Book Review: Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson

I picked up this book on a whim because I’d seen the David Lean movie and thought it would be fun to learn about the man behind it. I saw someone recommend this title and got hooked on the sample and here we are.

This book tells the story of the Arab Revolt in WWI through the eyes of T.E. Lawrence and three other men: Curt Prüfer (a German), Aaron Aaronsohn (a Jewish-Romanian immigrant to Palestine), and William Yale (an American). I found it to be an engaging way to understand the history of the region and the origin of the Lawrence of Arabia legend, but if you’re not already interested in these topics this book probably isn’t for you.

I appreciated how this book provided a greater context and multiple points of view for the Arab Revolt. Before remembering the book, I remembered vaguely from high school history that it was related to WWI and that it set the stage for a lot of the regions conflicts today. After reading this book, I have an actual appreciation for how the conflict fit into the broader story of the war, the role that T.E. Lawrence played in it, and at least some of the ways it set the stage for future conflict.

The biggest thing I’ll probably remember about this book 5 years from now is the workplace politics aspect of it. Lawrence more or less forces his way out of a desk job and into the front by making himself indispensable to Emir Faisal without being asked by his command — he makes his first trip out to meet the leaders of the effort while on leave. From there his influence on the campaign grows because of his ability to work with the Arab leaders and deliver results, until he’s effectively running his own front in the war as a Major.

Contrast this with Aaron Aaronsohn, who’s spy ring and work as an agronomist in Palestine makes him a central figure in the early Zionist political movement, but increasingly finds himself sidelined once he gets separated from the day-to-day of the spy ring and is unable to make alliances with the other early Zionist leaders.

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