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Lawrence in Arabia

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Lawrence in Arabia

War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
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NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BYNew York TimesChristian Science MonitorNPRSeattle TimesSt. Louis DispatchNational Book Critics Circle Finalist -- American Library Association Notable BookA...
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BYNew York TimesChristian Science MonitorNPRSeattle TimesSt. Louis DispatchNational Book Critics Circle Finalist -- American Library Association Notable BookA...
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  • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    New York Times

  • Christian Science Monitor
  • NPR
  • Seattle Times
  • St. 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.

Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Introduction

    On the morning of October 30, 1918, Colonel Thomas Edward Law- rence received a summons to Buckingham Palace. The king had
    requested his presence.

    The collective mood in London that day was euphoric. For the past four years and three months, Great Britain and much of the rest of the world had been consumed by the bloodiest conflict in recorded history, one that had claimed the lives of some sixteen million people across three continents. Now, with a speed that scarcely could have been imagined mere weeks earlier, it was all coming to an end. On that same day, one of Great Britain's three principal foes, the Ottoman Empire, was accept- ing peace terms, and the remaining two, Germany and Austria-Hungary, would shortly follow suit. Colonel Lawrence's contribution to that war effort had been in its Middle Eastern theater, and he too was caught quite off guard by its rapid close. At the beginning of that month, he had still been in the field assisting in the capture of Damascus, an event that heralded the collapse of the Ottoman army. Back in England for less than a week, he was already consulting with those senior British statesmen and generals tasked with mapping out the postwar borders of the Middle East, a once-fanciful endeavor that had now become quite urgent. Lawrence was apparently under the impression that his audience with King George V that morning was to discuss those ongoing deliberations.

    He was mistaken. Once at the palace, the thirty-year-old colonel was ushered into a ballroom where, flanked by a half dozen dignitaries and a coterie of costumed courtiers, the king and queen soon entered. A low cushioned stool had been placed just before the king's raised dais, while to the monarch's immediate right, the lord chamberlain held a velvet pillow on which an array of medals rested. After introductions were made, George V fixed his guest with a smile: "I have some presents for you."

    As a student of British history, Colonel Lawrence knew precisely what was about to occur. The pedestal was an investiture stool, upon which he was to kneel as the king performed the elaborate, centuries-old ceremony--the conferring of a sash and the medals on the pillow, the tap- ping with a sword and the intoning of an oath--that would make him a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

    It was a moment T. E. Lawrence had long dreamed of. As a boy, he was obsessed with medieval history and the tales of King Arthur's court, and his greatest ambition, he once wrote, was to be knighted by the age of thirty. On that morning, his youthful aspiration was about to be fulfilled.

    A couple of details added to the honor. Over the past four years, King George had given out so many commendations and medals to his nation's soldiers that even knighthoods were now generally bestowed en masse; in the autumn of 1918, a private investiture like Lawrence's was practically unheard of. Also unusual was the presence of Queen Mary. She normally eschewed these sorts of ceremonies, but she had been so stirred by the accounts of T. E. Lawrence's wartime deeds as to make an exception in his case.
    Except Lawrence didn't kneel. Instead, just as the ceremony got under way, he quietly informed the king that he was refusing the honor.

    There followed a moment of confusion. Over the nine-hundred-year history of the monarchy, the refusal of knighthood was such an extraor- dinary event that there was no protocol for how to handle it. Eventually, King George returned to the lord chamberlain's pillow the medal he had been awkwardly holding, and under the baleful gaze of a furious Queen Mary, Colonel Lawrence turned and walked...

About the 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.



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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
Scott Anderson
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War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
Scott Anderson
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