I'll spare y'all the seemingly obligatory, world weary, gently sorrowful musings as to how the Middle East ended in its current predicaments - oh, theI'll spare y'all the seemingly obligatory, world weary, gently sorrowful musings as to how the Middle East ended in its current predicaments - oh, the humanity! - and concentrate on the book itself.
The writing is generally great, understandable, quick, colorful - but it is a little too long, a little too novelistic in places. Lots of "...as they gazed out onto the trackless desert..." and "as every traveler in the desert knows..." and a touch of what Barbara Tuchman called the "surely" school of history. ("As Napoleon watched the ship recede from Elba, he must surely have...") Excising a lot of these flight of fancy - and helpfully shortening the book by a hundred odd pages - might have done it some good.
I'm not really up on the historiography of Lawrence, which the book sometimes seemed to assume one ought to be. Some parts - maybe the whole thing - feel like they're taking a stance in an argument about his actions and character that I just wasn't privy too. Not in itself a problem, but it would have been nice to get more of that background for the uninitiated.
Anderson is willing to undercut and question Lawrence at time, very ably digging into his letters and memoirs as text, so to speak, to note when something seems too far fetched, too neat, too cliched, comparing against other sources and common sense (where available). On the other hand, there are other episodes - just as grand and cinematic, just as personal and devoid of corroboration - he accepts seemingly at face value. What are the sources? Why reject some and accept others? NOTE MARKERS IN THE TEXT. PLEASE. PLEASE.
The book also takes the respectful sort of tack and refuses to dive too deeply into the persona of Lawrence himself. I thought this was a good idea for the most part, not turning it into a gossipy biography (given what the book is really about, which I might admittedly not be quite the target audience of) but still a touch frustrating. Passing references to mental breakdowns, possible homosexuality, ambition or lack thereof, etc, really could have stood to be expounded on a little. At least in (AGAIN) pointing out what the sources here were would have been useful, especially since a lot of it did seem to have some bearing on actual alliances, decisions and historically relevant courses of action. (Plus, I'm ok with gossiping about the dead.)
Ultimately, since the politics and the basic historical outline - and even the details of the diplomatic wrangling - are all very familiar to me (this is the stuff of Israeli highschool history finals. Wake me up in the middle of the night, to this day, and I can tell you all about the Hussein-McMahon correspondence) what I was hoping for was more detail about Lawrence and the Arab Rebellion. That's not really the focus, unfortunately.
The addition of an American oil man/intelligence worker, German spy and Jewish Zionist ringleader (some nice detail on Aaronsohn, who's been a bit hagiographed in Israel in some quarters and therefore studiously ignored in others) as "supporting characters" does something to flesh out the times and the scope - but the Arabs actually remain rather fuzzy personages. There's very little sense of the political meaning of the rebellion for those who conducted it or even very much military detail. It's more of a history of how the British bureaucracy of WW1 managed the rebellion and the imperial slavering at the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire than a history of the rebellion itself, which is a bit of a shame at the end of the day....more
I suppose Fawcett, the early 20th century British explorer this books is essentialy a biography of, is an interesting enough figure, but really, its tI suppose Fawcett, the early 20th century British explorer this books is essentialy a biography of, is an interesting enough figure, but really, its the Amazon and it's modern history I want to know about now, (the rubber rush sounds fascinating) not how one mostly clueless white guy got lost in it once. ...more