Masterpiece, magnum opus, tour de force
, throw in every superlative you can find to describe an incredible story about an inspiring hero and tragic man! Of all the millions who fought in all the theaters of WWI, this man is probably the first and only one who comes to mind if asked to name someone from that conflict. This 5 Star biography of T.E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia
will introduce you to someone you would want to meet, given the chance. If all you know about Lawrence is the David Lean movie, then you will see that story here but so much more. If you do not know about Lawrence, then this book will be wonderment. His personality was remarkable consistent. His whole life had been, in a sense, a training program for heroism on a grand scale; the war had merely provided an opportunity for Lawrence to fulfill his destiny. His intense will and his determination to have things his own way were always remarkable. He had methodically pushed himself beyond his physical limits, as a child and as a youth long before the war. He had carefully honed his strength and his courage, forced himself to a lifelong repression of his own sexuality, and punished himself for every temptation toward what other men would have regarded as normal impulses, a deliberate calculated assault of his own senses. He would always remain, however reluctantly a combination of genius and hero…
Korda’s book begins where Lawrence is most familiar to us, in the desert during the 3rd summer of WWI. The first 2 chapters take us up to the capture of Aqaba and the start of his remarkable military exploits. We then go back in time to see his childhood and how he trained himself to be ready for his destiny, whatever it would be. Lawrence did not just fall into fame. He prepared himself over years. That story itself is fascinating and key to understanding the man. We come back to Lawrence in the war and follow him to Damascus and then postwar.
What was most fascinating, other than his wartime experiences, was how influential Lawrence was after the war in so many different venues. He was Feisal’s escort at the Paris Peace Conference and made many recommendations on how to reward the Arabs for their support in the war. Lawrence’s influence and his contacts with political leaders, kings, diplomats, etc there are simply an amazing story you probably have never heard about. Disappointed in the outcome (he would say betrayal) of the Arabs in Paris, he escapes on a trip to Egypt in the new RAF Handley-Page bomber. Leaving the Paris Peace conference, the bomber crashed on landing at Rome when the pilot tried to land downwind. The pilot and copilot were killed and Lawrence suffered a broken collarbone or shoulder. Shortly after this crash, he resumes his trip on another bomber, making emergency landings in Taranto, Albania, Athens, Crete and Libya. Lawrence then becomes an advisor to Churchill’s Middle East Department. He has a central role in creating Iraq and Transjordan for Feisal and Abdulla. This was a core issue for Lawrence as he was guilty over his leadership in the war in which the Arabs were promised (and then betrayed) a nation and so many died at his command or due to his forces.
After his efforts to gain the Arabs a nation, he seeks to avoid his fame by enlisting in the RAF under an assumed name. He is discovered and forced to leave, then enlists in the Royal Tank Corps and finally is allowed back into the RAF under another name as an enlisted airman. As AC2 (Aircraftman) Shaw, he spends his time until 1935 in the RAF, stationed in Britain and in India. These years are a revelation and immensely fun to read about. He had an impact on sea rescue boat technology that would be used to rescue downed pilots in WWII. He fought against ridiculous and arcane regulations, using his contacts and fame to pressure military leaders to better treat the enlisted force.
Lawrence is simply an amazing man and you should treat yourself to this story. Yes it is 700 pages long but the pages will fly by so quickly. Mr Korda has a wonderful narrative and keeps the action going.