Review: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence

Rating: 4 out of 5

I liked these memories. Mr Lawrence wrote well, he managed to captivate with some very good descriptions, and, most of all, he sounded nearly empty of much bias against the Arabs — or, well, at least much emptier than the other Brits around him.

Where this account of the Arab Revolt stifled me is the entirely unnecessary detail it went into though this is shared by several military autobiographies. For the casual reader, this level of detail is both unnecessary and off-putting. Of course, however, such a level of immersion also helps build certain bonds with the characters who keep on appearing page after page, so there is that.

I most appreciated some of Mr Lawrence’s interactions and comments on society. I will probably remember the question, ‘Would you recognise a Montenegrin dragoon?’ for a while still — a response to a permit-man saying that his uniform was non-standard. Such gems did exist though perhaps less numerous than one might hope — if more numerous than one expects from a situation of war.

Overall, more instructive on the character of the individual Arabs than a history of the Arab Revolt, it was nevertheless helpful in building a picture of the Anglo-French involvement in the area. I think Mr Barr’s more concise narratives will serve most people better, but Lawrence is clearly one of the arch-sources for this time and period.

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