Lawrence in Arabia: Book summary and reviews of Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson

Lawrence in Arabia

War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

By Scott Anderson

Lawrence in Arabia
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2013,
    592 pages.

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Book Summary

The Arab Revolt against the Turks in World War One was, in the words of T.E. Lawrence, "a sideshow of a sideshow."  Amidst the slaughter in European trenches, the Western combatants paid scant attention to the Middle Eastern theater.  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. 
 
Curt Prüfer was an effete academic attached to the German embassy in Cairo, whose clandestine role was to foment Islamic jihad against British rule.  Aaron Aaronsohn was a renowned agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria. William Yale was the fallen scion of the American aristocracy, who traveled the Ottoman Empire on behalf of Standard Oil, dissembling to the Turks in order gain valuable oil concessions.  At the center of it all was Lawrence.  In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating ruins in the sands of Syria; by 1917 he was the most romantic figure of World War One, battling both the enemy and his own government to bring about the vision he had for the Arab people.
 
The intertwined paths of these four men – the schemes they put in place, the battles they fought, the betrayals they endured and committed – mirror the grandeur, intrigue and tragedy of the war in the desert.  Prüfer became Germany's grand spymaster in the Middle East.  Aaronsohn constructed an elaborate Jewish spy-ring in Palestine, only to have the anti-Semitic and bureaucratically-inept British first ignore and then misuse his organization, at tragic personal cost.  Yale would become the only American intelligence agent in the entire Middle East – while still secretly on the payroll of Standard Oil.  And the enigmatic Lawrence rode into legend at the head of an Arab army, even as he waged secret war against his own nation's imperial ambitions.
 
Based on years of intensive primary document research, Lawrence in Arabia definitively overturns received wisdom on how the modern Middle East was formed.  Sweeping in its action, keen in its portraiture, acid in its condemnation of the destruction wrought by European colonial plots, this is a book that brilliantly captures the way in which the folly of the past creates the anguish of the present.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Readers seeking to understand why turmoil has been so omnipresent in the Middle East will benefit from Anderson's easy prose, which makes liberal use of primary sources and research, but reads like a political thriller." - Publishers Weekly

"With strong and insightful writing, using T.E. Lawrence as a window onto the tragic history of World War I and its settlement in the Middle East, Anderson makes this complicated history both vivid and engaging. Highly recommended." - Library Journal

"A well-fleshed portrait of T.E. Lawrence brought in burnished relief against other scoundrels in the Arabian narrative....A lively, contrasting study of hubris and humility." - Kirkus Reviews

"Anderson's genius is to show how the actions of these four men intertwined on many levels....His research is extensive and well integrated into the story, while the prose is as addictive and sophisticated as the best John le Carré thriller." - Shelf Talker

"Lawrence of Arabia is said to have reinvented warfare, and Scott Anderson has now reinvented Lawrence. By placing him alongside the other adventurers and spies who roamed the Arabian war theater, Anderson brilliantly illuminates how the modern Middle East came to be. The research in this book is so daringly original, and the writing so spectacular, that it feels like I'm reading about the topic for the first time. A deep and utterly captivating reading experience." - Sebastian Junger, New York Times bestselling author of War and The Perfect Storm

"A startlingly rich and revealing portrait of one of history's most iconic figures. . . Anderson is an exquisite writer and dogged researcher, whose accounts of century-old brutalities are made utterly convincing by the knowledge that he has personally witnessed the sort of offhanded horror he's unearthed in archives. Lovers of big 20th-century history will be in nirvana." - Tom Reiss, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Black Count and The Orientalist

"An amazing accomplishment. Lawrence in Arabia captures the bravado, surreality, grandeur of the Middle East in the birth throes of the 20th century . . This is history of the most vivid and relevant order." - Doug Stanton, New York Times bestselling author of Horse Soldiers and In Harm's Way

"Lawrence in Arabia is a work of serious research and powerful insight, but it is so rich in incredible stories and glittering details that it felt like a guilty pleasure while I was reading it. Completely absorbing, sweeping in scope and riveting from the first word, this is a book that will stay with me for a long time." - Candice Millard, New York Times bestselling author ofDestiny Of The Republic and River of Doubt

"Few characters in history can match T.E. Lawrence for adventure, intrigue, or sheer enigma . . . Here is an intimate history painted on a very large canvas, with one fantastically charismatic—and fabulously flawed—man at the dusty center of the tale." - Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author of Ghost Soldiers and Hellhound On His Trail

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Scott Anderson is a veteran war correspondent who has reported from Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Sudan, Bosnia, El Salvador and many other strife-torn countries. A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, his work has also appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper's and Outside. He is the author of novels Moonlight Hotel and Triage and of non-fiction books The Man Who Tried to Save the World and The 4 O'Clock Murders, and co-author of War Zones and Inside The League with his brother Jon Lee Anderson.

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