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Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  14,289 ratings  ·  1,322 reviews
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 pai
Hardcover, 577 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Doubleday
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William Taylor I haven't finished the book yet but I have read quite a few books on Lawrence, the Middle East, WW1, and others that shed light on the period. I would…moreI haven't finished the book yet but I have read quite a few books on Lawrence, the Middle East, WW1, and others that shed light on the period. I would venture the opinion that its accuracy is top notch. Furthermore, it is one of the most fascinating books about Lawrence I have ever read. (less)
Neha I have seen the film Lawrence of Arabia. It was one of the best movies I have seen ever. I watched the movie because a friend of mine at theTop archit…moreI have seen the film Lawrence of Arabia. It was one of the best movies I have seen ever. I watched the movie because a friend of mine at theTop architects in Kerala suggested me to. I wonder how they created such a movie in a time when technology was not as sophisticated as ours. Is this book the same as the movie?(less)

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 ·  14,289 ratings  ·  1,322 reviews

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Aug 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Maybe if more people would have listened to T.E. Lawrence after World War I then an American president wouldn’t be at the UN today speaking on the Syrian crisis as I write this review.

It’s hard reading a history of lost opportunities because I always have an irrational hope that it will somehow end differently this time. (There’s a marketing ploy. Write up a non-fiction book, but then switch to alt-history fiction in the last chapter. “And they all lived happily ever after. The End.”) There are
Aug 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Anderson's new book Lawrence In Arabia offers the benefit of introducing the cast of characters surrounding Lawrence's exploits, providing important context for the complexity of the era. Unfortunately Anderson never mentions a person critical to the success of the British WWI efforts - Gertrude Bell. She traversed the harrowing Njed Desert as did Lawrence, only she did this years before him. She learned the languages and tribal politics of the region, and her maps were used for all subsequent m ...more
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
Lawrence was no ordinary man: Brave, resolute, passionate, intelligent, reflective, quiet, cold, distant, stoic, conflicted, righteous, deceitful, independent, eccentric. Anderson digs into the psychology of Lawrence and the constant mind games he was engaged in as much as his military exploits. While Lawrence is the main story, Anderson weaves in and out of several others, these include: Aron Aaronsohn – A Jewish agronomist living in Syria turned spymaster to help the British in hopes of establ ...more
Mal Warwick
Sep 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Was Lawrence of Arabia the man you thought he was?

Some famous person probably urged us never to delve too deeply into the lives of our heroes since we’re so likely to become cruelly disappointed. In any case, if you’ve cherished a vision of Lawrence of Arabia as one of the few genuine heroes of the 20th Century — a vision probably nourished by David Lean’s film masterpiece — you can’t read Scott Anderson’s study of Lawrence in the context of the First World War in the Middle East and emerge with
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For those wanting to read about Lawrence of Arabia, STOP, read the title again & flip the title about so it reads “War, deceit, imperial folly & the making of the modern middle East” – which features Lawrence IN Arabia – Now don’t be put off by that opening gambit, Just wanted to make it clear as to what the book is about as probably like many folk you would gravitate to this book at the mention of Colonel TE Lawrence AKA Lawrence of Arabia? Yes TE Lawrence is the major player & used subtly to s ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-ww-i
I found this a fascinating look at World War I in the Middle East. Mr. Anderson basically looks at the war through the experiences of four people. They are a British Archeologist - T.E. Lawrence – better known as Lawrence of Arabia, an American oil man - William Yale, a minor German Diplomat – Curt Prufer and finally a Jewish Palestinian agronomist-Aaron Aaronsohn. In telling the story of these four men, the author attempts to explain how World War I created the modern Middle East. While Lawrenc ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
'Lawrence in Arabia' is a well-researched and well-written book.

The best review I read about this book is here:

There are many other reviews which are also excellent, as well. I agree with them, up to a point.

The avarice behind the Western powers' superficial alliance with the tribes of the Middle East in fighting World War II against the Germans is supported by actual letters, documents and recollections from hundreds of sources, many listed in the book.
Steven Peterson
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating book, for the most part well written. While the key character is T. E. Lawrence, the book is formally structured as an examination of the roles of and sometimes interaction among four characters: T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), Curt Prufer (umlaut over the u), Aaron Aaronson, and William Yale.

