Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson
War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

79%

20 Critic Reviews

Anderson’s own experience in some of the world’s most chaotic places allows him to speak with authority in his portrayal, at once critical and appreciative, of Lawrence and other larger-than-life individuals...
-Publishers Weekly

Synopsis

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
New York TimesChristian Science Monitor • NPR • Seattle TimesSt. Louis Dispatch

National Book Critics Circle Finalist -- American Library Association Notable Book

A thrilling and revelatory narrative of one of the most epic and consequential periods in 20th century history – the Arab Revolt and the secret “great game” to control the Middle East
      
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.

 

About Scott Anderson

See more books from this Author
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. 
 
Published August 6, 2013 by Anchor. 618 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, War, Biographies & Memoirs, Travel. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Sep 08 2013
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Critic reviews for Lawrence in Arabia
All: 20 | Positive: 19 | Negative: 1

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Sep 08 2013

...its effort to depict Lawrence, his military raids, the tribal leaders with whom he dealt, the inept British military effort and the sly French diplomatic one are all shown by this book to be unusually faithful to the facts. It’s high praise for both the visually grand film and this grandly ambitious book to say that they do have a lot in common.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Alex Von Tunzelmann on Aug 08 2013

This engrossing, thoughtful and intricate account raises the question of whether that might be the most outsiders can ever achieve.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Ian Thomson on Mar 30 2014

The story of how the painfully shy Oxford archaeologist became a crusader figure for the Arab revolt has been told many times. Scott Anderson, an American journalist, has written the most scholarly life of Lawrence to date...This weighty if readable biography gives the Arab revolt and its dashing architect their due in history.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Christopher de Bellaigue on Mar 14 2014

In his well-constructed demolition of Britain's "amateurs", Anderson neglects the paradox that Lawrence, an archaeologist who never received a day's military training, a scholar and an aesthete amid the blood and guts, was the greatest amateur of them all.

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Publishers Weekly

Good
on May 20 2013

Anderson’s own experience in some of the world’s most chaotic places allows him to speak with authority in his portrayal, at once critical and appreciative, of Lawrence and other larger-than-life individuals...

Read Full Review of Lawrence in Arabia: War, Dece... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by Efraim Karsh on Aug 09 2013

How did an archaeologist with no military education successfully brand himself a world authority on guerrilla warfare...The answer offered by Scott Anderson's beautifully crafted but ultimately flawed account of the desert revolt is that "Lawrence was able to become 'Lawrence of Arabia' because no one was paying much attention."

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Kirkus

Good
on May 15 2013

Anderson thoroughly explores the making of the Lawrence legend, from the effortless taking of Aqaba to “the fantasy of the ‘clean war’ of Arab warriors.” A lively, contrasting study of hubris and humility.

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NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Kass on Aug 05 2013

It is a must read for historians and those with an interest in a good story within a well developed narrative.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Kathe Connair on Aug 18 2013

The book’s broader achievement is that it reveals the incompetence and deceit of Lawrence’s British superiors in shaping the postwar Middle East. It also offers a revealing account of other British agents and those from the United States and Germany in the remarkable events of the period.

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Washington Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden on Nov 11 2013

Scott Anderson relates the story with vivid writing supported by a staggering amount of research — one of the more fascinating reads I have encountered in years.

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
Reviewed by Nick Romeo on Aug 07 2013

Anderson interweaves the stories of Lawrence, Prüfer, Aaronsohn, and Yale to create a rich and detailed account of European machinations in the Middle East during a critical and turbulent period.

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
Reviewed by Monitor Staff on Aug 01 2013

"Lawrence in Arabia" works as both an action-packed summer read and a valuable guide to the history that helped to shape today's Middle East.

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The Boston Globe

Good
Reviewed by Matthew Price on Aug 16 2013

Anderson details Lawrence’s exploits with precision and gritty detail. He comes neither to bury nor praise the legendary fighter...

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The Seattle Times

Good
Reviewed by Kevin J. Hamilton on Aug 11 2013

Scott Anderson’s new nonfiction book “Lawrence in Arabia” is a dazzling work of history that reads like a courtroom thriller, about T.E. Lawrence and the World War I-era political double-dealing that created the modern Middle East.

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USA Today

Good
Reviewed by Matt Damsker on Aug 07 2013

...no four-hour movie can do real justice to the bureaucratic fumblings, the myriad spies, heroes and villains, the dense fugue of humanity...Thrillingly, Scott Anderson's Lawrence in Arabia...does exactly that, weaving enormous detail into its 500-plus pages with a propulsive narrative thread.

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Boston.com

Good
Reviewed by Matthew Price on Aug 16 2013

Anderson’s thrilling new book, “Lawrence in Arabia,” a work as galvanizing and cinematic as Lean’s masterpiece, Lawrence again takes center stage in an account that moves from the halls of power in London to the crowded streets of Cairo to the vast desert wastes of the Arabian peninsula.

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Watermark Books And Cafe

Good
on Aug 24 2013

Anderson has created a work that will be enjoyed by readers interested in the British Empire, the Middle East, the first World War, or in adventure stories on a grand scale.

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St. Louis Today

Good
Reviewed by REPPS HUDSON on Aug 24 2013

History buffs have known this story for many years, but now a wider audience can give it the attention it deserves. If one wonders why many Arabs today seethe with resentment of the West, this book goes a long way toward providing one answer.

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Times Dispatch

Good
Reviewed by Judith Chettle on Aug 18 2013

Lawrence, as Anderson so effectively evokes, was an extraordinary man, one who fought hard for Arab independence. But Anderson’s well-told tale of war, betrayal and depressing short-sightedness is also a vivid reminder of why the Middle East continues to preoccupy us.

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Alaska Dispatch

Above average
Reviewed by Nick Romeo on Aug 12 2013

Anderson’s narrative clarifies the origins of some of the seemingly intractable struggles that still beset the Middle East.

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