lawrence of Arabia, was an enigmatic and perplexing man who undoubtedly was plagued with intermittent depression and, despite his fame, strong self-doubt. He had ample opportunity to gain fame and money but was indifferent to both. Jermey Wilson's 1989 biography, using letters to and from Lawrence and British Army documents until recently not available, provides an amazing amount of detail to this troubled soul and his unusual life. Lawrence was an archa T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935), best known as Lawrence of Arabia, was an enigmatic and perplexing man who undoubtedly was plagued with intermittent depression and, despite his fame, strong self-doubt. He had ample opportunity to gain fame and money but was indifferent to both. Jermey Wilson's 1989 biography, using letters to and from Lawrence and British Army documents until recently not available, provides an amazing amount of detail to this troubled soul and his unusual life. Lawrence was an archaeologist in what is now Syria during the early 1910s when World War I broke out, pitting Britain, France, and Russia against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. His fluency in Arabic and his first-hand knowledge of the Middle East brought him to the attention of British Army headquarters in Cairo, and he later became an adviser to Emir Faisal and helped lead the Arab Revolt against the Turks when he was only in his late 20s. Although his "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" of 1926, an account of his exploits during World War I, is considered a classic of military history, Lawrence had many doubts about his writing abilities. His ancient Greek was good enough that he made a translation of "The Odyssey." Just a few months after leaving the RAF, where he sought to escape the publicity of his Arabian actions, Lawrence was killed in a motorcycle accident near his Dorset home at the age of 46. Wilson's biography gave me much more detail about Lawrence's Middle East exploits and the 16 years that followed than the famous David Lean 1962 movie "Lawrence of Arabia" could possibly give. But, you know, Peter O'Toole does look a bit like T.E. Lawrence.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim Good

    Details the history of Lawrence of Arabia including his childhood, leading the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, and his time in the air force following the war. The biography is exceedingly detailed, but does not draw any conclusions instead relying on the facts and letting the readers draw their own conclusions. Interesting details include Lawrence’s masochistic behavior (paying others to beat him up), his reclusive ness and unwillingness to use his fame following the war, and his insigh Details the history of Lawrence of Arabia including his childhood, leading the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, and his time in the air force following the war. The biography is exceedingly detailed, but does not draw any conclusions instead relying on the facts and letting the readers draw their own conclusions. Interesting details include Lawrence’s masochistic behavior (paying others to beat him up), his reclusive ness and unwillingness to use his fame following the war, and his insights into how an ordinary man can have extraordinary impacts on the events around him. Lawrence was able to lead the revolt by staying true to the cause of the Arabs against his own personal gain.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Rodriguez

    "As for harnessing to my go-cart the eternal force - well,no: I pushed my go-cart into the eternal stream,and so it went faster than the ones that are pushed cross stream, and so it went faster than the ones that are pushed cross-stream or up-stream. I am still puzzled as to how far the individual counts: a lot I fancy, if he pushes the right way." T.E. Lawrence

  8. 4 out of 5

    Clint

    Pretty good, but too long, and the author thinks too highly of himself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hermien

    Very detailed. Interesting history of the Middle East. Unfortunately nothing much changed or improved there!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Debra J.

    Very satisfying in -depth look at the real Lawrence of Arabia. An amazing man.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eric Atkisson

    I've had this book for at least 25 and probably closer to 30 years. It's one of those I kept swearing I would read but shied away from for so long because of its daunting length (935 pages of narrative before you get to the appendices). It finally took a global pandemic and an extended period of self-imposed house arrest to give me the time and motivation I needed to read it. So that all said, was it worth it? Not exactly. It's a competent and thoroughly researched biography to be sure, but at l I've had this book for at least 25 and probably closer to 30 years. It's one of those I kept swearing I would read but shied away from for so long because of its daunting length (935 pages of narrative before you get to the appendices). It finally took a global pandemic and an extended period of self-imposed house arrest to give me the time and motivation I needed to read it. So that all said, was it worth it? Not exactly. It's a competent and thoroughly researched biography to be sure, but at least twice and arguably three times longer than it should have been. Aside from his notable role in the Arab Revolt of the First World War, and some significant contributions to British diplomacy in the Middle East through 1921, his life afterward was largely one of voluntary monotony, tedium, and aversion to public scrutiny, as well as constant self-doubt and maddening procrastination when it came to his literary pursuits--hardly the material for another 250 pages worth of biography. I'm not sorry I read it, but I wouldn't recommend it to others.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    A lengthier account of Lawrence's life in a wider military-historical context with a rather more taut narrative bouquet than the subject's autobiographical writing in seven pillars of wisdom, which is recommended to be read first, and in conjuction with James Barr's A Line in the Sand.

  13. 4 out of 5

    John Bohnert

    This would have been a much better biography if major editing had eliminated numerous unnecessary details.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Qhenn Manns

    This book was big and heavy. Clearly weighed down by minute detail. I finally gave up.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Laurence Burke