A brief note about each. Lawrence began World War I on an archaeological expedition--and ended up as a celebrity. Prufer was a German who worked for German interests in the Middle East. Aa
Jill Hutchinson
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is not Lawrence of Arabia but instead concerns the activities of Lawrence in Arabia as well as those of several other major characters who were determined to create a Middle East that suited their purposes once the Great War was over.

Britain and France had no intention of allowing their hold on the countries in the East to be broken for independence. They also were determined to break up the faltering Ottoman Empire and so the Sykes-Picot treaty came into being; a semi-secret document
Jim Coughenour
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-1, arabia
As I write this review, the horrors of the civil war in Syria fill the headlines and the US is considering yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East. Scott Anderson, following the celebrated figure of TE Lawrence through the deserts of Arabia, has written an excellent history of how the debacle began – Britain and France scrambling over the "Great Loot" of the collapsing Ottoman Empire; their perfidy toward the Arabs they had encouraged to revolt, including the portentous Balfour De ...more
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is not the David Lean film of a similar title (although its heft is close to the film's length - should come with a musical entr'acte). It's a magnificently researched tome that follows the famous T.E. Lawrence along with other notable gentlemen whose fingerprints still mark the Middle East.

Opening before the war, and epiloguing after the Paris peace conferences, there is surprisingly little desert warfare in the book. Lawrence doesn't hit his camel-riding stride until early 1917, which giv
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Although I was familiar with a lot of the subject matter, Anderson’s book proved to be quite interesting. I learned a lot about the angle played by Standard Oil of New York (Socony), more or less as amoral war profiteers (a la Krupp in Germany) and, more particularly, the players other than T E Lawrence. They seem to have been every bit as interesting and adventurous as Lawrence, albeit less driven to test themselves physically.

Anderson writes that “Lawrence was able to become ‘Lawrence of Arab
Brandon Forsyth
Jul 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Masterful, engaging historical non-fiction told through a cast of characters that are "too true to be good". A fascinating read! Anderson takes a focus on Lawrence, constantly examining the culturally accepted legends of his story, and also examines three other men in the region at the same time: an American oilman-turned-spy, a German intelligence agent, and a Zionist agronomist. A brilliant and compelling personal narrative that gives the reader a deeper appreciation for the founding of the Mi ...more
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Can history / historians be objective? Or will there always be some degree of subjectivity?

I picked up on this, thinking that it would be an in depth account of the life of TE Lawrence. It is not. It was a serendipitous mistake because not only does it give a perspective on the person of Lawrence, it paints a picture on a much bigger canvas, an account on the beginnings of modern day Middle East. It is an impressive work, with many fine details and plenty of stories and characters. Set primarily
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, 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 " 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 o
Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well written overview of T. E. Lawrence's contributions to British and Arab WW I victories in Western Arabia and Syria. Scott Anderson focuses on the Middle East but he also does a good job of outlining events in Europe. Not knowing much about WWI I was shocked by the scale of the killing. How little did those in power value life to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives in such futile battles? The arrogance which led to such bloodshed is shown to have extended to foreign policy as British a ...more
May 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
The book is HEAVILY detailed in every day minutiae of TE Lawrence and his peers. The subtitle "... the making of the modern middle east" is a bit misleading.

Its generally about micro politics, personal experiences, family histories and individual war maneuvers by the main players on the ground during WWI.

There is little information on the sociological, geographical or governmental arrangements in the middle east leading up to WWI or after the war. Instead it is about TE Lawrence and his specif
Julie Christine
There is no time in the past one hundred years that the events chronicled in Scott Anderson's epic Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East would not have astonishing and heartbreaking relevance to our understanding of conflicts in every corner of the Middle East, and by the blurry extension of artificially-created borders, South Asia. Yet, to read this book during the week that Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza, U.S. officials declared th ...more
Ahmed Chowdhry
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book pretty much provides the backstory of the current Middle East and how it came about. It gives us a broader picture of how the Arab Revolt and Lawrence's roll tied into other World War I campaigns. The deception of the imperial powers mainly Britain and France to secure their own imperial goals and how it has lead to the situation we mostly find ourselves in today.

