the book reviews
A most extraordinary man! An intelligence agent, a scholar, a soldier, an author, a political strategist, and a motorcycle enthusiast. Winston Churchill wept at Lawrence's funeral and said, "He was one of the greatest beings of our time. Whatever our need, we shall never see his like again." I speak about Lawrence's book, The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, his own narrative of the Arab Revolt. Because Lawrence was a principal architect of the political structure of the Middle East, I stress the pertinence of this book. The movie, Lawrence of Arabia, is very good and attempts to portray the events that occurred. The actors were perfect. However, I would suggest that the movie is merely a supplement to the book. Medjul dates, a few fresh almonds, and some powdered cardamom in your coffee will help to put you in the ambient of the book. It is superb in every respect, and it can be read as a history, as a war story, as an adventure, as a diary, or as a philosophical text. Education and intellect gave Lawrence a wonderful command of the English language. This clarity and precision is evident throughout the book. As you read the story, Lawrence refers to archaeology and geography with each step. He possessed a great wit and a broad sense of humor. There were two anecdotes that caused me to explode with laughter. Fits of laughter recurred for several days. The dedication is a wonderful, cryptic poem. Scholars today argue if it was meant for his friend, Dahoum.
I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To gain you freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me when I came
Death was my servant on the road,
till we were near and saw you waiting:
When you smiled, and in sorrowful envy
he outran me and took you apart:
Into his quietness
So our love's earnings was your cast off body
to be held one moment
Before earth's soft hands
would explore your face
and the blind worms transmute
Your failing substance.
Men prayed me to set my work,
the inviolate house, in memory of you.
But for fit monument, I shatter it, unfinished:
and now the little things creep out
to patch themselves hovels
in the marred shadow of your gift.
Lawrence's ability to absorb an alien culture, and to gain the sympathy of the Arabs was extraordinary. He was a tactical and strategical genius. He could see exactly what needed to be done, and he was able to organize and inspire masses of people to do it. He would not stay behind in his tent, he was outside with a rifle in his hand. Lawrence used "very bad language" in 1919, when speaking to the King. He had been offered a medal. He refused to accept it, on the grounds that the Arabs had been betrayed. When he was a student at Oxford, Lawrence walked for a thousand miles, through Syria, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon. He was researching his thesis on the military architecture of the Crusades. It was titled, Crusader Castles. I must mention another book. It was not written by Lawrence, it was written about him. There are over thirty books about Lawrence. I strongly advise you to begin with, The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, by Phillip Knightly and Colin Simpson. It is an exceptional book. The authors had access to previously unpublished papers from the Bodelian Library. These top-secret political documents were due for public perusal in 2000. Fortunately, the laws changed and they became available earlier. Some of Lawrence's friends and confidants were also interviewed by the authors. If you read the adventures of extraordinary people, it is very good to read about their childhood, their circumstances, and their ancestors. This puts them in a better perspective. This book does that. You learn that his father was married to a religious fanatic. So he sought solace at the bosom of his maid. He later changed his name to Lawrence and had four sons. You learn that Lawrence periodically hired a young man to beat him with a cane. The young man was told that this was to fulfill a demand made by a rich relative, in return for paying some of Lawrence's debts. When you can see all sides of Lawrence, you will stand in awe of this very gifted and troubled man.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.