    Those who only know T.E. Lawrence from the famous movie "Lawrence of Arabia" will find that there is much more to the man than his role in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Lawrence was establishing himself as an archaeologist in the years before the war and traveled in literary circles in the years following the war. A blurb on the dust-jacket says, "This is Lawrence on a camel, not on a couch." That seems to sum this up nicely: Lawrence's actions are the cen Those who only know T.E. Lawrence from the famous movie "Lawrence of Arabia" will find that there is much more to the man than his role in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Lawrence was establishing himself as an archaeologist in the years before the war and traveled in literary circles in the years following the war. A blurb on the dust-jacket says, "This is Lawrence on a camel, not on a couch." That seems to sum this up nicely: Lawrence's actions are the center of interest. Wilson generally avoids psychoanalysis, though he does make a good case that Lawrence's capture and homosexual rape at the hands of a pro-Ottoman Arab hung over Lawrence, making him a troubled person until his untimely death. But this biography, as I say, concentrates on Lawrence's actions and influence on events large and small. Wilson provides excellent background for understanding the origins of present-day frictions in the near Middle-East (from modern Iraq to the Mediterranean coast). In placing Lawrence's actions in context, Wilson does an excellent job of contrasting the desires of a fractured Arab leadership involved in the anti-Ottoman Arab revolt with the complex and often conflicting goals of the French and British in the area. He also relates the complex relationship between the UK government in London and the British colonial government in India that influenced British activity both during and after the war. The controversy over what role Lawrence should have (if any) in the post-war peace talks further illustrates the complex international relations existing at the end of WWI. Wilson presents Lawrence as an increasingly private person who began to withdraw from the limelight in the final months of the war. Once he finally managed to escape public service, Lawrence seems to have sought privacy in a shaky anonymity while he sought to find his self-identity. Again, though, Wilson lets this impression build from Lawrence's actions and his letters. This is a long book, but the length is necessary to adequately understand a complex person. I think it will reward the reader who pushes through to the end.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jim Kelsh

    This book has been on my shelf for over 25 years and I finally decided to tackle it. It's very heavy lifting (at almost 1200 pages, pardon the pun). There is no single aspect of T. E Lawrence's life not minutely covered in toto. I was to page 400 before encountering the first scene from the movie. Authorized biography or not, it needed a editor. One big takeaway I got from it resonates with our world today. Much of Lawrence's best work was trying to make sense and order from the nomadic Arab trib This book has been on my shelf for over 25 years and I finally decided to tackle it. It's very heavy lifting (at almost 1200 pages, pardon the pun). There is no single aspect of T. E Lawrence's life not minutely covered in toto. I was to page 400 before encountering the first scene from the movie. Authorized biography or not, it needed a editor. One big takeaway I got from it resonates with our world today. Much of Lawrence's best work was trying to make sense and order from the nomadic Arab tribes. He made a good attempt, but even in 1919, the organization of nation states in the Middle East was a Sisyphean task and remains so. This volume is only for the most ardent of scholars. 2 and a half jimmys out of five

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alton

    The book has three parts. I read the first two parts from the original, nearly 700 pages of meticulous Middle East history and very little bio of the man. I finished by reading the last section from the abridged version. The author admitted his original should probably be considered more of a middle east history than a biography of Lawrence: every treaty, memo, letter, and military personality is quoted extensively. I also felt like it paraphrased Lawrence's own Seven Pillars of Wisdom book so f The book has three parts. I read the first two parts from the original, nearly 700 pages of meticulous Middle East history and very little bio of the man. I finished by reading the last section from the abridged version. The author admitted his original should probably be considered more of a middle east history than a biography of Lawrence: every treaty, memo, letter, and military personality is quoted extensively. I also felt like it paraphrased Lawrence's own Seven Pillars of Wisdom book so frequently that one might simply read that instead of this biography. Amazing book but I would read the abridged version or Seven Pillars (or both).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    3.5 stars. Very, very long, very thorough bio of TE Lawrence, which devoted a lot of pages to his life after WWI and the peace conference. Very good on the effects his war time rape had on the rest of his life. Very balanced thoughtful work. Some parts dragged. 2.5 months is a very long time for me to be reading any single book (if I'm actively reading it), although I did put it down here and there. Wish it had been split into 2 volumes as it is very heavy. Unfortunately not available as an eboo 3.5 stars. Very, very long, very thorough bio of TE Lawrence, which devoted a lot of pages to his life after WWI and the peace conference. Very good on the effects his war time rape had on the rest of his life. Very balanced thoughtful work. Some parts dragged. 2.5 months is a very long time for me to be reading any single book (if I'm actively reading it), although I did put it down here and there. Wish it had been split into 2 volumes as it is very heavy. Unfortunately not available as an ebook.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    A well put together biography of a great man. A man who strived to not only serve his country, but to do this whilst respecting others. He had a great respect for the people of other nations. His courage and determination was only let down by actions of others. A great true story of a great man ahead of his times, a few lessons for some even today. If you are going to read about him, please choose this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Londono

    BRILLIANT! The story, the legend, the writing style, all of it. No longer published, but can be found used. A must read for any history buff. One definitely gains a better understanding of how and why the Middle East is as screwed up as it is today. Had they only listened to Thomas Edward Lawrence, a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amit

    A rather insipid, school bookish narration of what surely was, at least in popular memory, one of the most fascinating stories of 20th century. The legend of this man, caught in the crossfire of the dying Ottoman, the resurgent Arab and the imperialist British forces, is much larger than life and this book!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Orrman-Rossiter

    'Happy are those who can do things worth recording, or write things worth reading: most happy those to whom it is given to do both' (Sir Arnold Wilson) T. E. Lawrence was certainly the latter, as this excellent biography attests!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Arjun

    Interested in learning about what we're doing in Iraq...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aella

    This is a book I have read twice before. If that doesn't tell you how much I love this one, I don't know what will! This isn't for everyone, it is a biography. But full of life.(lol)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Therese

    Thought-provoking; a complex and admirable person, always struggling.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Owen

    My fav biography of Ned. An amazing and compelling person.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tony Sacre

    The movie made me read the book, the book inspired a portrait. One of my top five movies ever!The book was interesting but far to long!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Good comprehensive bio of a fascinating man.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shahrun

    I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/11048307 I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/11048307

  30. 5 out of 5

    Preston Malone

    Great read. What a remarkable man Lawrence was - and Jeremy Wilson tells his story wonderfully.

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