The book tries to be a biography of Lawrence asking how did Lawrence do it (answer no one was looking) and three others: Cu
Oct 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A few years ago I participated in a bike ride in Beer Sheva in the south of Israel. One of the points we stopped at, was the British Cemetery from WW1. This cemetery has 1240 British Empire soldiers buried in it. The leader of our group explained about the place and about the battles near Beer Sheva in WW1. I was quite surprised. What the British army included people from Australia, New Zealand, India and other places? What… the Turkish army that stood against them actually had German officers? ...more
Feb 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: ww1
As more than a thousand people have already noted, this is a good book. It is not some dusty historical account. Although Scott Anderson seems to suggest he is a historian in his opening notes he is not. This is an entertaining treatment of the WWI Middle East theater written by an accomplished journalist and novelist. It is not entirely about Lawrence the would be archaeologist and insurgent either. Three other main characters are added to tell the story from a variety of angles.

There is an Ame
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this since I finished it - basically all I want to read now are books exactly like this one. It's extremely engaging and the character studies are especially fascinating given the huge personalities involved. The book becomes increasingly painful to read as the revolt progresses and the surrounding web of lies deepens. So many what-ifs, though Anderson raises good points that under no circumstances could there have been an idyllic outcome. Still, it's h ...more
Aaron Million
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military-history
Scott Anderson has written an intricate tale of the last gasps of the Ottoman Empire in WWI so well that many parts read like fiction. Larger-than-life characters; idiotic and arrogant leaders; military bumbling; lies; secret agents; tragedy; cultural clashes: all of that is in abundance here. While Thomas Edward Lawrence's name is in the title, and there are biographical sections about him, this is more of an overall work of military history in the Middle East than it is a straight-up biography ...more
Bryan Alexander
Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-i, spy
This is a splendid book on WWI, and also about Middle Eastern history, and also about the history of espionage. It sheds a great deal of light on the subsequent century.

Its putative subject is T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia"), but in revisiting his story, Scott Anderson turns up plot after plot, scheme upon scheme around him. The result enriches our understanding of the period and region, while being a fine read.

Other protagonists anchor the book, giving Lawrence in Arabia more dep
This book would be a perfect semester-long study for young bucks with an interest in foreign affairs and a willingness to test themselves with knotty problems and harsh realities. Coming into the information with clear eyes and no prior understanding of the histories we have undergone in the past one hundred years, youths that imagine patterning themselves on the legendary stoic T.E. Lawrence will have an education.

Anderson had much primary material at his disposal to create this dense wartime
Aug 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Lawrence in Arabia, the Making of the Modern Middle East is an outstanding attempt of popular history of the middle east during World War I. By focusing on four men: T.E. Lawrence of the British, Curt Prufer of the Germans, the Zionist Aaron Aaronsohn and the American oil manager, William Yale, the reader is taken down a path that is at once extremely complex, yet because this book is personality driven, made more simpler for contemporary readers.

Scott Anderson, a veteran American war correspond
Susanna Sturgis
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, middle-east
It took me months to finish this book, but it wasn't the book's fault. The closer I got to the fall of Damascus (1 October 1918), the larger the Versailles Peace Conference loomed on the horizon, with all the disasters it brought to the Middle East, Europe, and the rest of the world. I didn't want to get there. Whenever I read about this period (which in the course of my life has been fairly often), I want it to end differently. But it never does.

That said, if you want a well-researched, well-wr
Jul 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a first-rate, readable biography by an author who knows how to tell a good story without sacrificing scholarship or research. While focusing on Lawrence's astonishing path, he also traces three parallel characters - a German spy, an American adventurer in the employ of Standard Oil Company, and a Zionist activist who initiates, with some difficulty, a espionage ring. This methodology adds context - not to mention color - to the complicated wheelings and dealings surrounding the "Arab Rev ...more
David Billow
Dec 21, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography, history, nonfic
Narrative jumps constantly between figures, places and time, and when it stays it one place, it's your mind that drifts due to the dry writing and minutiae overload. ...more
Author Anderson's book covers several angles of the now-familiar story of T.E. Lawrence. Most of which centrally concentrate on Lawrence's evolving view of the emerging Middle East, in all its eternal wrinkles, and the limitations of the concept of Empire, something very much on the mind of the thoughtful English historian of the day.

After Lawrence, the other characters here are Faisal ibn Hussein, an Arab prince of some consequence; A. Aaronsohn, a Zionist agent and activist living in Palestin
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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. He is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, and his work has also appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper's and Outside. ...more

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“British generals often gave away in stupidity what they had gained in ignorance.” 7 likes
“History is often the tale of small moments—chance encounters or casual decisions or sheer coincidence—that seem of little consequence at the time, but somehow fuse with other small moments to produce something momentous, the proverbial flapping of a butterfly’s wings that triggers a hurricane.” 5 likes
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