J.S.'s Reviews > Guerrilla Leader: T. E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt

Guerrilla Leader by James J. Schneider
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Aug 21, 2015

did not like it
bookshelves: history-other, vine
Read in November, 2011

For those of us who've heard of (but not seen) the movie "Lawrence of Arabia," it might come as a bit of a surprise to learn that Lawrence was a real person. Thomas Edward Lawrence was an archaeologist and British intelligence officer who helped organize a rag-tag Arab revolt into the successful overthrow of the Ottoman Turks in 1918.

Unfortunately, this is *not* a biography of Lawrence. It is, instead and in part, a lesson on the principles of leadership as learned by Lawrence, using numerous numbered-lists of his evolving principles and relying heavily upon his own writings in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It discusses his realizations that a Western style of warfare would not work in the Arabic tribal culture, with its value on personal rather than aloof leadership. It also explains Lawrence's reliance on guerilla tactics where a more direct assault on the better armed and trained Turks would have been futile.

Even this might have been somewhat interesting to a larger audience if it were not for the fact that Mr. Schnieder is overly charmed with his subject and engages in too much 'hero-worship' of Lawrence and a few prominent figures of the rebellion. Under his pen they sometimes appear as almost mythical and larger than life actors in a great drama. Even worse is the frequently overwrought text, such as these gems from pages 64 and 65 of my advance copy: "[the enemy began] transforming themselves into serried blocks of khaki flesh," and "when night and day in dreamlike struggle create the dawn." (This kind of writing is sprinkled liberally throughout the book and my eyes became tired from rolling them so much.)

I kept waiting in vain for the book to get interesting (accounts of the skirmishes were the only sparks of life). So, if this book isn't for me, who MIGHT it be for? I would guess there could be fans of Lawrence who would be interested (although I wouldn't guarantee they'd like it). Perhaps professional soldiers, particularly if they have an interest in leadership and its qualities, because apparently Lawrence had a genius for it and there are obvious parallels with today's conflicts. Although I suspect those readers might be better off going directly to the source and skipping this one altogether.
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